After serving as Entrepreneur-in-Residence for most of 2019, Jim Shelton joined Blue Meridian Partners as our Chief Investment and Impact Officer. In this role, he leads the evolution of Blue Meridian’s regional investment strategy and explores new areas where significant, focused capital can help solve problems at scale — including new approaches to boosting social and economic mobility that advance racial equity. Below, Shelton shares some thoughts on his initial priorities and why, amid the pressing challenges facing the social sector, he finds reasons for optimism.
Q: What motivated you to join Blue Meridian Partners?
There are three reasons why I came on board. One is Blue Meridian’s deep commitment to economic and social mobility. It’s one of the most important issues facing America today.
Second, I believe that significant pools of capital are needed to drive the scale of solutions needed to address this nation’s problems. We’ll need to work collaboratively and smartly, and I believe Blue Meridian embodies this approach in everything it does.
Third, I’ve been so impressed by Nancy Roob and the whole Blue Meridian team. They’re extremely mission-focused and dedicated to goals I’ve carried throughout my career — realizing racial equity and economic opportunity, applying comprehensive place-based approaches, and finding creative ways to apply capital to promote solutions at scale. I’m optimistic that these priorities and Blue Meridian’s investment approach can help change the life trajectories of millions of people.
Q: With all of the disruptions and rising needs we’ve seen in 2020, what are your immediate priorities?
My first priority is to keep identifying substantive solutions to the problems that trap people in poverty. We know that some areas will take priority in pursuing an equitable recovery from COVID-19 — things like workforce development, financial security, mental health support, and child care. The Blue Meridian team and I are excited about finding and supporting scalable solutions in those spaces.
As we move from response to recovery, however, we must recognize that the economy was broken for too many Americans long before COVID ever struck. We had inadequate housing, limited on-ramps to productive jobs, and too many young people who failed to reach key milestones they needed to thrive in adulthood. If we don’t address these gaps, we can regrow the economy and still have glaring inequities that hold our country back. We need to rebuild systems to ensure all Americans can thrive.
Q: You have been part of several dialogues recently with thought leaders, journalists, and policymakers. What lessons have you taken from those conversations?
I’ve learned a lot, but the most striking lesson is that right now, everyone accepts that we’re suffering from more than COVID. The bill has come due for social and economic inequity — and, in particular, racial inequity. Leaders are focused on immediate needs like providing jobs and child care, but they’re also expressing a newfound commitment to building systems better than those we had before.
This shift is especially critical in Blue Meridian’s regional work. We know that even if you invest in community-wide efforts, you may not see significant changes in neighborhoods that have suffered from generations of disinvestment. Without a strategy to address the specific needs of those communities, you can fuel a high-growth recovery in a place that remains low-mobility. That’s unacceptable for us, and for our nation.
One particularly hopeful trend I’m seeing is more and more leaders including voices of people who historically have been marginalized. They’re not just getting their buy-in, but enlisting them to create solutions in a way that feels more authentic and, potentially, more sustainable.
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