98 posts categorized "Economic Development"

Economic Democracy: A Conversation With Funders

March 12, 2020

Diane_Ives_Scott_AbramsThe Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative (BCDI), in partnership with the Kendeda Fund and the Open Society Foundations (OSF), recently hosted a funder briefing on economic democracy. In the lead-up to the briefing, Sandra Lobo, BCDI board vice president and executive director of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition — a founding member organization of the BCDI — sat down with Diane Ives from the Kendeda Fund and Scott Abrams from OSF to better understand how economic democracy became a priority for their foundations and the opportunities and challenges ahead. Ives has served since 2003 as fund advisor for the Kendeda Fund's People, Place, and Planet program, while Abrams is director of special initiatives for OSF's Economic Justice Program, where he focuses on early-stage high-risk bets aimed at advancing the concept of economic advancement globally. 

In a wide-ranging conversation, Lobo, Ives, and Abrams discussed their respective decisions to invest in BCDI, what funders need to do to support one another in this work, and why there is a need to create a collective consciousness around economic democracy. Economic democracy is a framework in which people share ownership over the assets and resources in their communities and govern and steward them democratically for a shared purpose. It's not just about more participation; it's about sharing power.

The transcript below, provided by BCDI, has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Sandra Lobo: You all have funded a number of different kinds of work in your tenure. How did economic democracy become a priority for you and your respective programs, and given what you've seen and learned, why do you think it's important?

Diane Ives: When I first started at Kendeda, we didn't even call it the People, Place, and Planet program. It was an environmental sustainability program. We were using the very familiar Venn diagram of sustainability, economics, and equity, and we realized that we were funding in all three of those areas but not where the overlap was, which is really what we were trying to get at. So we made a shift in 2012 toward a vision of "well-being for all within the means of the planet." Once we made that shift, it was easier for us to explore what we call "community wealth-building," which is this notion that communities should have agency around the decisions about their neighborhood and that they're able to retain and build the wealth they need to activate what they really want their neighborhoods and communities to be. So that was the shift we went through between 2012 and 2014.

Scott Abrams: A lot of what Diane just said in terms of community wealth-building resonates very strongly, but let me take a step back and explain how we came to this body of work. The first is widening inequality around the world — in terms of wealth and income — and a second is the way in which the structural deficiencies with the economy have been a driving force for populism and autocratic government we've seen all over the world. Part of our diagnosis is that so many people feel they've lost all control over the economy, and their role within it. This feeling of precariousness and vulnerability has fed a host of unsavory, radical, and regressive political outcomes.  

Questions of redistributive policy are difficult to grapple with in today's political climate. One of the ways in which we think about addressing these issues is to try to build models or spotlight examples of where democratic forms of economic activity are taking root. And a part of that for us is, of course, advancing shared ownership at the firm level and supporting ecosystems that enable more democratic forms of economic activity. Our larger, longer-term hypothesis is that some of those examples could help inspire replication, upscaling, et cetera, which would then impact the way people think about the economy more generally.

Sandra Lobo: Would you say those dynamics were always there, or have they shifted over time?

Scott Abrams: There's a great line from Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises where one of the characters is asked how he went bankrupt, and he answers: "Two ways. Gradually and then suddenly." What we see is a long steady march toward a worrisome dynamic epitomized by some of the political transformations we've seen with the election of Donald Trump, with Brexit, with the rise of Jair Bolsonaro [in Brazil], of Viktor Orbán [in Hungary], and the like. It has been a long time in the making — and partly the result of economic policy over the last forty or fifty years — but things have shifted very quickly recently.

Sandra Lobo: Tell us about the kind of investments you've made within Kendeda's economic democracy framework.

Diane Ives: In the United States, we have done a lot of really interesting work in different venues trying to understand what democracy means for government but have put very little effort into understanding what democracy means for the economy. It's almost as if the economy has been given a pass. We focus so much on policy, so much on elected officials, and so much on the rule of law. But the conversation is never about democratizing the economy and what that would mean and how that would benefit us overall. Instead, we've just accepted the neoliberal approach to the economy without asking, "Well, what does it mean for us in the United States as a democracy? How does this actually match up?"

