One Woman’s Crusade To Reshape Today’s Business and Community Investment World

12 minutes

Covid-19 continues to deliver shockwaves throughout America and around the world. Sucked into the centrifugal force of chaos and uncertainty, many  communities and the businesses supporting them have fallen into a state of economic rigor mortis. 

This unprecedented time in our world history has further exposed troublesome patterns in how local economic investment monies are allocated and directed. As a result, the American Dream tied to hard work and initiative has remained elusive for many Americans. 

These trends loom particularly large for women, people of color, social entrepreneurs, and others adversely impacted by systems of entrenched marginalization. By way of example, in 2018 only 2.2% of venture capital went to women-led start-ups; less than 1% to Black entrepreneurs. 

In the book Moving Mountains: The Power of Main Street Americans to Change Our Economy, author Janice Shade delivers a compelling playbook for reshaping the narrative around community and business investment. Among the themes she highlights in her book are: 

 • Stories of women entrepreneurs and their quest for capital 

• The history and exposé of inequities present within start-up capital markets 

• An assessment of crowdfundingʼs past, present, and future potential

• A inside look at the latest innovations in  community sourced capital

• Proven solutions for entrepreneurs and business owners to align their money and values.

Asked to offer a brief overview of her professional journey and how these experiences have informed the message contained in her book, Shade has this to say: 

“After an early career in finance and brand management with companies like Procter & Gamble, Welch’s, and Seventh Generation, I set out to explore new models for conscious commerce and community capital. During those first 17 years in corporate America, I became known as someone who challenged the status quo as a champion of environmentally and socially responsible business practices.  In 2005, I flew a bit too close to the sun in my efforts to effect change from within, and found myself with a blank canvas on which to paint the next phase of my career.” 

Shade’s life trajectory then evolved from that of a  corporate middle manager to an entrepreneur. Over time she launched or co-founded several for-profit and nonprofit ventures, including consumer brands like TrueBody and Mamava. 

She also pioneered one of the first investment crowdfunding platforms in the U.S. (Milk Money), in addition to her involvement with nonprofits such as the Initiative for Local Capital and the National Coalition for Community Capital. 

Underpinning  these ventures are the common themes of democratic access to capital, economic justice, and local economic resilience. Says Shade: 

“Now I’m evolving into new roles as author and public speaker. My entrepreneurial and capital-raising experiences are the basis of my new book, Moving Mountains. In it, I explore the impacts of traditional capital markets on social entrepreneurism and provide a vision for how Main Street investors can be a positive force for change in their communities. I also lead workshops on a variety of topics, deliver keynote addresses, facilitate panel discussions, and regularly guest lecture at the college/graduate school level.” 

Continues Shade: 

“My book is for those who are disenchanted with Wall Street and who want to put their investments where their hearts are, but don’t know how or where to start. It’s for people whose strong social values influence their buying habits, encourage involvement in their communities, and guide other lifestyle choices, but who have yet to find a way to align their money with their values, or maybe didn’t even realize it was an option.”

In terms of her decision to write this book, she had this to say: 

“I first set out to write it in the winter of 2012-2013 while I was shutting down TrueBody, my first entrepreneurial venture. I thought it would be (1.) a cathartic process for myself to “post mortem” what had happened, and (2.) a guide to other entrepreneurs – especially women – to learn from my experience so they would not have to go through what I did.”

Shade says she quickly realized that it was too soon…the pain, disillusionment, and shame of failure were still too raw for objective analysis. Plus, at the time she found herself mired in a pretty deep financial hole that she needed to dig herself out of. So she put the book idea on the shelf and got a job.

“The job didn’t last long. In a little over a year, I was again an entrepreneur, preparing to launch a new venture designed to fix the very issue which had led to the premature demise of my first company.”

The issue? 

“The wrong kind of capital. Or to put it another way: the fatally incongruous match of social ventures with venture capital.” 

She says that her experience as a consumer product entrepreneur along with her rapidly emerging role as a pioneer and leader in the nascent movement for democratically-sourced, community-focused capital, led to her discovery of deep systemic issues within American capital markets. 

“I had some very strong opinions – and proven concepts – for how to fix them, so in 2017, I picked my dusty book idea off the shelf with a much bigger premise than just a “how-to” for entrepreneurs.” 

Shade says she felt a heightened sense of urgency to share her story and her vision. This as the media abounded with dire statistics on the ever-growing concentration of wealth, which she knew from first-hand experience, was driven in large part by the predatory and extractive investment practices of the super-wealthy. 

Moving Mountains, she says, was released in early March 2020, right at the start of the COVID shutdown in the U.S.. 

“With the ensuing, pandemic-caused economic downturn, I found my subject to be more timely than ever as Americans awoke first to the perilous predicament of today’s Main Street businesses. This was followed quickly by the unmasking of systemic racial bias with its deep roots in economic injustice.”

Asked how her book can contribute to discussions about COVID’s impact on local economic development and small business, she had this to share: 

“If we thought the concentration of wealth was a problem pre-COVID, it is nothing compared to what the world could look like on the other side of this economic downturn. As small businesses struggle to survive, barbarians at the gate are poised to swoop in for bargain sales on cash-strapped start-ups, real estate, and other assets.” 

She recounts a story she recently heard on NPR that illustrates this point. With the startling title of “Big Money Investors Gear Up for a Trillion-Dollar Bet on Farmland,” the piece highlighted investment activities akin to those already taking place with small businesses in downtowns and suburban centers. 

According to the story, absentee investors sitting on vast amounts of wealth are taking advantage of the crisis to buy up huge swaths of land from aging farmers. The accumulated equity in these farms, that in previous years might have been transferred from one family generation to another, or at least to another community member who would live on the land they worked, is now being extracted to absentee owners who then hire a would-be local farmer to manage the land for wages — akin to a modern-day form of serfdom.

“Now, more than ever, we need to mobilize local capital to keep ownership, control, and wealth within a community, shared among many citizen-investors. Indeed, the overall economic health of our communities and nation depends on this.” 

Concluding, Shade had this to say about what she hopes readers gain from her book:

“My desire is that they walk away with a sense of hope. And a sense of empowerment. The world of money and investing can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be that way. A tenacious plutocracy is using its position and vast wealth to stay in control. But there are ways we can disentangle ourselves from their web, and if done by enough of us, we’ll begin to dismantle that web. Seemingly small actions can, when taken collectively, add up to meaningful change.”

“I hope to reach readers of my generation (Gen X) and especially Millennials whom I see as more open to new systems and paradigms on money and wealth distribution. And while I, of course, see the enormous potential that exists if the super-wealthy ever decide to move their vast amounts of wealth from extractive to inclusive investment activities, I am a realist. I am also a big believer in the inherent wisdom and collective power of thoughtful, committed citizens. That’s who I am trying to reach.”

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About Michael Scott

Independent Journalist and Global Book Ambassador, Great Books, Great Minds