The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Alex Plowden

Headshot of Alex Plowden
Development Manager
The Local Enterprise Assistance Fund

Degree & graduation year: Master of Public Policy, May 2019

What I do: The Local Enterprise Assistance Fund is a nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that strives to empower communities and workers through the financing of democratically-owned enterprises (cooperatives), the provision of technical assistance to disadvantaged entrepreneurs, and the expansion of access to healthy food in underserved areas. At the core of this work are the issues of equity and inclusion in health and economics. My primary duties include grant writing and prospecting, investor relations, communications, and business development. I am first and foremost a fundraiser, but I also attend a variety of networking events and conferences in order to learn best practices, develop new partnerships, and advance LEAF’s mission.

How I ended up working there: After having applied to over sixty-five jobs, I had lunch with Gerardo Espinoza, LEAF’s executive director, and heard him talk about the racial wealth gap, environmental justice, and financial inclusion—all things that I had worked on at some point in my studies at SPP. It was perfect timing, because my predecessor was leaving to get his MBA. I applied, interviewed the next day, and got the offer a week or two later.

The best part of my job: My favorite part of the job is connecting investors, asset managers, and financial advisors with the opportunity to mobilize capital for real social impact. Not only do I believe in LEAF’s work around shared ownership and racial equity, I also feel that the more capital I can divert from traditional, profit-maximizing money markets means that there is less capital fueling the status quo of global inequality, rapid climate change, and the neocolonial extraction of resources to benefit a tiny minority of ultra-wealthy asset owners.

A recent exciting work experience: I got to travel to Colorado Springs to attend the Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) Conference, where over 1,000 progressive investors, companies, and asset managers gathered to talk about the future of true impact investing. It was very exciting to see the conversation shift from bare-minimum Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing towards investing for racial, economic, and environmental justice through direct placements & bold strategies. 

How the School of Public Policy prepared me for my career: SPP gave me the analytical, writing, and professional skills that I use every day. Even though I’m not in “policy,” community development entails a lot of the same mechanics—you need to evaluate problems qualitatively and quantitatively, find the best solution, and then implement your strategy and collect data to evaluate later. The projects and papers that I completed for my degree have ended up being foundational in my knowledge of racial and economic justice, which LEAF grapples with every day.

Advice to students considering a degree in public policy: Ultimately a degree in anything is as useful as the effort you put into it, and the passion you have for the field. If you are interested in developing your ability to analyze complex issues, tackle seemingly unsolvable problems, and have fun along the way—SPP would be an amazing program for you! 

Future plans: Short-term, I want to make as deep of an impact as possible at LEAF and in the realm of equitable community development. Looking forward, I see my calling in laying the groundwork for a diverse, powerful Socialist movement that supports the needs of the working class, the oppressed, and the marginalized, seeks to end war-profiteering foreign policy, and takes the steps necessary to avert a climate catastrophe.