Bree Jones, the founder of Baltimore-based equitable development venture Parity, is one of 14 fellows joining a new class of the Fund for New Leadership (FNL). The national, multi-year program partners with early-stage organizations to help them expand their work on crucial issues such as racial equity, economic opportunity, workers’ rights, and environmental sustainability.
Fellows receive $75,000 in unrestricted funds per year for three years, for a total of $225,000. They also get access to a blend of peer coaching, leadership training and mentoring opportunities. Jones isn’t the only Baltimore founder in the group: Brittany Young, CEO of dirtbike-centered STEM program B-360, is also a part of the inaugural class of FNL fellows.
The unrestricted funds are especially useful for early stage companies, since it allows for funds to be used for salaries. It’s a different approach to funding: Most grants have a specific stipulation or project for which they must be used, and operational grants for salaries can be challenging to get in the early years. This leads to early-stage nonprofit founders having to sacrifice making ends meet personally for the sake of the organization.
“I can take a breath now,” said Jones. “Now I feel like I have three years to grow the business from an abundance standpoint, and not a scarcity standpoint.”
It will also mean growing the team. Along with a salary for Jones, Parity plans to use the unrestricted funds to hire a brand strategist and a head of experience to oversee the company’s homebuying program and anti-displacement programming. These programs help legacy residents increase housing stability by aiding in applying for utilities reductions, property tax reductions, renter tax credits and more.
Parity gives legacy residents in disenfranchised communities a seat at the table in their own community’s redevelopment. The company does this by acquiring abandoned buildings, renovating them, and then creating affordable homeownership opportunities for residents of that neighborhood.
Financial security is great, but Jones is also excited for the mentoring process in FNL. The mentors she’s worked with in Baltimore-based programs like the John Hopkins Social Innovation Lab and Innovation Works have all been integral to her growth as a leader and her company’s success.
“The mentors I have are both my mirrors and sounding boards,” said Jones. “They often reflect back to me things about myself I didn’t recognize, which is helpful because I get imposter syndrome or don’t see the milestones we achieved.”
Parity will begin home construction on its first group of properties this summer, and the first batch of homes are expected to be completed by early next year. The venture has also purchased a corner store market that has been abandoned for 30 years, and hopes to redevelop it to provide fresh food in West Baltimore.
“For any funders reading, make your funds unrestricted,” said Jones, “and/or create $60,000 a year fellowships to give people a runway for living expenses while they’re building these world changing companies.”
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.