With that in mind, I would say that some of the funding we do involves taking baby steps. Scott, you talked about this notion of shared ownership at the firm level. Is there a way we could get workers to ask every single day what it means to be part of an economic democracy in terms of decision making around where they work and all the different ways they engage in the economy on a day-to-day basis? It's that kind of truly tactile experience that needs to be scaled up, because it's not going to be a top-down, policy-driven directive. Whether the question is, "How do we convert a business to shared ownership?" or "How do we create a right-of-first-refusal for tenants to buy their buildings?", the minute you start thinking differently about how we, as economic actors, interact with the economy, an entirely different set of  options are on the table.

Some of the funding we've awarded has been to groups like the The Democracy Collaborative and the MIT Community Innovators Lab — groups that are thinking about ways to scale some of these examples on the ground. We've also supported groups like BCDI, PUSH Buffalo in western New York, the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, which works on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, and Nexus Community Partners in the Twin Cities. And we've been looking at shared ownership in the workplace, making a series of grants around cooperative development for workplaces and converting existing businesses into worker coops or ESOPs [employee stock ownership plans].

Scott Abrams: For us, it's quite similar, actually. We have some of the same partners, which is a good sign on the one hand, in that we both have a lot of trust in the same folks, and not such a good thing on the other, in that it could be a sign that the field is not as diverse as one would hope. So our theory of change effectively has been to build out ecosystems for shared ownership. We want to support a few experiments that are up and running in a place-based manner, BCDI in the Bronx being one of them. We have similar initiatives in the UK — you may have heard of Preston, for example — and we also fund learning networks like the ones Diane mentioned — for example, The Democracy Collaborative, et cetera — that help link learnings across different sites and develop insights and lessons around those real-world experiments.

The other thing we feel is really important is that this doesn't become a politicized body of work. It need not be. So we're trying to balance our approach to where we work — places that are urban and politically blue — the Bronx is a good example — and hoping, once it takes root, that it is seen as a viable model for places that are far less blue and far less urban, places like western North Carolina and Colorado. Ideally, we would like to have two governors from different parties bring the concept of economic democracy and shared ownership to the National Governors Association.

Sandra Lobo: What would you say are some of the challenges and opportunities — and I'm linking them because sometimes they're one and the same — within the work you both are doing?

Diane Ives: I'll Identify two things we've been thinking about in terms of challenges that are also opportunities. Scott, you hinted at it when you mentioned that we all seem to be funding the same groups. I do feel like there are a lot more places out there that we could support than we are supporting, and that makes me hopeful. I also feel like the interstitial community and the opportunity for shared learning is still at a very early stage of development. I think a lot of groups are toiling away on their own without having a whole lot of connectivity to other groups. So one of the challenges we have been looking at is around communications and messaging. Everyone uses different language, and maybe that's necessary, but at the same time maybe there are some common ways we can talk about this work.

We are just about to sign a contract with a firm that is going to help us with communications. This is a dream right now — we'll see where it ends up — but when you look at the gay rights movement, one day it was about protection and the next it was about love. What is the language we need to describe and explain the shared economy? Is it about "beloved" businesses that "nurture" us every day? Can we come up with a different way to talk about the work?

We also need shared metrics. There's a real need for understanding what investors want to see and also for pushing investors to think about their metrics differently. We're not just talking about profit; instead, we're asking, "What assets are staying in the community?" How do you measure that in a way that causes an investor to say, "This is worth investing in"? That's the piece we are eager to explore.

Scott Abrams: The thing is that right now the concept of shared ownership is not deeply rooted in the psyche of most people in the country. It just doesn't exist as a concept, and the result is that there are groups like The Working World that help with conversions, but a lot of the time and energy and cost goes into reaching out to people and getting them interested in the idea, and then, and only then, beginning the process of training them how to do it. However, there is a window of opportunity opening up with the baby boomer generation starting to retire in large numbers and business owners starting to look for people like us, in which case the costs may come down markedly and the speed at which conversions take place rises exponentially. The work that Diane just described around language and messaging is absolutely critical, and we have to find a way to get this idea out into mass culture. A colleague of mine had the somewhat-wild idea of creating a reality show, but instead of, you know, opening a locker or flipping a house, it would be about converting a business to worker ownership.

