Oakkland A’s General Manager Billy Beane had a problem at the beginning of the new millennium. As detailed in Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, Beane’s team was having trouble competing with the other 29 Major League Baseball teams because it couldn’t afford, acquire or keep its best players. This left the A’s doomed to mediocrity (or worse) if they tried to compete in a traditional manner. So Beane didn’t. He upended the accepted approach of evaluating players and went a different way. The A’s found affordable bargains in those who possessed skills that were undervalued by the rest of the league yet once utilized by the A’s would result in wins. Many wins, in fact. Under Beane, his teams have miraculously won six division titles and compiled the 5th best record in all of baseball during the last 16 years.
Ever since the creation of the BNMC, Inc. in 2002, like Billy Beane, we have been willing to think unconventionally to try to achieve success. Looking at things differently has allowed us to partner with and bring together a wide range of people and organizations and has resulted in the medical campus contributing to the growth of our community.
The origin of the BNMC’s commitment to the uncommon approach all started with Mayor asking the obvious yet unspoken question: Why don’t we have a medical campus in Buffalo? Once we addressed his question and moved forward with the BNMC, he was one of our biggest supporters and promoted our growth when needed. Together our community has forged achievements that have established a great foundation for outstanding community and economic redevelopment.
The other key early occurrence was a $50,000 grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation. This grant was made to examine the idea of creating a collaborative medical campus that would leverage its assets for the benefit of the community at large. This investment by the Oishei Foundation has resulted in roughly $1.5 billion of economic development on the campus. We are creating the new generation of anchor institution strategy as we begin to implement our mutual city philosophy.
The Oishei Foundation investment allowed the BNMC to build some early momentum but (we wanted to see if we could have a greater impact. We wanted to see if there were other ways to invest capital in to our projects. This is when we were fortunate to connect with the gurus of impact investing and leaders of where the world of philanthropy is going, the F.B. Heron Foundation. (Take a look at their vision from their CEO Clara Miller). About 6 years ago Tony Martino, the vice chair of our board of directors, and I went to New York City to meet with leaders of the foundation to educate ourselves on impact investment. This day was revelatory as we became better versed in a visionary way of thinking. A direct outcome from this trip was the BNMC and Oishei Foundation creating the first project related investment (PRI) in our community. A PRI is a low cost loan or equity investment that involves the potential return of capital within an established time range. This PRI was a financial turning point for our organization, and we couldn’t have done it without the trust and strong partnership of the Oishei Foundation. We have done two PRIs to date and have completely paid Oishei back.
Most recently the Heron Foundation has been working very closely with us to become a lead investor in the implementation of our vision to be a robust, self-sustaining social enterprise that generates revenues to fulfill our mission. We believe that with the right capacity, we can have stronger, faster, and more widespread impact in the community. Through this partnership with Heron, we have been able to increase our in-house expertise in key areas; work with leaders in sustainability, housing & workforce to develop impact plans; and gain access to other foundation thought leaders who are very supportive of what is being done in Buffalo.
Our collaboration with the Heron Foundation presents an extraordinary opportunity because we have a partner who is a leader on a global level in the impact investing space, and together, I believe we will be able to construct a model that can be replicated. The BNMC, along with the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the Heron Foundation, is bringing together national foundations to learn about all of the great work and to show all of the forward thinking initiatives we are developing to change our community for the better. Over the last two years the Heron Foundation has been a true partner and we thank them for that. Hopefully our initiative will be able to show how their vision of impact investing can be implemented on a large scale to benefit the lives of people.
In the next few weeks we will have a guest blog post from Dana Pancrazi of the F. B. Heron Foundation, whose sage advice and guidance over the last few years has convinced us of the need to “think differently” about how best to fund, scale and replicate our model for urban transformation.