The twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racial inequity have drawn millions of corporate dollars to underserved communities during the past year.
Now, some of Boston’s leading Latino businesspeople, with the help of two of the city’s biggest financial services companies, are trying to make sure the needs of Latino communities in particular don’t get overlooked.
State Street Corp. and Eastern Bank each have finalized $1 million commitments to what is being called the Latino Equity Fund. They are kicking off an ambitious effort to raise $10 million to rebrand the fund and broaden its mission. Tufts Health Plan, which recently merged with Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, is the other key corporate donor so far, pledging $333,000. And an anonymous donor has pledged $450,000.
“This moment in time really demands a new breed of foundation and corporate and business leader to stand up and organize for these communities that have been left out of the American dream,” said Aixa Beauchamp, a consultant who is cochair and cofounder of the fund.
The fund was launched in 2013 as the Latino Legacy Fund, with more than $1 million in donations at the time. It has been hosted by the Boston Foundation and will remain part of that organization. The discussions around a name change started about a year ago, but the fund’s advisory committee made a final decision on the new name in December. The organizers bill it as the first and only fund focused solely on the Latino community in Massachusetts.
The fund will address two issues, in particular: health equity and health disparities, and economic prosperity. It will act as a grant-making authority to various nonprofits striving to achieve one or both of those goals, while its principals also act as advocates and conveners for the state’s Latino communities. The organizers hope to soon hire an executive director, who would be the fund’s first full-time dedicated staffer.
Beauchamp and Juan Lopera, a corporate business diversity officer at Tufts Health Plan and the fund’s other cochair, said it’s imperative that the initiative’s work go beyond simply giving money to deserving organizations. Toward that end, members of the fund’s advisory committee lobbied the Baker administration this year to persuade state officials to step up vaccination promotion efforts in the communities hardest hit by COVID-19, and worked with Tufts and Harvard Pilgrim to organize a mobile vaccination van to visit many of those communities.
The vaccination van came about because some committee members were trying to help a Latino-owned and Black-owned company in Everett, DPV Transportation, after DPV lost a huge contract during the pandemic. They also helped line up Tufts and Harvard Pilgrim as a major sponsor to launch the coach bus-turned-vaccination van in communities such as East Boston, Chelsea, and Holyoke, and brought ASG, a Latino-owned marketing firm, on board to get the word out. The equity fund’s leadership is now in talks with a major corporate backer and another health insurer, to replicate this mobile vaccination effort.
The fund’s 15-member advisory committee includes five newcomers who joined in the last year: Rafael Cofiño, a partner at the private equity firm Great Hills Partners; Mary Skelton Roberts, senior vice president at the Energy Foundation; Mario Rivera, branch manager at UBS ; Phillip Gonzalez, senior program officer at the Tufts Health Plan Foundation; and Betty Francisco, general counsel at Compass Working Capital.
Yvonne Garcia, chief of staff to the CEO at State Street and an advisory committee member, said she is optimistic about reaching the fund’s $10 million goal, particularly with the pledges from her company and from Eastern to get things started.
State Street, she said, was particularly attracted to the effort because of its emphasis on strengthening the state’s English-as-a-second-language system, which dovetails with State Street’s philanthropic focus on education. “It just fit nicely into the portfolio as we start building out our equity strategy within State Street,” Garcia said.
Nancy Huntington Stager, head of the Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation, said its support is driven in part by the fact that the Latino community, while important to the region’s economy, continues to be plagued by inequities.
A number of racial-equity efforts sprang out of the business community’s reaction to George Floyd’s death a year ago, and the inequities that were underscored during the Black Lives Matter protests. Many of those efforts have gone beyond the Black community, but the organizers of the Latino Equity Fund said there are issues within Latino communities that warrant specific attention.
Lopera said the principals of the Latino Equity Fund are coordinating their work with the organizers of the New Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund, a charitable enterprise launched last year, also within the Boston Foundation, to help Black and brown residents and their communities. Both Eastern and State Street were multimillion-dollar donors to the New Commonwealth Fund.
“COVID was really the catalyst for why we needed to step up,” Lopera said. “We have been in the back seat and rightfully so. The murder of George Floyd called for racial equity for the Black community. But we need to remind leaders . . . that we are also impacted by racism and also very impacted by COVID in Massachusetts.”