Are you launching a healthy food financing initiative? Interested in working across the food system while leading with equity? Check out new tools from the Michigan Good Food Fund to help you get started.
The Michigan Good Food Fund was born in June 2015 as a $30 million public-private partnership dedicated to providing financing and business assistance to enterprises working to increase access to affordable, healthy food in communities that need it most. It launched after two years incubation and curation by a dedicated and diverse task force that helped design the initiative’s structure, offerings, and mission-driven criteria. In its first five years, it has invested $13+ million supporting more than 280 businesses across Michigan.
Along the way, it has also pushed innovations in healthy food financing and impact investing. This includes activating a collaborative network of lending and business assistance partners as well as bringing a razor-sharp focus to mission-driven food businesses from farm to fork plus a grounding in racial and social equity.
Tools and resources developed by Michigan Good Food Fund partners are now available for others working on healthy food-related financing projects with more to come online over the next months.
What is it
A tool to evaluate mission-alignment of businesses against five impact areas:
- Healthy Food Access
- Economic Development
- Racial & Social Equity
- Environmental Stewardship
- Local Sourcing
It also refines criteria to be applicable to enterprises across the food value chain including the range of businesses that grow, process, distribute, or sell healthy food – from grocery retail to restaurants to healthy food product makers.
Behind the Headline
Designed in collaboration for joint implementation, we knew we needed to be clear about what we meant by something as deceptively simple as “good food.” As part of the fund’s incubation, a task force worked collaboratively to develop a mission-scorecard as a tool to measure alignment against the fund’s five impact areas with each priority area having questions which implementing partners could use to evaluate prospective businesses.
In the first six months of operation, we fielded over 80 inquiries from a range of enterprises statewide. Using the scorecard, we pressed on questions like: “is this product culturally-relevant?” or “is this product affordable?”.
Once put into practice, we quickly realized that the criteria were inadvertently screening out businesses that the team felt should fit squarely within the initiative. Imagine the black-owned business that manufactured a high-protein flour. The nutrient-rich product cost five times more than white wheat flour. Affordable? No. Healthier? Yes. Economic opportunity for a native-Detroiter? Definitely.
Such scenarios generated three critical insights that ultimately led us to retool the scorecard.
- First, we prioritized healthy food as the initiative’s primary filter. While we would continue to judge the success of our work on a portfolio basis, healthy food would be a non-negotiable criteria across supported enterprises. This excluded coffee, soda, alcohol, and desserts.
- Secondly, we decided to balance “access” with efforts that advanced economic opportunity for entrepreneurs of color grounded in the initiative’s founding commitment to racial and social equity. This allowed us to find a home with food products that may not always be “affordable” or “accessible” to all but were nutritious and created opportunity for entrepreneurs historically excluded from traditional financing.
- Finally, we developed sector-specific scorecards. Unlike other healthy food financing efforts at that time that primarily focused on retail, the Michigan Good Food Fund was the first of its kind committed to supporting projects across the state’s food value chain. We realized a one-size fits all scorecard missed critical nuance. For instance, what could a grocer do that was different than a restaurant and vice versa? How would we evaluate “healthy food” differently in the context of a processor, distributer, food truck, or restaurant? We broke the scorecard down by type of business and refined our evaluation questions and ranking to the unique capabilities of each sector.
Benefits in Action
The revised scorecards’ clarity and ease-of-use have generated multiple benefits, internally and externally.
Today, the Michigan Good Food Fund has expanded beyond its original four founding organizations to a network of five lending partners as well as other technical and business assistance providers. Anchoring our work in the scorecards has led to easier onboarding of new partners, faster decisions, and a common grounding when enterprises approach us. Externally, it has clarified our unique value add in the marketplace both for prospective entrepreneurs and fellow lenders and business assistance providers. Finally, it has allowed us to uplift and underscore the values that define this initiative, namely, sparking health and economic opportunity, especially for people of color.
Roles and Responsibilities: A RACI Matrix Applied
What is it
This responsibility chart describes various roles and responsibilities in completing tasks and activities to advance the objectives of the Michigan Good Food Fund. The team utilized the RACI matrix to identify specific roles for each organization on various tasks. RACI stands for:
R – Responsible
A – Accountable
C – Consulted
I – Informed
Behind the Headline
The Michigan Good Food Fund is a collaborative of eight separate organizations that work in concert to advance the initiative’s social objectives. This includes four founding core partners that focus on fund management, business assistance, pipeline development, marketing, and financing alongside a network of other lenders that help ensure the initiative is meeting the needs of entrepreneurs across the state, value chain, and stage and size of business.
Collaboration is key, as no one organization can accomplish the work of delivering the array of strategically aligned technical and financial assistance needed. One of the greatest strengths of this initiative is the shared passion for the work and the commitment to implement the program together. However, how do we determine exactly who does what: Who will be the lead, who will provide input, who is considered “optional”? The RACI matrix outlines roles and responsibilities along the following categories:
- Financial Support
- Financial Assistance and Lending
- Technical Assistance, outreach, and pipeline development
- Program Administration
From the beginning, partners were committed to a developmental evaluation, engaging with an independent firm to conduct regular assessment of the initiative’s inner workings as well as its outputs and outcomes. In the first round of feedback provided to partners within the first two years of the initiative’s launch, our evaluation team highlighted the following areas of opportunity:
- Partners expressed the need for greater clarity of roles and responsibilities of core partners and key stakeholders, including lenders and consultants.
- Partners desired to strengthen internal operations of core partners, particularly the desire for greater efficiency and more clear and transparent decision-making processes.
- Partners wanted a shared understanding of expectations of one another: a definition of what it means to be a core partner, how each partner is held accountable to their work, and how success is defined for each entity.
Benefits in Action
Responding to these identified opportunity areas, partners worked hard to specify and delegate the various activities required to keep this multi-dimensional collaborative advancing. Systems were implemented to track activities from outreach to output, streamline communication among partners, and coordinate strategic alignment of technical and financial assistance delivery across partners. Some key tools developed to support refined roles and responsibilities include:
- A weekly update on all initiative activities such as marketing and outreach, business assistance, pipeline development, status on financing (underwriting, approved, and closed loans), and other related work such as evaluation.
- A weekly pipeline call with all lending and technical assistance partners
- An evolved data collection and reporting repository designed to centralize data collection, tracking, analysis, and communication activities. The system captures data on inquiries, status of technical assistance and lending, and also tracks events and earned media mentions.
- A dashboard of key performance indicators showcasing metrics such as number of businesses served, technical assistance provided, and grants and loans provided. Demographic Information of supported businesses will soon be added to this tool.
Articulation of roles and responsibilities with assigned tasks and activities to various partners appropriately distributes the work to those who hold aligned core competencies. In so doing, this initiative leverages the strengths of each partner to most effectively and efficiently advance the objectives of the Michigan Good Food Fund, which is the important work of building capacity and capital in communities of color.