Aligning money with mission

Supporting sovereignty, identity, and strong futures through impact investing in Indian Country

Better Way Foundation has supported various language and culture revitalization programs in Indian Country schools for nearly 20 years. In 2016, following a thorough review and needs assessment, the decision was made to dedicate 65% of annual grantmaking to Indian Country. In 2018 the board approved a 10-year, $10 million dollar commitment to Indigenous early childhood development programs focused on quality learning experiences that help address social, educational and health disparities.

With a more focused approach, we learned that limited financial capital in Indian Country is a significant barrier to developing economic health, impacting the holistic wellbeing of Indigenous communities. It became clear that supporting the entrepreneurial energy of Indian Country communities would reinforce our central commitment to families and children through early childhood development.

We began exploring impact investing to better align money with mission. We started by researching Native Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFI’s) and program-related investments.

Putting research into action, we made a $500,000 investment in Oweesta Development Corporation. Oweesta is the largest Native CDFI intermediary, with over 20 years’ experience providing tools, training, and capital to help Native people control their economic destinies. They, in turn, provide technical assistance and funds to localized Native CDFI’s, who lend to small businesses, credit recovery, and a range of community investments. Their work is so important, and we are excited to be partners with them in Indian Country investing.

Another exciting opportunity underway is a $300,000 investment in the Wolakota Bison Project, an initiative by the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation to create the largest Native-owned bison herd in North America, a project that has both economic advantages and beautiful opportunities for healing in a community with close cultural and economic ties to the bison.

To undergird the effort of the Lakota communities in proximity to the Wolakota Bison Project, BWF also designated $75,000 to a Lakota immersion school. Investment in language revitalization, cultural practices, and economies is an investment in healing and strong futures for families. We are extremely excited about the connections these projects represent across our work.

Our foundation has currently distributed $1,750,000 in program-related investments in Indian Country, and that number will continue to grow. As we begin exploring more creative ways to align our money with our mission, we intend to lead with our commitment to Indian Country.

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