TRUST. TRANSPARENCY. PRACTICE. This quarter for our Summer 2023 Investor Update, we sat down with members of our Investment Committee.
The Ujima Fund Investment Committee consists of experienced and like-minded individuals representing diverse backgrounds. These members share a common dedication to Boston’s growing solidarity ecosystem, bridging both traditional and alternative financial approaches. This committee takes on the crucial responsibilities of conducting thorough evaluations of each business, lending their feedback to the Ujima Fund Management Team and assisting our members in making informed investment choices.
Kerry Bowie and his Msaada firm partners help organizations tackle social, economic, and environmental problems with a focus on strategy, management, operations, and design. Prior to co-founding Msaada Partners, Kerry acquired extensive experience as an environmental engineer and manager during nine years with Texas Instruments and more than eight years with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Broadly, Kerry’s background spans state government, technology, finance, and business. Kerry holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in environmental engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Michigan, respectively, as well as an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. Kerry lives in Somerville, MA with his wife, Sherri-Ann, and two young daughters.
Can you share how you first got involved with Ujima?
Kerry Bowie: I probably met Nia before Ujima officially existed; I think I met her at a policy conference. Around that same time, I had also crossed paths with Deborah Frieze from Boston Impact Initiative and Lucas Turner-Owens, one of Ujima’s early fund managers. I remember attending an Ujima convening because I was a part of Boston’s entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem. So when I eventually joined the investment committee, it was a natural fit.
Can you share a bit about how your work on the Investment Committee connects to your broader background as someone with experience in technology, finance, government, and business?
So, the most relevant experience I have comes from my work at the Majira Project, which works with small businesses and startups to cultivate founders, companies, and communities of color through entrepreneurship. I really understand a lot of the challenges that small business owners face, and I’m excited about Ujima’s model of doing business. Especially when we think of investment in our communities, historically, if you’re not an accredited investor, you really can’t make investments in these companies.
Ujima’s model harkens back to ancestral practices like lending circles and practices that allowed us to take care of each other. Part of why I stopped working in state government was because of the large racial wealth gap that we have in Boston, so you can’t catch up by doing things the “normal way.” You have to shake up the system, and that’s why I’m really excited to be a part of Ujima’s Investment Committee.
What’s your personal investment philosophy when it comes to making socially responsible investments for yourself?
I’m a little bit biased because my background is in the environment. So I like to live at the intersection of climate, entrepreneurship and, diversity, equity inclusion. So, ideally, I’m gonna want to be investing in things like energy efficiency, clean energy, food, and water because that’s what my background is. But my investment philosophy, more broadly, is focused on creating wealth that allows the next generation to be able to take some risk[s]. The only way I think that happens is if we support some people with companies that steadily grow. And not necessarily “hockey stick growth,” but with some demonstration of healthy growth over time. So we can help that entrepreneur go from one to two to three retail locations, and we know they’ll give back and invest in their communities.
What do you imagine for the future of the Ujima Fund?
So far, there’s been some amount of figuring things out, and gradually our investment pace has ticked up as we learn. I’m excited about how we can move through our investment pipeline faster so it doesn’t take us as long to deploy the next one million dollars. I’m also excited about the prospect of bringing on new people. I’ve been on the Investment Committee for a while now, and it’s important to bring in fresh blood and allow others to learn from this process.
What’s really cool about our investment committee is that we’re ultimately just making recommendations to voting members — they ultimately decide what to invest in, not the committee. But because our process is so transparent, voting members learn a lot along the way about risk, returns, what to look for in investments, and how to make those decisions. We need more knowledgeable investors in the world, and this is part of that. I want to see more projects like Ujima across the country working to democratize investment one city at a time.
Read more interviews from the Summer 2023 Investor Update here.