The Southern Reparations Loan Fund (SRLF) is a network of non-extractive loan funds that make loans to community-based businesses anchored in the most marginalized Southern communities. The SRLF network is a regional network within the national Seed Commons network, which strengthens the individual and collective capacity of our Southern loan funds. All of SRLF’s work is done within a reparations framework, with the goal of building self-reliant, resilient, and just cooperative solidarity economies in marginalized communities in the South.
Who We Are
SRLF network members focus their lending to start-ups and expansions of democratically-governed enterprises that meet the needs and elevate the quality of life of African Americans, immigrants, poor whites, and others who have been systematically damaged by exploitation and oppression. Our aim is to nurture the development of businesses that maximize community benefit, rather than the narrow concept of maximizing profit. The SRLF network began life in 2015 as a single, centralized loan fund, which made four loans in its first four years: the Renaissance Community Coop grocery store in Greensboro, NC, Rebel Threads, a t-shirt printing project connected to the Florida Dream Defenders, the Rankin County Farmers Association, a Mississippi farmers coop, and Las Casitas, a mobile home coop of immigrants in Asheville, NC.
The goal of SRLF is to serve the entire South – a region of almost a million square miles. Since SRLF came into existence, we’ve re-learned a key lesson about effective lending – it has to be rooted in place at a level of “local-ness” that we can’t achieve across a 14-state region through a centralized model. Being local allows for the kind of contextual understanding, relationship-building and close-at hand technical assistance that new and growing enterprises need. Recognizing the need for local leadership for every loan, in 2019, SRLF became a network of Southern place-based loan funds that are each rooted in their communities. Partners in our growing Southern network include:
- Charleston, WV-based New WV
- Higher Purpose Co, serving the Mississippi Delta
- Emma Community Loan Fund, serving immigrant communities in Asheville, NC
- Patchwork Cooperative Loan Fund in Lexington, KY, supporting local efforts to build a post-coal economy
- The New Economy of Tennessee Fund (or NET Fund), based in Nashville, TN
- Regenerate Atlanta
- The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, serving coops across the Southeast, especially farming coops
- Cooperation New Orleans
The concept of reparations is at the heart of SRLF’s mission: SRLF moves capital stemming from an economy rooted in extraction, exploitation, slavery, and land grabs to build Southern enterprises that are owned and democratically controlled by the very communities from which the wealth was stolen in the first place. The core values of our work are:
- Radical inclusivity for communities that have historically been denied access to finance.
- Non-extractive finance: investing based on the potential profit and benefit of projects, not based on how many assets borrowers already have, and not expecting repayment until the business shows a profit from the investment. SRLF works closely with businesses to ensure a greater likelihood of success.
- Maximizing community benefit: looking not just at the business’ financial bottom line but also at the larger purpose it serves in its community. This might include the creation of jobs, filling a community need (such as access to fresh affordable food), or a broader environmental/social impact.
Where We Come From
SLRF emerged from the Southern Grassroots Economies Project (SGEP), a network of grassroots Southern organizations including Highlander, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, the Florida Farmworkers Association, and the Fund for Democratic Communities. The board and staff of SRLF are all from Southern communities, and most are African American or from immigrant communities.
Around the same time that the idea for SRLF was forming, other groups in the U.S. began conceiving similar non-extractive finance projects. It occurred to several of us that our projects would benefit by working together, even as we maintained autonomy and connection to our local communities. That conception spurred the launch of Seed Commons, a national network of non-extractive loan funds. SRLF, the Baltimore Roundtable on Economic Democracy (BRED), LA Coop Lab, and The Working World are the founding members of Seed Commons.
Cooperation is Built into Our DNA
By banding together, the loan funds in Seed Commons are able to bring the power of big finance to small, community-centered loan funds that serve marginalized communities all over the country. Seed Commons works by taking in investment capital as a single fund, leveraging its size and unity to secure the best terms, then sharing that capital for local deployment by and for communities. For investors, this aggregation means lower risk and greater impact. Seed Commons members also share backend services and a comprehensive, peer-based learning system to give each Member Fund the tools necessary to ensure the strongest chance of success. The Working World, the oldest and largest member of Seed Commons, currently serves as the anchor organization for this joint effort. The Member Funds of Seed Commons jointly own and govern it. Currently, there are eight governing members of Seed Commons, with many more working their way toward full membership. SRLF has been there from the beginning.
SRLF wouldn’t be lending today without the many benefits we enjoy as a member of the Seed Commons. So our model for the SRLF network emphatically relies on each SRLF partner also belonging to the Seed Commons, so that they have access to the shared capital, services, and learning, provided by that nationwide network. As a network, SRLF seeks to add complementary value and services, that are determined by the interest and capacities of the loan funds that make up the SRLF network. These include:
- Political grounding that allows us to look more deeply at our Southern experiences and tie that into the development of our loan funds and the projects we support
- More frequent face-to-face support among peer loan fund leaders who are within driving distance of one-another
- Research and development of shared sectoral knowledge about industries that are particularly strong in the South, that we want to target for cooperative development
- An annual Southern loan fund training and networking institute