The professional aviation community is full of skilled pilots who command aircraft across the globe. With the world more open than ever, it’s easy to assume that the pilot pool is just as wide and diverse. However, if that was the case, Cutting Edge client FlexAir would not exist.
Instead, FlexAir was developed to address this growing problem. With representation by women and people of color in the professional aviation community less than 5% despite decades of outreach and effort, the FlexAir flight school was created to serve the underrepresented.
FlexAir provides flight training, mentorship and coaching to veterans, minorities, and others who wouldn’t normally get a chance to enter the career field of aviation. FlexAir’s mission is to make the next generation of pilots more professional, diverse, and inclusive than ever before.
“We believe the pilot shortage is a mentorship shortage,” shared FlexAir Co-founder and CEO Paul Wynns. “We’re breaking away from the traditional training model of ‘you must have the right stuff’ to become a pilot by creating mentorship relationships with student pilots to raise them up instead of weed them out.”
As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, son of an immigrant family, and second-generation veteran, Paul Wynns long career in aviation and aerospace was devoid of mentors that looked like him. Reflecting on his experiences, Wynns realized that successful pilots not only possessed strong skills, they also had strong support systems of people behind them. This emphasis and need for mentorship led to the idea of “One Crew,” a combination of flight instruction and career mentorship FlexAir offers to all of its pilots.
Now, FlexAir is taking its mission to new heights with a recent acquisition of Air Associates Flight Training, a Kansas City flight school serving veterans and Department of Defense SkillBridge trainees. With plans to fly the world’s first all-electric, zero-emissions training aircraft, FlexAir is seeking impact investment partners to help the company grow and change the face of aviation. Learn more about FlexAir here.
Each April, we celebrate Earth Month and Earth Day, recognizing and advocating for the need to protect our planet, its resources, and the people within it. In commemoration of Earth Month, we’re featuring clients actively investing in our planet and putting sustainability goals to work.
Camino Verde is a growing organization based in the Peruvian Amazon, connecting native tree planting to improved livelihoods in historically marginalized native and mestizo communities.
Camino Verde partners with Amazonian farmers and native communities to regenerate forests and has planted over 200,000 trees representing over 400 native tree species. Their reforestation centers and tree nurseries form a one-of-a-kind Living Seed Bank of Amazonian biodiversity.
“Despite the terrible rate of destruction of intact ecosystems, we know that it is possible to restore entire landscapes using known tools and tried and true strategies,” said Robin van Loon, Camino Verde Executive Director. “Because we know restoration is possible, we don’t really have another choice but to commit to doing the work.” Learn more about Camino Verde’s mission, vision and programs.
“CoPeace, is committed to acting morally, ethically, and responsibly in regard to society and the environment,” said CoPeace Founder Craig Jonas. “Equity, inclusion, and justice are not just valued at CoPeace – they are pillars supporting our mission.”
A fully certified B Corp and public-benefit corporation (PBC), CoPeacehelps impactful companies grow. CoPeace screens, selects, and directly invests in companies that are doing work to combat the climate emergency. Some examples of such companies include Uncharted, Advanced Sustainable Technologies, and Compost Colorado.
As an impact-driven holding company, CoPeace is building a portfolio of carefully selected businesses with measurable social and environmental impact. To learn more, visit copeace.com.
Kingstown Green Inc. Eco-Friendly Casket Cooperative
Kingstown Green is a cooperative that produces handcrafted wooden products, including wooden caskets, all from sustainable sources materials. As a lumber user with a deep value for trees, Kingston Green only utilizes FSC-certified lumber or locally sourced eco-friendly lumber to help minimize deforestation.
“We believe that by placing such emphasis on eco-conscious manufacturing that we are helping to make our beautiful little planet a more habitable place for the inhabitants,” said Edward Henderson, Kingston Green President. “We also believe that by placing such emphasis on sustainability that we are being role models to other industries.”
In addition to their focus on sustainability, Kingston Green is committed as an equitable employer where anyone can get a job making a living wage regardless of education status.
Mid-Hudson Energy Transition
Mid-Hudson Energy Transition (MHET) is deeply committed to strengthening the resilience of local communities in the face of climate change through community education and local knowledge. MHET empowers municipalities, their residents, and businesses to own and share renewable energy, create healthier buildings, and join in community wealth-building to ensure that the clean energy transition benefits everyone, especially the low-income communities and communities of color that are being impacted first and worst by climate change.
