Geographies | July 30, 2018

Remembering Jeremy Nowak, pioneer of social finance and champion of “the New Localism”

Dennis Price
ImpactAlpha Editor

Dennis Price

The future, Jeremy Nowak liked to say, “belongs to the problem-solvers.” The Philadelphia civic leader and social financier, died Saturday after a heart attack. He was a towering local figure in his hometown, where he founded the Reinvestment Fund in 1985. The organization has grown into one of the nation’s top community development financial institutions, deploying billions of dollars into low-income neighborhoods across the country.

ImpactAlpha had only recently met Nowak, at this spring’s Total Impact conference in Philadelphia. But we have been inspired by The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism, which Nowak co-authored last year with the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Katz. The new localism, he wrote, is “the 21st century’s means of solving problems characteristic of modern life: global economic competition, poverty, the challenges of social diversity, and the imperatives of environmental sustainability.”

Nowak co-founded the Philadelphia Citizen, a local news publication, to lift up solutions and write a new narrative for the city. “He had more sui generis ideas, knew more about the plight and potential of the American city, and saw deeper connections between policy and people than anyone on our public stage,” his co-founder, Larry Platt, wrote in a tribute, “He Will Not Rest.” Here are Nowak’s columns for the Philadelphia Citizen.

Testimonials poured in from across the worlds of community development and social finance. “We lost an extraordinary social entrepreneur,” tweeted ImpactPHL Ventures’ Margaret Bradley, who worked with Nowak at Reinvestment Fund for 14 years. Don Hinkle-Brown, who succeeded Nowak as CEO of The Reinvestment Fund in 2011, wrote, “Jeremy organized people, then he organized money, then came local capacity, and all along the way he organized how we think about problems and their solutions.” Village Capital’s Ross Baird tweeted, “Jeremy was a giant in the world of how to build a community.”