Kerry Bowie is all about crossing sectors to solve big sustainability problems, for everyone.
This article was originally published in the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative Magazine, in 2020.
“I’m as comfortable in Nubian Square as I am in Kendall Square,” says Kerry (MBA ’06). “I can talk to governors and church leaders. With everyone, I always seek to find a bridge.”
This strategy has served Kerry well over his twenty-five years in environmental research, operations, and policy, across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. With a background in environmental engineering and more than a decade at Texas Instruments, Kerry was one of the few grads in his MBA class to go to work for the government.
Over nine years, he held a variety of roles in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). During Kerry’s time as associate commissioner, he led the state’s Brownfields Program and MassDEP’s Environmental Justice Strategies. He also represented the department on the Climate Change Adaptation Subcommittee, MA Food Policy Council, and Metropolitan Area Planning Council Executive Council. But over time, despite his successes, Kerry realized he could do more for underrepresented people.
“People of color often times receive more than their fair share of ‘environmental bads’, like Brownfields, pollution, and asthma,” Kerry says, “while they receive less than their fair share of ‘environmental goods’, like cleantech jobs in energy efficiency, renewable energy, water, wasted food, and urban farming.”Kerry Bowie | MBA ’06, Co-founder and Managing Partner, Msaada Partners
People of color often times receive more than their fair share of ‘environmental bads’… while they receive less than their fair share of ‘environmental goods’ like cleantech jobs.”
Clean Tech for All
In 2015, Kerry took what he learned in public service and set out to create a social impact consulting practice to support small businesses, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits working in underserved communities. The result was Msaada Partners.
“We understand that change is not always easy,” Kerry says of Msaada, which is Swahili for service. “Our mission is to empower social impact through consulting, coaching, and connecting. Our goal is to serve communities of color by providing technical assistance to promote entrepreneurship and innovation that leads to wealth creation and more sustainable communities.”
In 2020, the Boston Business Journal named Msaada in its list of the 100 largest minority-owned firms (#57) in the city. But Kerry soon began to visualize another way to create impact, shifting his attention from entrepreneurs to investors.
“I wasn’t seeing many entrepreneurs of color in the cleantech and environmental space,” Kerry says. “And while technical assistance, consulting, business advising, and coaching is needed for entrepreneurs of color, the companies they support also lack access to capital.” Kerry’s new brainchild is Browning the Green Space (BGS). BGS has become a vital coalition of leaders and organizations in the clean energy space in the northeast—more than 65 and counting, including the Sustainability Initiative.
The COVID-19 pandemic notwithstanding, climate change and the persistent wealth gap are two of the most important issues facing our society, Kerry notes. Locally, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s 2015 “Color of Wealth” report estimates the average net worth of Black households in Boston to be $8 vs. $247,500 for White households. BGS has the potential to address many of these problems at once—ideal for a self-proclaimed ‘efficiency geek’ like Kerry.
“Supporting underrepresented professionals in the energy efficiency and renewable energy space with coaching, contracts, and capital will not only create jobs and careers that provide pathways out of poverty, but also begin to close the wealth gap—all while addressing climate change.”