From Advancing Workplace Protections for Caregivers to Removing Barriers to Entrepreneurship and Home Ownership in the Deep South, Heinz Family Foundation Names Dina Bakst, Sherry Leiwant and William Bynum Recipients of the 26th Heinz Awards for the Economy
PITTSBURGH, PA — The Heinz Family Foundation today named fair workplace policy advocates Dina Bakst, J.D., and Sherry Leiwant, J.D., co-founders of A Better Balance, and William (Bill) Bynum, founder and CEO of HOPE, a Jackson, Mississippi-based community development financial organization, recipients of the prestigious 26th Heinz Awards for the Economy. As part of the accolade, Mr. Bynum will receive, and Ms. Bakst and Ms. Leiwant will share, an unrestricted cash award of $250,000.
Bill Bynum is the founding CEO of HOPE, a family of organizations comprised of Hope Credit Union, Hope Enterprise Corporation and Hope Policy Institute, which provides financial services; aggregates resources; and engages in advocacy to combat the extent to which factors such as race, gender, birthplace and wealth limit one’s ability to prosper. HOPE works in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, a region where indicators of economic mobility such as employment, housing, education and healthcare are among the worst in the United States. Entrenched poverty and racial disparities have exacerbated these conditions, as have the lack of access to traditional banking services for the region’s most economically distressed people and places, most notably in the Mississippi Delta and Alabama Black Belt.
Since 1994, HOPE has attacked these challenges by providing affordable, responsibly structured financial services and advocated for policies and practices that bridge opportunity gaps and close the racial wealth divide in the Deep South. These efforts have generated more than $3 billion in financing that has benefited nearly 2 million people across the Deep South, while influencing policies that helped shape the nation’s community development finance sector into a force for diversity and inclusion. Eight out of 10 people served by the credit union are people of color and 60% are women, over one-third were unbanked or underbanked prior to joining HOPE, and 75% of HOPE’s member households earned incomes of less than $50,000 last year. Among the homeowners reached by HOPE, nine out of 10 are first time homebuyers—supported by products designed to directly address the consequences of the racial wealth gap.
“Financial institutions can either perpetuate the nation’s racial wealth gap or make the necessary, structural changes to close it. There is no middle ground,” says HOPE CEO Bill Bynum. “In an increasingly diverse nation, our collective self-interest hinges on the presence of a financial system that works for everyone, particularly historically people of color, who comprise an emerging majority of Americans.”
HOPE’s impact has been greatest during times of crisis. This was the case after Hurricane Katrina devastated lives, homes and businesses in the region. HOPE’s advocacy resulted in policy changes that doubled the amount of public funds available to individuals without flood or property insurance. HOPE partnered with a local foundation and utility company to fund accounts that enabled 2,500 people to access Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for vital resources such as food, clothes, tarps and relocation assistance. HOPE also managed recovery programs that assisted more than 10,000 homeowners and small businesses. In response to the current pandemic, and resulting economic crisis, HOPE financed over 5,000 Paycheck Protection Program loans—89% for businesses owned by people of color and half owned by women—many that were turned down by banks with which they had an existing relationship.
“The Heinz Awards honors Bill for shining light on and addressing the toll that decades of underinvestment, neglect, predatory lending and a lack of access to basic financial services has had on those living in the rural Deep South,” said Teresa Heinz, Chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation. “Through HOPE’s program of resources and services, Bill has crafted a proven model to stop this trajectory of entrenched poverty and create a new future for generations of Americans, in the South and all across rural America.” Created to honor the memory of the late U.S. Senator John Heinz, the Heinz Awards honors excellence and achievement in areas of great importance to Senator Heinz. The 26th awards bring the total number of recipients to 158 and reflect more than $30 million given since the program was launched in 1993.