By Karen Guzman
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a spotlight on the need to address financial inequality in the United States, as illness has disproportionally impacted vulnerable communities, Andrea Levere ’83 told a Yale School of Management audience on April 23.
An executive fellow at Yale SOM’s International Center for Finance (ICF), Levere is president emerita of Prosperity Now, a nonprofit that advocates for policies to help bring financial stability to more Americans. She has spent three decades working on programs aimed at creating wealth for financially underserved and low-wealth communities.
“If the work I was doing was relevant before COVID-19, it has absolutely been raised up since then,” she said. “We need to think about leveraging this moment of crisis to make enduring change.”
In an online event titled “Building Equity by Investing Equity: How Philanthropic Equity Can Reduce Wealth Inequality,” Levere discussed the challenge of creating wealth for a greater portion of society.
She spoke as part of the Becton Fellowship Program, which brings practitioners from private and public institutions to share their professional insights with faculty and students at Yale SOM. Deputy Dean Edieal Pinker introduced her.
Levere said she was drawn to work with the ICF because it offered her a chance to engage more deeply on one central issue: “How do we try to address the wealth inequality in the nation, and what can be done by leveraging the tools of finance.” Her fellowship has focused on advancing the practice of providing “enterprise capital” to nonprofits and social ventures, rather than restricted or program-specific grants, to build financial strength and resilience to those organizations whose work addresses all forms of inequality.
Levere described some of the programs and policies needed to help create greater wealth and financial resilience. One area that needs to be addressed, she said, is inequality in job structure; some jobs offer far greater flexibility and benefits than others. Better labor policies could help. Less affluent communities also tend to be underserved by banks and investment products, Levere said. Community-based financial institutions can help make financial tools accessible and understandable.
“One piece of this is having the ability to navigate an increasingly complex financial system and make the best choices for yourself,” Levere said.
Prosperity Now has created an array of programs to help lower-income families build wealth. Levere offered a shorthand for the steps to building a financially secure future: “Learn, earn, save, own, and protect.”
Watch the discussion: