Community-First Investing: A New Approach to Economic Disparity in the Pacific Northwest

Community-First Investing: A New Approach to Economic Disparity in the Pacific Northwest


Lauren Sato, chief operating officer, Canopy

If I started this post with, "There is an economic divide in America," you would stop reading, right? Why? Because we know this. Yet many of us feel zero efficacy to have a tangible impact on the economic state of our country.

There is undoubtedly incredible work going on in our communities to mitigate the effects of the economic divide. I have had the deep privilege of working alongside many of these inspirational community leaders — people like WIlliam Bell at Casey Family Programs, Mary Trimarco at the Washington State Department of Commerce, and Katie Hong at the Raikes Foundation. They would, given unlimited resources, fundamentally shift outcomes for the most disconnected in our country.

But all of the brain power and social will hasn't substantially bridged the income gap in our country. A recent article in CityLab details America's "well-being disparity." As a Pacific Northwest native and resident, I found the map of our region to be particularly disturbing. Across all four measures, eastern Washington (where I was born) represents the polar opposite of Seattle (where I now live), and you see this divide extend through Oregon and down to the Bay Area.

As election season ramps up, many will look to politicians to solve these seemingly insurmountable challenges. I will not argue against the power of strong policy change to move the dial here; in fact, it may be the only thing that has historically made an impact. But as contemporary politics continue to trend towards divisiveness and stagnation rather than innovation and solutions-building, our country needs to see other sources of power come to the table with actualizable, systemic answers.  

Specifically, we need to see sources of institutional capital connect with communities to bolster regions through a new generation of collaborative economics. There are many historical and deeply embedded barriers to this work, but what is encouraging is that there is a growing field of entrepreneurs, investors, philanthropists and public officials willing to take this challenge head-on.

Through his deep experience developing mission-related investment strategies with leading Pacific Northwest foundations, Craig Muska identified this challenge and has built Canopy to be a collaborative hub for addressing it.  Canopy is a new independent LLC aimed at eliminating traditional barriers to intentional co-investing in communities that investors care about through industry-leading transparency and resource sharing.

Last week at the Council on Foundation’s annual meeting, in partnership with Philanthropy Northwest and Mission Investors Exchange, Canopy took its first steps as an unprecedented joining together of cross-sector stakeholders pooling resources to conduct the institutional quality research and training necessary to embark on systems-level change in how our regional economies access and put capital to work.  We are working on two launch deliverables:

  • A Pacific Northwest Capital Scan that will surface early stage community development investment opportunities that are often overlooked by mainstream investors through a robust study conducted in partnership with the University of Oregon, and
  • A fund manager training program built on the Global Impact Investing Network’s innovative work in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, and customized to build the bench of strong Pacific Northwest fund managers through proven coursework and one-to-one mentorship.

I will keep you informed as our founding members, The Russell Family Foundation and Meyer Memorial Trust, break this new ground with Canopy. If you are interested in joining the formative stages of this work, contact us about becoming a Founding Member. Along the way, join the Twitter conversation @InvestCanopy as we build #ThisGreatPlace together.  

Lauren Sato can be reached at