Sandra Lobo: I love that idea.

Scott Abrams: Right? That kind of thinking is a way to expose the concept to a much larger audience. It's a huge opportunity for so many people who are going to see their legacy evaporate because they have no one to leave their businesses to — except their employees, which is something that rarely occurred to them. And, of course, it also rarely occurs to employees to approach an owner with that option. 

Sandra Lobo: I want to talk a little about how unique you both were in terms of your support for BCDI. Diane, you were a very early investor — you gave us our first major grant in 2014 — and you structured it as general operating support over multiple years. Some people might say that's a super-risky move for an unproven organization with very little history. What made you confident enough to make such an investment so early on, and what kind of impact were you looking for at that stage?

Diane Ives: When we first got the proposal from BCDI, it was for one year. Our donor was excited about the concept, but asked, "What are they going to accomplish in one year?" and I replied, "Well, probably not much." I mean, the first year you over-promise and work really hard, but typically there are a lot of bumps in the road. Our donor  said, "I don't want to reevaluate them in a year. I want to see how far they can get, so let's extend the grant and give them a little more running room." It was her idea to make it a multiyear grant. And, of course, it was really smart that she insisted on it, because you tried some things that first year that didn't pan out, and if we had just looked at the grant at the end of the first year we would have thought we had made a bad decision. Instead, we were in it with you, we wanted to see what was next, and it was a really interesting opportunity for us to go on this journey with you all over a period of time. 

I think part of what we realized early on was that if this were easy, it already would have been done, and at scale, so if it's not easy, then what kind of infrastructure is needed to allow for the complexity to be explored and better understood? Our metrics were more about: Can BCDI pull together the right players for its board? Can the board grapple with some of these tougher issues? Is there a way to focus the work but still embrace the complexity of the whole? Those were the kinds of things we were looking for. It took a while, but you got there.

Sandra Lobo: Scott, you came on board a bit later and awarded BCDI a substantial grant in 2019 that helped us transition from a late startup phase to our growth phase. What drew you to us initially, and what were you looking for at that stage of our evolution? How did we fit into the other investments you had made around shared ownership and economic democracy?

Scott Abrams: I’ve already mentioned our interest in supporting learning networks and a couple of concrete examples where we’ve seen early traction. And those investments helped lead us to BCDI. Some other considerations were that, since this was a new line of work for us and the Bronx is just five miles north of where we are sitting, it was a good opportunity to have a lot of interface with a team while we were learning ourselves.

Very pragmatically, in addition to the grantmaking work we do, we also run an impact investment fund. And there may one day be opportunities to deploy investment capital into some of the things BCDI helps foster — for example in some of the companies that are emerging from the Bronx Innovation Factory you run or the BronXchange. So it was a nice confluence of factors, and it turned into our first entry into place-based work within the economic democracy space nationally. The BCDI team is deeply passionate and deeply rooted in the Bronx. You already had experience with fighting back, and while that is incredibly useful, the fighting forward piece of the work is where we wanted to contribute. 

Sandra Lobo: What were the elements that allowed you to say, "Yes, this is what we want to be investing in"? 

Diane Ives: I guess there were a couple of things. One is that you demonstrated a willingness to tackle head-on the challenges you saw instead of sidelining them. Also, we were curious about how the work would evolve over time. How are your board members, who each represent an important community group in the Bronx, going to come together and prioritize the work of BCDI? How are they going to see this as a value-add to their own work and not a competition? That was something that made me say, "We need to go on this journey because this is something that we desperately need in other places and this is not something we've been able to figure out, for the most part." That was something we were super-excited about.

