25madison Lunch & Learn Series: John Hope Bryant on Financial Inclusion and Empowerment

7 min readAug 5, 2020


Guest Speaker:

John Hope Bryant

Entrepreneur, author, philanthropist, and prominent thought leader on financial inclusion, economic empowerment and financial dignity

John Hope Bryant is an American financial literacy entrepreneur and businessman. Bryant is the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of nonprofit Operation HOPE, chief executive officer of Bryant Group Ventures and The Promise Homes Company, co-founder of Global Dignity, advisor to business and government and author of bestselling books on economics and leadership.

We’re sharing a few highlights of our conversation with John, here.

Q: John, thanks for joining us. One of the important issues that you have written about is relationship capital and the power that relationship capital has within people’s lives. Can you talk to us a little bit about what this means in the context of societal inequities?

A: We all know that the relationships you build in life are vitally important and are investments in your future success. It’s all about texture and context. If you hang around nine broke people, you’ll likely end up being the 10th. Whoever you hang around, you will be. So, in many cases, it doesn’t matter how great of a brain you have if no one is there to help you. Look at Steve Jobs, the son of a Jordanian immigrant and a Caucasian woman from Middle America. Steve was adopted by a middle-income family in Silicon Valley, called the Jobs family. And it just so happens around the corner was another family called the Wozniak family. So, Steve and Steve started hanging out together and tinkering in the garage. And they built a little company called Apple together. But if Steve Jobs had been named Steve Smith and was adopted by a Black single parent on the south side of Chicago, and his mother had to raise Steve by herself while holding down two or three jobs, then in effect the streets basically would have raised her child. And if that were the case, Steve might have ended up being the biggest drug dealer in Chicago, and none of us would be using an iPhone and finger technology on surfaces like we are today.

Q: Can you share with us your insights into the dual crises that are going on in the world today: a global pandemic, which became an economic as well as health crisis, and the social unrest in reaction to the police killings of George Floyd and countless other unarmed Black men?

A: The problem for both of these crises, Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter crisis, can be summarized in what I call the problem of the three fours:

1. 40% of this country is making less than $40,000 a year, many of whom were laid off due to Covid-19. Those who weren’t laid off are battling the epidemic as secondary responders, in high risk jobs like delivering packages, stocking shelves, and doing the things that allow the rest of the population to socially distance, and then going home to over-crowded neighborhoods where the risk of Covid-19 is higher. This will result in a bi-furcated recovery of the American economy. The investor class will experience a “soft U” and will begin to recover in the last quarter of the year. These are highly educated people with relationship capital, who are part of the investor economy, focused on jobs for the future. Then you’ve got the “bottom L,” which will be experienced by hourly workers who are mostly high school educated. This group is becoming unemployed at double the rate of those making above $100,000. Ultimately, the bottom portion of the economy will bear the brunt of the Covid recession, which will feel like a depression.

2. 41% of all African Americans, before Covid-19, across all economic strata and educational levels, had a credit score below 620. You can’t get a decent mortgage below 650. You can’t get a decent car loan below 650. But more importantly, you can’t get a small business loan below a 700 credit score. So you’re talking about basically half of Black America being locked out of the free enterprise system. As Dr. King said, “you cannot legislate goodness, you cannot pass a law to force someone to respect you, the only way to social justice in a capitalist country is economics and ownership.”

3. 400 years ago Blacks worked 16 hours a day, and their owner was the sole beneficiary. It’s called reverse transfer of wealth. This went on for hundreds of years, which has resulted in the fact that today, Black people have 8% of the net worth of their white counterparts when at the same education level, and often the same income level because Black people have a different mindset. We were never taught to be wealth creators, entrepreneurs, small business owners, etc. Forget an apology or reparations, we were never given the tools to succeed on a go forward basis.

“you cannot legislate goodness, you cannot pass a law to force someone to respect you, the only way to social justice in a capitalist country is economics and ownership.” -Dr. Martin Luther King

Q: With this context in mind, what does a path forward look like to you that will help America make progress?

A: I know this group loves sports. Football, basketball. And where do these star athletes come from? They are nurtured up in feeder programs all the way from middle school until they’re in the NBA. So where are the equivalent feeder programs for Black engineers, bankers, asset managers, private equity folks, and the like? We need to put systems in place to help nurture young people from minority andpoor backgrounds that will give these kids the same relationship capital that wealthy white families have inherently. Right now we have two worlds, the world of the lower class, and the investor class, and these two worlds do not mix.

This can’t be done overnight, but the good news is that the private sector has now committed itself. Every significant player in the private sector is trying to now figure out how to add kids of color to every industry. And you might say too little, or it’s taking too long, but at least it is happening now. And by the way, top tier Blacks and minorities that you’re trying to recruit 5 years from now, they’re going to go to the places that make changes today, and are committed to advocating for minorities. They are going to want to join companies with the right values. And this will become a competitive advantage in the marketplace. That’s where you’re doing well and doing good at the same time.

Q: Thanks you John for sharing your insights with us. As always, we appreciate your guidance and leadership on these difficult topics.

John Hope Bryant

Entrepreneur, author, philanthropist

American Banker magazine 2016 “Innovator of the Year”, Inc.’s “The World’s 10 Top CEOs” (honorable mention), and one of Time magazine’s “50 Leaders for the Future” named in 1994, John Hope Bryant is an American entrepreneur, author, philanthropist, and prominent thought leader on financial inclusion, economic empowerment and financial dignity.

Bryant is the founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Operation HOPE, Inc. the largest not- for-profit and best-in-class provider of financial literacy, financial inclusion and economic empowerment tools and services in the United States for youth and adults; chairman and chief executive officer of Bryant Group Ventures and The Promise Homes Company, the largest for-profit minority-controlled owners of institutional-quality, single-family residential rental homes in the U.S., and co-founder of Global Dignity.

The last five U.S. presidents have recognized his work, and he has served as an advisor to the last three sitting U.S. presidents, from both political parties. He is responsible for financial literacy becoming the policy of the U.S. federal government. In January 2016 Bryant became the only private American citizen to inspire the renaming of a building on the White House campus, when the U.S. Treasury Annex Building was renamed the Freedman’s Bank Building. The Freedman’s Banks’, founded by President Abraham Lincoln, legacy has become the narrative of the work of Operation HOPE — to help all people in the ‘Invisible Class’ become fully integrated into our nation’s economy.

A member of the founding class of The Forum of Young Global Leaders, and founding member of Clinton Global Initiative, Bryant is a LinkedIn Influencer, contributor to Huffington Post, THRIVE Global and Black Enterprise, and a member of the World Economic Forum and OECD Expert Networks.

His Facebook Live “Silver Rights” Series has received 40+ million views, and serves as an engaging platform to foster essential discussion in the digital age around financial inclusion and social uplift. This series led directly to a Facebook sponsoring episodic streaming series entitled ‘Delivering The Memo’, inspired by Bryant’s newest bestselling book, THE MEMO.

About The 25madison Lunch & Learn Series: Once a month, 25madison brings in a special guest speaker to address our team, partners, and investors on a broad range of subjects. Our lineup of guest speakers hail from all industries and backgrounds — gathered under the common goal of sharing insights that are timely and relevant. Here are the key takeaways from this month’s speaker.




25madison is an NYC-based venture studio, incubating companies from the ground up and investing in early-stage companies. Learn more at 25madison.com.