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Agent of Impact: Dana Bezerra, Heron Foundation

ImpactAlpha, May 15 There was a let-down inside the Heron Foundation when it reached its goal, ahead of schedule, of investing 100% of its $300 million endowment for impact. “It felt like a boom-splat,” Bezerra told ImpactAlpha. “That felt like such a low bar.”

Amid aspirational calls for “systems change” at this week’s Mission Investors Exchange, Bezerra stood out with a plan to shift power as well as assets. What 100% represented in 2016 was that the foundation had fully invested for impact. When she became president two years ago, Bezerra moved to optimize for Heron’s mission: helping people and communities to help themselves.

Stretch goal for foundations: Shift power, as well as assets, for the post-COVID economy

Now Heron is putting investment power over Heron’s assets into the hands of community partners – and grappling with all the complexities that entails. At MIE, Bezerra called out those throwing stones from the “cheap seats,” meaning critics who are not, as she said, ‘in the arena.” Her invitation: “Join us.” 

The power-shift is personal for the farm girl from Fresno, Calif. Growing up on her family’s dairy farm in the San Joaquin Valley, Bezerra saw creameries go bankrupt, as well as tax abatements for multinational food companies. After a decade in private banking and investments, she joined Heron and helped place the foundation at the nexus of community and capital markets.

As president, she has been rebuilding Heron’s focus on places “demonstrating an agency of their own, where there’s something happening, where they appear to be starting to say, ‘We need to change.’” Already, the foundation maintains “sub-accounts” for investments in the San Joaquin Valley, Maine and Jackson, Mississippi.

Bezerra says Heron will move capital and deployment decision-making to five to 10 geographies over time. Bezerra says the foundation’s “role is to speed that agency and accelerate it and not put our fingerprints all over it.”

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