Last month, at the Washington University School of Law Convocation, Sandra Moore told new students they would succeed if they committed to doing good as a lawyer but asked them to “commit first to doing good.”
That’s a mantra Sandra has lived by since earning her Washington University law degree more than 40 years ago. Moore credits her legal background for providing a career passport into various professions that have always focused on helping “the least among us.”
When reflecting on her life’s work, she says she’s most proud of her “through-line.” Which, in literary terms, is the constant that, despite where the plot goes, maintains cohesion and ties everything together. Sandra’s through-line centers on improving outcomes for those who face the most significant challenges or barriers.
“My entire legal background and all the things I’ve done, the through-line is ‘Sandy is at legal aid because she represents low-income people. Sandy is at EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) because she believes that equality and employment is a tenant that makes everybody better. And Sandy is the director of labor and industrial relations because she believes in executive policy that is fair and equitable, business-wise and productive’,” said Moore.
She recounts her path that winds through civic engagement, economic development, and urban renewal and lands at her current role as managing director and chief impact officer at Advantage Capital. Over four years, she has attracted $225 million in capital investments. “You can’t do all those things (I’ve been working on) through philanthropy or public funding alone. You’ve got to have private investment,” says Moore.
Decades of experience earned on the front lines of community revitalization prepared Sandra for this final chapter, where she can deliver a compelling story that resonates with private equity investors.
“We are looking for businesses with will and skill – the will to go and the skill to grow,” she explains.
Generally, entrepreneurs in underserved communities often don’t have a friends-and-family network of early funders to provide startup dollars or bridge gaps and sometimes lack personal balance sheets needed to secure loans. Entrepreneurs often fear equity investors because they don’t understand how they can grow the business. As a result, Moore says that some companies start undercapitalized and stay that way because they lack a coherent financial infrastructure.
“That’s a place where we can go in and say, yeah, we can invest in you, but you’re going to have to have a chief investment person, you’re going to have to have an accounting firm,” says Moore. In exchange for following their recommendations, she can say, “here’s the structuring of the investment we can make in exchange for that.”
Moore has a national reputation for her ability to secure federal funding streams for local endeavors. Before joining Advantage Capital, she led Urban Strategies in St. Louis, where she played a pivotal role in bringing parts of the region into the federal PromiseZone. This designation grants access to a package of assistance designed to accelerate local efforts. During a 2016 discussion on St. Louis Public Radio, Moore told listeners, “The public dollar leads the parade, the private dollar follows, and then innovation emerges.”
As the head of Urban Strategies, Moore partnered with McCormack Baron Salazar, University City Children’s Center, and St. Louis Public Schools to build Flance Early Education Center in 2013. The state-of-the-art children’s center located in the Murphy Park housing development north of downtown is an example of how public housing coupled with private investment can create a vibrant neighborhood amidst previously blighted tracks of land. She says community transformation creates a ripple effect, and to have long-term social improvement, you must start with a business proposition.
Her legal training taught her to think like a lawyer, which contrary to popular belief, shares a problem-solving mindset conducive to entrepreneurship. As a result, she says she’s always chasing the dream and couldn’t have been an urban planner, a policy wonk and an attorney without the platform of broad legal training, a law license and years of practice and adjudication. “That’s the full picture that allowed me to see a problem, analyze a problem, identify a solution and evaluate whether the solution is likely to work.”
Judging by her stellar career and long-standing commitment to St. Louis, it’s no surprise that Sandra Moore was honored last month by Missouri Lawyers Media as a 2021 ICON award winner. When asked if it’s possible to be a lawyer and change the world, she replied, “I don’t know, I never stopped believing it.”
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