In October 2019, the Wisconsin-based American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Justice set up shop as a sponsor at one of Philly’s most iconic events.
“Our draw to the Made in America music festival was the incredible conversation Roc Nation was having around criminal justice reform — a key focus for us at the Institute,” said Nyra Jordan, social impact director for the Institute. “We wanted to be a part of that conversation, learn more, understand the problems better and solidify VC and nonprofit partnerships.”
As a sponsor for Made in America’s social action hub, Cause Village, Jordan’s nascent team had the chance to engage with upwards of 20 nonprofits, creating connections with some of Philly’s most influential social impact movers and shakers, like Philly Startup Leaders.
“There’s so much that the organizations in Philly can teach us, and we in turn have the tools and resources to help bring those ideas to life,” she said.
Launched in 2018 as a public benefit corporation, the Institute is part of American Family Insurance’s (AmFam) effort to make a larger impact on communities across the country. It functions as a venture capital firm that invests in and partners with entrepreneurs and startups working to close social equity gaps in four distinct areas: creating resilient communities, growing economic opportunity, delivering equity in education and promoting healthy youth development.
“We had asked ourselves, ‘How can we take an innovative approach to social issues?’” said Jordan. “From there, the Institute was born. Our goals are very intentional. We want to be good stewards and take care of our communities. It’s just the right thing to do.”
The Institute’s enhanced focus on criminal justice reform stems directly from Wisconsin’s rapidly accelerating rate of incarceration and above average rates of racial disparity within its 37 state correctional institutions.
“The problem is right here in our own backyard,” said Jordan.
Within its first year of operation, the Institute invested $11.1 million in social impact companies overall, two of which are working to make a unique and targeted impact on criminal justice.
One of those investments is in Paladin, a Chicago-based justice technology startup that streamlines the process of connecting legal professionals with people in need of pro bono services. Another is Pigeonly, a Las Vegas-based company that reduces the stress of incarceration by providing affordable options for people to find and communicate with an incarcerated loved one.
Earlier this month on Twitter, AmFam CEO and vocal advocate for criminal justice reform Jack Salzwedel announced the Institute’s new partnership with Village Capital. Together, the organizations will explore the challenges posed by the US justice system and how criminal and civil justice tech can play a human-centric role in reducing racial and economic disparities within the system.
An important question: What if the 'justice' in #JusticeTech referred to justice for those affected by the U.S. prison industry and not tech to improve the existing, dominant systems? @AmFamInstitute is partnering w/ @villagecapital to get an answer. https://t.co/RywPqr4ZDT
— Jack Salzwedel (@AmFamJack) September 8, 2020
Despite not being able to attend in-person events during the pandemic, Jordan is keeping her eye on Philly, believing it to be a hotspot for investments and partnerships.
“We’re excited by the progressive conversations happening in Philly,” she said. “We’re always looking for mutually beneficial partnerships, including VC funding for Philly startups.”
Those conversations aren’t limited to criminal justice reform. The Institute is also looking for entrepreneurs making a social impact by building more resilient communities, increasing academic achievement and developing healthy youth.
Entrepreneurs and impact investors interested in learning more can reach out to Jordan directly.-30-