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Mission, Money & Markets: Q&A with new Social Investment Officer Erika Brice

Social Investment Practice

Q: How did you get into this line of work?

A: It started out as a child by asking questions. I was always interested in the built environment. I grew up near the suburbs of Kansas City, and we went to church in a community that was really ravaged. I used to wonder why some houses were so messed up. As I got older, I had a relative who worked in community development as a developer. I knew I wanted to help people. And I came to realize that this community development world and real estate, these two things were a match. When I got to Howard University, I got into finance at the School of Business. And I was like, ‘Oh, this is what makes the world go round.’ Finance for me was the art of putting together the puzzle pieces.

Then I had an internship at JPMorgan in private wealth, which exposed me to philanthropy, to family offices. And from there, in my early career, I worked at Urban America, a private equity firm with a focus on investing in real estate projects in low- to moderate-income communities across the country. In my career, the theme has been, how do we use money and finance to do good for people?

Q: What excites you about the opportunity to work on Kresge’s Social Investment team?

A: Number one, I like the people. It’s not just having the opportunity. This is where I want to do this work. I like smart people, I like being around people that are just as dedicated to this work as I am, and people that do it from different perspectives. So the people, and the chance to join an organization that is so bold. At times in my career, I’ve felt like I’ve had to hide that part of myself, and I feel like here, it’s valued.

Q: What kind of passions are you bringing to this work?

A: My biggest passion is for social-economic mobility. I’m really big on making sure that people have that opportunity and chance. Not everybody’s path has to look the same. I have my own generational story, in that my great grandfather, who helped raise my father, was born enslaved. Both of my parents are from the country. My mom was born to a teenage mother. Both of my parents grew up not particularly well off financially, but because they were stable, they were able to still get an education. My dad went to the army. My mom went to school, and they both got good jobs, my mom in the city government, my father is an engineer. Their stability made opportunities for me. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to do things because they were stable–that’s what social means, that people at least have that chance. I’m passionate about social justice, and I’m also really passionate about finance and economics.

Q: What’s a good book you’ve read recently that you’d recommend?

A: The Sum of Us. It talks about the economic cost that we all bear for the monopolies that we have. That book has made me even more passionate about making sure that it’s not about us versus them.

Q: How has COVID changed the equation with how you see capital flowing to low-income communities?

A: There is a lot of economic uncertainty. That’s the biggest piece, because the things we usually try to peg solutions to are uncertain, too, especially in communities that were already facing disinvestment. I’m thinking about how to help communities retool and how we help businesses retool because I do think this pandemic is a wholesale change in our economy in how we operate and how we do business models. How do we help our communities not only recover but retool to meet those changes and be resilient if, heaven forbid, something else like this should ever occur?

Q: How has being a pension fund Trustee changed your outlook on these areas of work?

A: Being a Trustee, you see the voice that investors and asset managers have when you say, ‘Hey, this is important to us.’ There’s this side of institutional capital that is now awakening to the power that their capital has and that you can do good and still make money. Before, impact-driven work has been seen as concessionary capital, and that’s not the case. I’m seeing opportunities come up especially with people of color right now. There’s an inflection point in the investment world where I think there is an opportunity for the impact and returns to really collide.

When we talk about having sustainability in our investments, it’s about a healthy economy. And that requires you to look at the majority of people and at the overall impact of income inequality.

Q: What other areas of Kresge work are you interested in learning more about?

A: Legitimately everything! I’m an HBCU grad, so looking at the Education team’s work and HBCUs as community anchors is really interesting. It’s that intersection point because a lot of HBCUs are in low-income communities. Arts & Culture is an area I haven’t really been able to do much work in, but I love it. It is so critical to places and spaces because it creates an intrinsic value. Down the street from where I live in Kansas City is the 18th and Vine District, which is the home to the American Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Museum. There’s no other place like in the world. I think that’s what art does — whether it’s physical art, or the encouragement of art and communities, you create an intrinsic value that I think is beautiful.