“Every decision we make as an organization is in the context of the climate crisis and the intersecting racial and economic inequalities that this problem was borne out of,” said Jasmine Graham, MHET Executive Director. “An equitable transition to local, renewable energy will bolster our community’s resilience and capacity to survive increasingly frequent and severe climate events.”
MHET’s community-centered approach has led to innovative and equitable solutions that reduce emissions while advancing a more inclusive and regenerative economy.
“With the resources, knowledge, and solutions to contribute to this monumental shift, MHET we’re thrilled at the chance to do so with the communities of the Mid-Hudson region.”
For Terra Genesis, harmonizing the economic system with the ecological systems of Earth is of the utmost importance for ensuring a livable planet for current & future generations of humans and the wider community of life.
“We focus on agriculture because it is the very foundation of society and a powerful opportunity for regenerating the relationship between humans and landscapes,” shared Luke Smith, CEO and Partner at Terra Genesis.
As a regenerative design and development firm, Terra Genesis works to regenerate agricultural supply systems, align the interests of farmers, brands and consumers and produce better outcomes for people and the planet.
Learn more about the various ways Terra Genesis supports communities in becoming ambassadors of social and ecological regeneration.
Working with mission-led, impact-focused organizations has afforded Cutting Edge the opportunity to partner with individuals representing a wide array of communities. This month, we’re featuring women-led/women-founded organizations pioneering change in their communities and beyond. Learn more about these leaders and what drives their mission in our Q&A below.
Q: How did you become involved in impact work? How did you become a leader at your current organization?
Rochelle: My parents instilled in my sisters and me a responsibility to give back. As a result, I’ve always been interested in the footprint I leave behind. I was asked to oversee the construction of affordable housing projects and thought it was a great gig while I looked for new clients for my design studio. After two years, when the economy tanked, I had that “come to Jesus moment.” I began to think that my background in architecture, cultural tourism, community development, and marketing, my experience as an area planning commissioner and design review board member, and my life-long residency in underinvested urban communities might have uniquely positioned me for this career. I asked to be the CEO that year. It took ten more years, three more asks, and three interviews to be taken seriously enough to get the position.
Vivienne: I founded LENDonate in 2015, after a long career in investment management. I was also a constant nonprofit volunteer with fundraising being a focus for almost 20 years. What became LENDonate is a culmination of both perspectives – a donor who wanted to better leverage my ability to give and an investor who wanted more choices to invest for good.
Sophie: My wife and I founded Sugarwitch, our ice cream sandwich company, while we were graduate students in 2019, and have since grown our operation to include 7 staff not including ourselves. While we care deeply about the frozen treats that we make, we care just as much about the people who work with us to make those delicious treats a reality. We have built a team of wonderful people that is majority queer and majority women/non-binary folks, and all of our leadership positions are currently held by queer women/non-binary people. As such, it is our first priority to create a workspace that is enthusiastically affirming and supportive of those modes of inhabiting the world.
Q: How does your organization’s mission align with your personal interests and values?
Jessie: The REAL People’s Fund is all about partnering with Bay Area entrepreneurs, worker-owners, and small business owners of color to co-create an equitable and inclusive economy that uplifts our power, prosperity, joy, and liberation. We do this through holistic business support, non-extractive capital, and building power in community.
Rochelle: As President and CEO, I have a direct opportunity to shape the organization’s vision. Our motto, “it starts with housing,” reflects our belief that a stable home opens up opportunities for personal and economic growth, attracts reinvestment to communities, and spurs the local economy. We are not just building housing, we are building homes, families, communities, legacies.
Vivienne: I wanted to build a more collaborative financial ecosystem for the nonprofit social sector – to empower mission-driven organizations with the tools and techniques of the investment sphere. I want to shine a light on the undiscovered, underdeveloped opportunities in the nonprofit financial system and explore the range of motivations of our investors, whether that is social impact over investment return or the reverse.
Sophie: Our ice cream sandwiches strike the balance between nostalgia and innovation, all named for bad-a** witches of literature and lore. While our flavors rotate with the seasons and our imaginations, our practices – from sourcing to labor – are always guided by a commitment to building a more equitable food system. We believe that nothing is more delicious than a frozen treat made with care and concern for people and planet.
