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JESSICA NORWOOD FOUNDER, THE RUNWAY PROJECT // PRICHARD, ALABAMA Jessica Norwood views money as medicine that can heal the wounds communities suffer from disasters or institutional failures. She hails from a small neighborhood three miles north of downtown Mobile, Alabama, colloquially called Africatown because it was formed by a group of West Africans who in 1860 were included in the last known illegal shipment of slaves to the US; Norwood’s father was once the mayor. While she grew up with a deep understanding of systemic racism, it was not until Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005 that she realized how acute a system-wide failure could be for those without financial resources. That experience inspired the former political fundraiser and consultant to create the Emerging ChangeMakers Network, which since 2007 has identified up-and-coming leaders and connected them to issues, ideas, people, and organizations that can make a significant impact in traditionally marginalized communities. Driven by the understanding that investing in Black entrepreneurship is a pivotal way to create resilient, racially equitable communities and a robust economy, Norwood went on to found The Runway Project in 2016. The initiative aims to bridge the $19,000 gap between the net worth of the average Black household and the $30,000 needed to start a business from scratch. The organization partners with values-aligned financial institutions and offers a five-year certificate of deposit to create a dedicated pool of capital for loans to Black business owners, mimicking the friends-and-family preseed money common to most startups and yet so often unavailable to Black entrepreneurs. The loans come with low interest rates and high-touch support like facilitated mentoring and peer-to-peer coaching. In essence, Norwood enables the community to become the entrepreneurs’ friends and family. “While we each may not have a lot,” she says, “together we have plenty.” What makes you most proud of your work? “Inside of the racial wealth gap is the worst thing you can imagine; that gap incorporates and encompasses slavery and prejudice. There is pain and trauma involved in that. When I’m talking to these borrowers who live in a world that doesn’t believe in them, that doesn’t find them valuable or neces-

Photo by Toni Riales

sary — it’s like a therapy session. What we’re doing is making money into medicine, healing, making it so that everybody — no matter where you are, who you are, or what you have — can participate in helping another human out of some of the most traumatic things that have happened in the history of this country.” Advice for social entrepreneurs of color: “Keep pushing for what you know is right. The way this system is currently set up, it will not notice your full value and worth. The system does not honor what your worth is; you have to know your worth and then tell them what your worth is. Do not be discouraged, but take this as an opportunity to never let people who don’t know you or who don’t fully see you tell you what your value is.”

CONSCIOUS COMPANY MAGAZINE

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Q2 / SPRING 2019

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Profile for Conscious Company

Conscious Company Magazine | Spring 2019  

The Q2/Spring 2019 issue of Conscious Company is all about the racial wealth gap, diversity as a competitive differentiator, game-changing f...

Conscious Company Magazine | Spring 2019  

The Q2/Spring 2019 issue of Conscious Company is all about the racial wealth gap, diversity as a competitive differentiator, game-changing f...