Questioning Financial Paradigms And Building Up Communities

At a “Park Street Finance” event, part of the Impact Investing Speaker Series, panelists discussed role of financial operations in community building.

One of the many takeaways from the recent contentious election season is that Americans want to know whom their leaders are working for: Wall Street or Main Street? Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics and Microfinance Programs Director Shannon Mudd wants us to think outside of such a dichotomy, proposing a side of the economy that both ends of the supposed spectrum ignore. He calls this “Park Street Finance.”

Last week, a panel by the same name presented attendees with new considerations about the role of financial operations in community building through supporting small businesses, startups, and low-income or marginalized areas. The panel featured speakers from a variety of organizations that provide loans and capital to local communities as a way of breaking down inequities through small-scale finance.

“Wall Street and Main Street have largely ignored low-income populations, as they have not figured out how to provide services effectively to these populations,” said Mudd. “In addition, small firms and startups have always had difficulty in getting the finance they need to thrive. The good news is that organizations are present which focus on these populations in their local communities.”

The panel highlighted such organizations. On hand were Stella Standifer from Finanta, a community lender that provides loans to low-income communities; John Moore, an angel investor with the Philadelphia chapter of Investors Circle; Kate Poole, an artist and member of Regenerative Finance, which is a model for providing non-extractive finance; and locally renowned Judy Wicks, a Haverford honorary degree recipient who founded the White Dog Cafe on a farm-to-table model and who stresses the importance of locally produced food and clothing for both sustainability reasons and for resistance against market disruptions. Wicks’ emphasis on the overlap of environmental and economic concerns earned the event sponsorship from the Environmental Studies program and Bricolage, a student-run maker co-op that runs communal events focused on sustainable re-use and creative creation.

“I was hoping to attract students who might not initially think of themselves as interested in economics, students, for instance, from environmental studies who may not yet have seen the critical connections among local economy, food justice, race and politics.” said Joshua Moses, an assistant professor of anthropology who works in the Environmental Studies program. “I think we need more connection among environmental studies, economics, the entrepreneurial worlds, and engaged community worlds.”

“Park Street Finance” took its name from a Trivial Pursuit question that asks, “What is the most popular non-numbered street name in the U.S.?” The answer, of course, is Park Street, and Mudd uses the term because he feels it conveys a sense of locality and community embodied in the kinds of work discussed at the panel.

The Haverford Microfinance Club had a table at the event to present information about Kiva Zip, an online platform that allows for peer-to-peer lending, which the group uses to provide financing to local entrepreneurs and organizations.

Ultimately, the Park Street event’s goal was to present students with a different economic paradigm, stressing the importance of community, equity, and sustainability, which remain important values at Haverford.

“Haverford Mi3, the Microfinance and Impact Investing Initiative ​sponsor programs like this to provide a venue for students to learn and question what kind of market economy and outcomes we want,” said Mudd, “and how can we work to direct capital, engage in labor markets and create businesses and other organizations to steer the market in the directions consistent with our values.”

Park Street Finance is part of the Impact Investing Speaker Series, co-sponsored by Mi3 and the Center for Career and Professional Advising.

-Michael Weber ’19

Photos by Claire Chenyu Wang ’20