Q: What is one thing you want people to know about the work you/your organization represents?
Jessie: We are a collective of black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) who identify as women and non binary folks. We are a team of Bay Area organizers, entrepreneurs, workers, innovators, and financial activists who are committed to walking entrepreneurs along a journey to make meaningful and equitable economic impact.
Rochelle: The work we do, creating affordable housing, is a long-term strategy. And when done well, the entire city benefits through strengthened families, a strong local economy, improved school outcomes, reduced public services, lower crime, and so much more.
Vivienne: We know we are better when we collaborate, so I welcome a connection with anyone who supports impact investing and/or philanthropy with funding ideas and ways to collaborate. If you find yourself thinking “I wish I could …”, let’s connect!
How would you encourage emerging women leaders, especially those navigating male-dominated spaces?
Rochelle: Stop reading other people’s headlines. Make your own! Bet on you!
Sophie: Surround yourself with other skillful, dedicated, creative women(+). We do this together. Together, we can do this.
Vivienne: Believe in your own abilities, but also seek out other women leaders, and male allies, to form trust circles. Propel each other forward, and do not forget to reach down to pull other women up along the way.
I have been on the board of HowWomenLead since the beginning, so I am going to borrow from our Credo which I love: Be Fierce Advocates for Each Other | Reinforce Her Voice | Say Yes to Helping Each Other | Be Unabashedly Visible.
At Cutting Edge, we strive to build an economy that provides opportunities for everyone to participate, thrive, and build wealth. Unfortunately, traditional capital raising models often exclude people who want to invest in businesses and organizations that provide real value in the real world. To combat this, we are leading a movement to bring new capital — by directly engaging more people as investors — to the new economy — an economy that is sustainable, resilient, and just.
However, we cannot do this without partnering with mission-aligned clients who are committed to empowering communities that have been systemically excluded and oppressed. The organizations listed below are just a few of several clients we’ve had the great opportunity to support in their efforts to uplift African American communities by building economic power and wealth.
The EcoWomanist Institute (EWI) is an emancipatory sacred space for women of color that focuses on land, power and justice. The mission of EWI is to promote the inclusion, ecological awareness, and community leadership of African American women within the ecospirituality, ecojustice, and ethics narratives. EWI was birthed out of the co-vision of two ecowomanists, Valerie Hill Rawls and Veronica Kyle, whose ancestors endured, survived, and thrived in spite of being enslaved in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, harsh southern states known as the Black Belt.
Impact Ventures works to eliminate the social and economic barriers for BIPOC communities to build generational wealth through inclusive entrepreneurship, community wealth building, and integrated capital. Impact Ventures provides direct entrepreneurial support services, equitable investing, and community wealth building aimed at closing the wealth divide.
Through inclusive and holistic economic development, the New Orleans Business Alliance (NOLABA) is working to create an economy where all New Orleanians are financially secure and prosperous through growth, opportunity and by eliminating economic disparity. A public-private partnership, Nola BA is the official economic development organization for the City of New Orleans.
Obran Cooperative, a worker-owned cooperative conglomerate corporation, exists to grow profitable, useful, and impactful businesses that serve their members, customers, and communities. A Reparative Enterprise, Obran was designed in part as a reaction to slavery.
Obran serves those closest to the problem of economic and social oppression by empowering its workers through ownership and education.
REAL People’s Fund is a community-powered fund and entrepreneurship program that provides non-extractive capital, holistic business support, and organizing opportunities to build power with Black, Indigenous, Latine, AAPI, low-income, immigrant, undocumented, formerly incarcerated and working-class entrepreneurs of color in the East Bay.
Real People’s Fund is part of a movement to build collective wealth and decision-making power in communities while working towards a restorative and inclusive economy.
Co-founded by Art Morrison III, United Home Relief was created to inspire and educate new African American real estate investors, hire black owned contractors, and empower black youth who are looking for an alternative way of building wealth. United Home Relief aims to make real estate investing more accessible by providing several “first-step” solutions to get professionals started in selling or building their real estate portfolio.
WEPOWER works with working class Black and Latinx people to build community wealth and power in order to transform education and economic systems in St. Louis, Missouri to nurture their lives rather than harm them. WEPOWER envisions a future where systems are accountable to powerful communities that have been historically oppressed, and nurture our freedom, well-being, dreams, and joy.