Last year, at the height of the lockdown, the black community took beating after beating. Many black businesses and stores had to halt operations or close due to the slowing economy. Black communities then suffered from riots linked to the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM).

Elisse Douglass, a Haas Business School alumna, initiated the Oakland OBBF as a crowdfunding campaign. Her intention? Raise $5,000 to assist Black Oakland businesses damaged by the protests following George Floyd’s murder. 

The most surprising thing happened next. Within one week, the campaign reached $100,000, exceeding their original goal. As a result, this has set the stage for a broader effort to support Black businesses in the city. 

What made the community-based origins of the campaign successful? In this article, we’ll tackle the things Elisse shared with us on the OneHaas Podcast. We’ll unpack what influenced her to harness the power of the people and communities to come together to organize support and create social impact.

Use Your Motivation as Anchor

Her experiences as a young woman in Philadelphia exposed her to a variety of communities and neighborhoods, particularly black neighborhoods. As she works in these communities, she finds it difficult to reconcile the differences between access, wealth, and privilege.  According to her, black grief usually occurs only within communities. She knew work remained to be done as these movements happened during the summer of 2020.

“I’m really dealing with that violence on black people —the crisis of the pandemic—seeing black people around me suffering and dying. It was just a lot. I think I was processing a lot of that, and it certainly affected a lot of the work that I’ve done in the past year, for better, for worse. And now, a year later, I’m really trying to gain some perspective on where we are at.”

Learning from Her Experiences

After Elisse was laid off from her job in 2012-2013, she had time to think about what she wanted to do going forward. During this time, she didn’t hold back and tried several things, including consulting and starting her own business. Through real estate, she saw how she could use her ability to create things and her architectural background to shape opportunities for underprivileged communities. 

“That was not what I came here to do. I thought I was going to be doing construction, but the thing that I learned was, ‘Oh, okay, one, you can build businesses. I didn’t know that. Two, you can go out, and you can invest in stuff.’ You can find businesses, and you can build them.”

Build an Innovative Network

Even though she is an introvert, she maintains a close circle of friends who challenge her mentally. She emphasizes the importance of surrounding yourself with innovators.

“I really do value a lot of those relationships.  It was great. It just showed me, ‘Listen, there are other people out there who are looking at the same problems as you from an innovation lens.’ Those who are looking at trying to do stuff differently. Those who are looking at doing it at scale. Who are generally curious and like piecing stuff together as they come across it. They’re not just handed a solution and told to execute.”

Rally Your Community With Passion

In the podcast, Elisse spoke of how she vigorously used her platform to spark interest from within the black community. She used her network extensively to spread the word about the project. She also credited the relationships she built at Haas with helping her achieve success in this initiative.

“I texted business owners and I texted my friends. I posted on my personal Instagram. And I didn’t even think I posted on LinkedIn until well, after the fact, and it’s like, ‘Hey,  just trying to get this thing together. Here are the people that will probably need some help. Anyone who has any money? I’m going to put some money in this, and let’s do that. We’re all collectively grieving. And  I know a lot of you are action-oriented in the same way I was.’  And it kind of just blew up from there. I actually attribute that a lot to Haas people. So, it was like, oh, you want $5,000?  And y’all gave me like a hundred thousand dollars in a week. And I was like, you gotta love the Haas community.”

Don’t Just Help, Follow Through

Elisse believes that providing guidance and assistance on how to allocate resources is more important than just providing them with money. If you want your efforts to have a long-term effect, education is just as important as the resources you’ve shared. 

“Don’t get me wrong, I actually really sometimes just want to give people money. Go about their business. Just do it. Do what you can because you’re already doing it. Y’all got it, right? But if you have limited dollars, which we all do, you can actually be strategic on how you deploy those resources”.

Her Haasie Story

Are you wondering how a girl from Philadelphia ended up in California? She credits her colleague Jenny Machita, a Haas Business School alumna. Jenny’s work ethic, perspective, and communication skills were enough to convince Elisse to apply at Haas.

“There was a snowstorm, and I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore. No, that’s all I need to know. I just checked the forecast,’ and I said, ‘I got to go. I think I’ve done my time.’ No, I didn’t even spend a lot of time in California. Honestly, one of the partners at my firm had gone to the house. She’s an alum, and she was incredible. And I was like, ‘Oh, I love her.’ I love the way she thinks, and I love the way she communicates. I love the way she does everything. I don’t know anything about this school. If she went there, I want to go. I applied, and I was really lucky to get in.”

Ultimately, Elisse’s experience showed us that a genuine desire to help does not always begin with large initiatives — small efforts that focus on getting members of the community to help one another often succeed. 

Listen to the full episode at Elisse Douglass, FTMBA 16 – Creating Opportunities in a Time of Crisis, or check out other alumni stories at OneHaas Alumni Podcast.

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