Over the past year and a half, TV screens and social media have laid bare the unfiltered, persistent reality of racial and economic inequality. This exposure also highlighted an uneven financial playing field, and when it comes to fighting the injustices that afflict our communities, there is always a sense that more should be done. So to step up and meet this growing need, Bank of America recently increased its $1 billion, four-year commitment to advance racial equality and economic opportunity to $1.25 billion over five years, working with external partners on national, local, and hyperlocal levels to enact lasting changes.
As part of this monumental initiative, the bank also raised its investment goal by 40 percent to $350 million in support of minority entrepreneurs, who often have less access to capital investment. In Portland, this effort manifested in collaboration with Elevate Capital, a local, minority-owned venture capital firm that focuses on early-stage investments in start-up companies, with an emphasis on those led by women, ethnic minorities, and veterans.
For Elevate’s founder and managing partner Nitin Rai, it has always been important for his company to prioritize underserved entrepreneurs because he has been in their shoes before. Early in his career, he made it an emphasis to endorse those who would otherwise find it difficult to come by funding, and he saw great success in the market as a result. “Their ideas are as good as anybody else’s, but one difference is they come in more baked, and they put a lot more effort into it than ones who are more entitled,” he says.
When Bank of America chose to work with Elevate in 2021, it helped spur growth for several promising companies based in Portland. Among those recipients were Goodwell, an innovative, eco-conscious oral care brand which has has a female of color as chief marketing officer; ToolBelt, a simplified platform connecting tradespeople and contractors, which was cofounded by a Black man; and Hemex Health, a woman-led medical diagnostic device company that specializes in tests for malaria and sickle cell disease. Similar financial backing was given to additional businesses across the country.
“What it allowed us to do was accelerate our investing into these companies, and as a result of it, specifically in Portland, we were able to deploy almost immediately about $2 million dollars in local minority and women-led companies,” Rai explains. “That’s how big the impact was. It allowed us to do more deals than what we had originally intended in that time frame.”
Bank of America recognizes that education is another vital factor in spurring equality and economic mobility, and its work with the Portland Community College Foundation through the Neighborhood Builders program has opened the door to rewarding careers for many first-generation students. With this $200,000 grant, the Opportunity Center at PCC’s Willow Creek Center has begun to provide prospective students and job seekers with access to workforce development and reskilling courses, as well as valuable opportunities to meet with potential employers.
Although many of Bank of America’s actions are focused on bettering the future, there is an awareness of the more immediate struggles in our communities—specifically, the devastation wrought by the coronavirus pandemic. Together with Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center (VGMHC), the bank allocated $250,000 to aid the nonprofit’s ongoing efforts to equitably distribute Covid-19 vaccines in Washington and Yamhill counties, with infrastructure designed to better reach at-risk Hispanic-Latino populations. Critical PPE was donated to Central City Concern, the Albany School District, New Avenues for Youth, and the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla to further safeguard the most vulnerable members of the public.
“Our sense of urgency to address long-standing issues of inclusion and racial inequality has only increased as recent health and humanitarian events have shown us what can and needs to be done to address disparity,” said Bank of America Oregon and Southwest Washington President Roger Hinshaw. “We can help effect change across the public and private sectors and do more to take action, help our thought leaders convene, and serve as a catalyst for a collective and holistic response to the critical issues affecting our own region.”
Learn more about Bank of America's Commitment to Advance Racial Equality and Economic Opportunity at bankofamerica.com.