Each July, the Aspen Institute’s Resnick Aspen Action Forum brings together Fellows of the Aspen Global Leadership Network (AGLN) for a week of dialogue, play, and learning. The participants’ goal is to generate innovative and actionable solutions to complex global issues, and they explore ways to leverage their leadership as they collaborate to create a more free, just, and equitable society.
One issue that is always key to the discussion is inclusive economic growth, which is vital for building stronger, more resilient, and more equitable societies. It goes beyond mere economic numbers and seeks to ensure that the benefits of development reach everyone, fostering a more just future. The 2023 Action Forum brought the issue to the forefront—and brought together the Global Inclusive Growth Spark Grant Awardees, a group of values-driven leaders focused in this area of societal progress.
Administered by the Aspen Partnership for Inclusive Economy and supported by Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, Spark Grants support AGLN Fellows around the world who are leading critical initiatives to reimagine more inclusive economic futures for all. The grants provide seed, catalytic funding to spark further development and impact— from working to strengthen Black-owned banks in the US to promoting integrity in Nigerian business operations, to empowering entrepreneurs and combating human trafficking.
With 10 of the 13 Spark Grant awardees in attendance, the Action Forum proved a powerful opportunity to collaborate. This first-of-its kind gathering featured the Aspen Institute’s classic method of text-based dialogue—seminar dialogues proven to help leaders reflect deeply on their personal leadership journey—as well as on pressing issues facing tensions and trade-offs in building equitable growth. Sessions also included peer-to-peer working time to help advance each others’ ventures.
One Spark Grant recipient is Ashley D. Bell, co-founder of the National Black Bank Foundation. Bell is leading a movement to “bank our values” by working to build racial equity into banking systems and to finance Black-owned banks. Bell is a partner at Dentons LLP, the world’s largest law firm, as well as General Counsel for the National Black Bank Foundation and the $250 million Black Bank Fund. He is also the founder of fintech company Ready Life, a startup that helps people along the path to homeownership but isn’t based on credit scores.
“Historically, inequality and discrimination have prevailed as a practice in the US; as a result, many people of color have been excluded and not given equal access to opportunities for homeownership,” says Bell. These long-term systemic biases have produced significant gaps in wealth and homeownership rates. “Even in 2023, Black families still find themselves having to whitewash their homes to get higher appraisals,” he notes. “Blacks are also denied mortgages at an 84% higher rate than whites and 45% of blacks have subprime credit scores, as opposed to 18.3% of their white peers.” Watch the following video to learn more about Bell’s powerful mission.
Innovators like Bell are the paradigm shifters needed in the push to remodel exclusive financial institutions. Read more about Spark Grants and the other amazing Fellows here.
Spark Grant applications are open now through September 7. AGLN Fellows are encouraged to apply here.