Putting Capital to Work for Democracy

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Putting Capital to Work for Democracy
By Sarah Williams, Co-Founder and CEO of Propel Capital

The Saturday before July 4th, I was on an island 10 miles off the coast of mainland USA, population 1,100, standing with 260 people in a parking lot of pickup trucks and lobster traps singing “This Land is Your Land”, sharing our outrage at this country’s practice of separating and locking up children and parents.  It was amazing to see so many lobstermen, librarians, and families standing up for #FamiliesBelongTogether.  In the midst of so much bad news and grave injustices, people are showing up in different ways every day to take action on these and so many other issues – including health care, the corrupt practices of the current administration, access to education. 

We know this is happening around the country– yet how can we capture these individual actions and harness them for significant progressive change?  The exciting thing is that a lot of smart, dynamic new leaders are stepping up to do just that.  We know we have greater numbers (2.9m more votes in the last election alone!) but to unite people across a broad coalition is a big lift – we need stronger messages that engage across populations and issues; we need more targeted outreach to those who’ve been ignored and neglected in the democratic process; and we need sophisticated technology to resist the attacks from others, near and far, to undermine our efforts.  

Who’s finding, vetting, and investing in the very best of these solutions?  We are, through  Propel  Democracy -- our portfolio of innovative organizations strengthening grassroots organizing, expanding voter engagement, and building electoral  power -- and one our best tools for doing so is our partner, New Media Ventures,  a social impact fund that finds and supports early-stage entrepreneurs and activists. Their track record of winners is strong: perhaps if you care about flipping the House, you’ve heard of Swing Left or Indivisible; or if you are outraged by the treatment of America’s newest immigrants – Mijente; or if you are concerned about winning state legislative races and gerrymandering – Sister District?  All of these groups received early investment from Propel Democracy and New Media Ventures, which just months after the election in January 2017, quickly pulled together an open call for new efforts to engage in the electoral process and fueled the wave of creative organizers and electoral experts moving our country forward. NMV’s early funding was critical to building innovative tools for progressive infrastructure in this country, expanding on the great work of leaders in the progressive movement and Propel Democracy partners such as MoveOn, Color of Change, and the Working Families Party.

Now, in an announcement last week, NMV has done it again – winnowing down from 740 applicants to 13 of the strongest, most strategic and tactical social entrepreneurs winning progressive power in this country.  Groups like The Movement Cooperative -- bringing together top democratic organizations to provide the best available data, technology, and resources to the progressive community and to increase its collective power and impact.  Or MobilizeAmerica -- a tech platform to build the coalitions necessary for electoral wins.  Or Jolt -- using creative and dynamic digital campaigns to engage young Latinx voters in Texas, a game-changing state for Democrats now and in years to come.  NMV-backed social enterprises include both for-profits and not-for-profits – because NMV believes, as we do, that solutions need to come from everywhere.

Though it’s hard not to feel discouraged when reflecting on the state of our democracy these days what’s really inspiring me is action and builders.  If we get creative about solutions and then invest smartly in them, we can build a new future, from sea to shining sea.






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