What would you do with $100M?
A Just Economy Institute faculty member asked us this while describing our Creative Capital Project, a capstone presentation delivered at the culmination of our 9 month program. We began our fellowship looking internally at what we wanted from our life’s work, and externally at the systems change required to build a just economy. As two Asian American women committed to racial justice, we found that elusive intersection for each of us in The Lunar Project, an integrated capital and community building initiative for Asian American solidarity with Black and Indigenous lives.
While there was no pot of gold awaiting us at the end of the fellowship, the thought experiment of what we’d do with $100M was clarifying, creating the spaciousness to dream BIG and pave a path towards our wildest dreams. We came into this space as two curious capital managers from philanthropy (Sabrina) and private equity (Yichen) — two sectors that respectively manage $1.5T and $4T of capital globally but seldom collaborate in aligned capital deployment.
For years, Sabrina has worked in different formations on increasing access to capital for BIPOC communities — through community organizing, policy, local food business development, and most recently, in philanthropy, where she does grantmaking and has had the privilege of contributing to the design and launch of Real People’s Fund, a community-governed loan fund.
Yichen has spent her career in impact investing across early to late stage private equity within the education technology sector. This has included building entrepreneur ecosystems and infrastructure where there was none in edtech in the early days and direct investing into growth stage companies that have both a positive financial and social return embedded into their business models.
2020 was a defining personal year for us. Our community responded to the anti-Asian xenophobia experienced in the wake of COVID-19 and a call for solidarity with Black communities as racial justice uprisings emerged throughout the US. This formed the backdrop as we developed our joint Creative Capital Project, and we found ourselves responding to a more specific and resonant question — “What would you do with $100M for solidarity and racial justice?”
The Lunar Project was a seed buried deep within each of us as we chugged along our journeys, waiting for the right time, space, and collaboration to draw creative energy and help our seedling break through the soil. Aware of the constraints of traditional fund structures that fail to meet the needs of BIPOC communities, we sought a model that would allow for personal and community transformation and express solidarity and our cultural identities and values as we define them. This led us to re-discover the centuries old model of informal giving circles, which are built on the traditions of largely women-run mutual aid and beneficial societies for community support. A decentralized, community controlled fund model that was free of technical constraints was our goal as we created a 12-week political education and giving circle program that pools $100,000 of capital and organizes Asian Americans with class privilege to move resources towards Black- and Indigenous-led organizations. Through our giving circle model we are cultivating investment learnings to prototype toward a larger $100M fund — and $20M to start!
The Lunar Project brings together our deep relationships and work with Asian American community, our experiences raising and moving capital, and our shared commitment to racial justice, in a way that feels more integrated than anything we have ever done before. JEI was the spark that made this possible. The money is essential, but even more so are the relationships, the acknowledgement of where we come from, our interconnectedness in shared struggle, and the pursuit of our life’s work in building towards collective liberation.
Yichen is a first generation Chinese American from Shanghai. She has spent the last 10+ years in finance, investing in and advising technology, media, and telecommunications companies with a focus on education and financial technology. The Lunar Project is her wildest dream, where she is able to integrate multiple identities and use her skills to build a just economy.
Sabrina Wu is a second generation Chinese American who has dedicated her career to social justice and equity. She brings to The Lunar Project a deep commitment to racial and economic justice, professional experience in philanthropy, community education, and designing a community governed fund, and her love of building community with Asian Americans, especially over food and politics!
We curated the Lunar New Year issue of 18MR’s newsletter, a media platform for progressive Asian America, newsletter.
Image: Yichen (left) & Sabrina (right) storyboarding the 12 week Lunar Project political education curriculum at Commonweal, during their Social Artist in Residence Program.