In a Nutshell
What: Applying learnings from IFF’s Stronger Nonprofits Initiative, Kheprw Institute purchased a farm in Indianapolis to serve as the hub for the organization’s food programs, part of a multifaceted service offering focused on building community wealth, health, and wellness.
Sector: Community Development, Healthy Foods
Location: Indianapolis, IN
Size: 17.56 acres
Sources of Funding/Financing: IFF loan, agency equity via general operating support from The Indianapolis Foundation
IFF Support: Loan closed in August 2022
IFF Staff Lead: Amandula Anderson, Executive Director – Indiana Region; Andre Gibson, Director of Lending – Indiana and Kentucky
“We live in a culture where, when you think of wealth, you think of money,” says Imhotep Adisa. “But wealth can be defined much more broadly than that, from intellectual wealth, wealth in relationships, spiritual wealth, and anything else that contributes to the fabric of the community.”
For 20 years, building community wealth in all its forms has been the driving force behind the work of Kheprw Institute (Kheprw), an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that Adisa co-founded and leads as the organization’s executive director. Launched as an after-school program serving five young Black men by supporting their development as critical thinkers equipped to lead through service in their community, today Kheprw reaches more than 200 people annually to foster empowered, self-reliant, and self-determining communities through a mix of programs and social enterprises focused on leadership development, entrepreneurship, urban agriculture, and sustainability – all underpinned by supportive, intergenerational relationships meant to effect positive change in Indianapolis.
Once dependent on costly payday loans to make ends meet, Kheprw reached a significant milestone in its growth trajectory last year when it purchased a 17.5-acre farm located three miles south of downtown Indianapolis that will serve as the hub for its food programs. Envisioned as a self-sustaining urban community, Octavia’s Visionary Campus includes ample tillable land to bolster the nonprofit’s Urban Agriculture Initiative, which equips participants with the skills needed to farm in urban environments, as well as the knowledge and practice needed to grow and sell the food they harvest. The campus was named for Octavia Butler, a visionary Afro Futurism Sci-Fi writer whose writings focused on themes relevant to Kheprw’s mission.
Plans for the property, which are being developed collaboratively with Kheprw’s community partners, also include a greenhouse that will enable year-round growing; a gathering area with a test kitchen for cooking demonstrations using foods grown on-site; a marketplace where community entrepreneurs of color can collaborate and sell their goods; a multi-purpose space for community events and to rent out for special events; and three residential properties intended to provide economically accessible housing to those working and visiting the property.
“Octavia’s Visionary Campus is a game changer for Kheprw, and there are all kinds of ideas and possibilities emerging as we invite neighbors, potential partners, and collaborators to the property to talk about how to best use it to support the community in a sustainable way,” says Adisa. “There’s a lot of excitement about Black folks controlling 17 acres of land in Indianapolis, and we’re continuing to listen to how the property can not only support our programming but support other organizations who share our commitment to community empowerment.”
As Kheprw continues to discern how to maximize the impact of Octavia’s Visionary Campus and raise the money needed to put its plan into action in the years ahead, it’s putting Octavia’s Visionary Campus to more immediate use this fall by hosting members of the Climate Justice Alliance for a convening focused on climate change and related environmental issues. The event aligns closely with Kheprw’s mission and will serve as a trial run for future conferences and retreats with the potential to provide Kheprw with a new source of revenue to reinvest in its programming.
“There’s a lot of excitement about Black folks controlling 17 acres of land in Indianapolis, and we’re continuing to listen to how the property can not only support our programming but support other organizations who share our commitment to community empowerment.”
Essential to Kheprw’s ability to purchase the property was its participation in the first Indianapolis cohort of the Stronger Nonprofits Initiative (SNI), presented by IFF and BDO and sponsored by JPMorgan Chase. Over the course of 14 months, Kheprw’s leadership team participated in the program designed to help nonprofits led by people of color navigate barriers to capital and real estate opportunity in pursuit of greater community impact. While Kheprw was successful in growing its operations before participating in SNI, the program provided a new perspective on financial management and opportunities to learn from the experiences of the other participating organizations.
“SNI was a really great classroom in learning about different types of funding and managing resources for nonprofits, and it also set us up with consulting services through BDO that helped us focus on a few resources we needed to look at for financial management,” says Adisa. “The discipline of meeting each week required our team to step out of our day-to-day work and step into pushing Kheprw’s work to the next level, and it was a real asset to meet other folks working locally and learn about what they’re doing in their communities and how they approach the work.”
With newfound confidence in the organization’s ability to efficiently steward resources, and new knowledge about how financing can be leveraged by nonprofits to amplify their impact, Kheprw found itself in the right place at the right time to seize an opportunity to expand its programming with the purchase of Octavia’s Visionary Campus. With support from The Indianapolis Foundation and an IFF loan, Kheprw closed on the sale in September 2022.
“The property was owned previously by the Women’s Fund of Central Indiana, which we’d had discussions with about operating some of our programming on the farm,” explains Adisa. “SNI led us to consider whether borrowing money to purchase the property was possible, which was driven by our focus on self-reliance and self-determination. They were comfortable selling and gave us a good deal that made this possible.”
“There’s a lot of momentum for Kheprw now, and that comes with its own challenges having been ‘discovered,’ but it also means we have more opportunities to influence and impact how others decide to move through the world and create change in their communities.”
As Kheprw proceeds with its plans for Octavia’s Visionary Campus, the organization is also applying learnings from SNI to continue expanding its non-food-related programming. At a second property Kheprw owns at 38th and Illinois streets on the north side of Indianapolis, it’s completing renovations to a 14,000-square-foot space that will soon serve as a community wealth building center. Kheprw’s Alkhemy program will operate in the facility, offering an incubator program for entrepreneurs of color that provides coworking space and support with legal matters, marketing, networking, and other areas of need for start-up and small businesses.
Outside of Alkhemy, Kheprw has also launched the Kheprw Integrated Fund, which offers loans of $5-$15,000 to entrepreneurs of color with interest rates capped at one percent to further increase access to capital among changemakers committed to building community wealth. And at a third location in Indianapolis that Kheprw leases, the organization is developing plans to convert the facility this fall from a community meeting space that’s used infrequently into a training center for design and manufacturing. At the same time, Kheprw is ramping up its work to create a community land trust with funding support from the City of Indianapolis, which would allow it to preserve and expand the supply of affordable housing by acquiring, owning, and stewarding land for the benefit of the community.
“We’ve been doing work in the community for 20 years, figuring out how to take advantage of opportunities without getting distracted from our core values and beliefs about self-reliance and self-determination,” concludes Adisa. “There’s a lot of momentum for Kheprw now, and that comes with its own challenges having been ‘discovered,’ but it also means we have more opportunities to influence and impact how others decide to move through the world and create change in their communities.”