And I would also say that BCDI started with a very deep race and class analysis and a willingness to lead with race and class as an approach to the work, as opposed to trying to overlay it or rejigger it. It was, "No, we're starting there and that's how we’re moving forward!"

Scott Abrams: So three reasons for us: One, race and class. I won't repeat that. That was a huge part of our thinking. Two, the fact that it was very much connected to MIT CoLab [Community Innovators Lab] was appealing because we thought that so much of the learning could go back to a hub and be channeled out through that mechanism. That was really important to us. And three, a really important concept in our work in this space has been participation — and not for technocrats sitting somewhere and devising solutions for something, but rather the participation of many people mobilizing and thinking together. BCDI is an amalgamation of many other networks of community groups in the borough, and some of the participatory campaigns that took place prior, for example over the Kingsbridge Armory, spoke to the importance of participation for us.

Sandra Lobo: Last question. Focusing on philanthropy overall, what kind of space do you think we need to create for funders to learn about and support economic democracy? And what advice would you share with those who might want to shift their funding in this direction?

Diane Ives: One of my taglines is "Help people not be afraid of a changing economy." Part of what I see among funder colleagues in particular, as well as in some of the groups we work with, is this attitude that the economy is something that just happens and we just have to work around it because it's not something we can engage in or control. People get nervous about it.

I would say funders need more opportunities to experience the work. Seeing it firsthand is very powerful, whether it’s a trip to the Bronx or a trip to Mondragón in Spain or a trip to Emilia Romagna in Italy. I would also say we need more conversations among the different groups that are working in different places along with funders. We need to create spaces and opportunities where we’re all coming together more and talking about what we're learning.

Scott Abrams: ​One of the things we’re funding with The Democracy Collaborative is a working group on shared ownership that brings together people from five or six cities that are thinking about an ecosystem strategy much like BCDI's. We’re connecting that working group to a number of interesting examples across the country, from Cincinnati to the Industrial Commons [in North Carolina]. Amazingly, none of the members of The Democracy Collaborative working group had heard about the work in the Bronx or Industrial Commons. So we're looking now at how we can take advantage of existing convening spaces and tack on extra learning experiences for people to talk through and get inspired by these living examples.

Sandra Lobo: Well, this has been such a great opportunity to dig into your work with BCDI and economic democracy as a whole. Thank you both so much for your time.

Sandra_Lobo_for_PhilanTopicSandra Lobo is board vice president of the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative and executive director of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition.

Rooted Communities: Placemaking, Placekeeping

December 06, 2018

IRetail for rentn Seattle's Central District, or "CD," gentrification and rapid development are displacing the largest African-American community in the state, reducing opportunities for wealth creation and accumulation among thousands of lower- and middle-class people and threatening the black community's political representation in city government, as well as its social, cultural, and economic capital.

In just a single generation, the African-American share of the neighborhood's population has fallen from 70 percent to under 20 percent, creating a cultural "diaspora" from what had been a diverse, welcoming neighborhood for more than a hundred and thirty years. Shaped early on by racist housing policies that pushed families of color into the neighborhood and limited their access to economic opportunity, African-American members of the community responded by building powerful neighborhood businesses and institutions. Now, those businesses and institutions are being forced out by surging rents and taxes, eroding the sense of community in the district.

Nationally, African Americans have a homeownership rate of 42 percent, a rate virtually unchanged since 1968 and a third less than the 70 percent enjoyed by whites. In Seattle, the home ownership rate for African Americans is just 24 percent. Low rates of home ownership, in both Seattle and nationally, increase African Americans' vulnerability to gentrification, which inevitably leads to rent increases, reduces the stock of affordable housing, and decreases economic opportunity for long-time members of the community.

Continue reading »

Liberty Hill Foundation Pushes for Higher Social Justice Standards

December 05, 2018

Liberty Hill Foundation's approach over the last forty years has been to ask grassroots community organizing leaders, "How can we help?"

NCRP-2013logo-color-no-taglineStaff would do what communities asked of them, providing general operating support and multiyear funding, when possible, and stepping back so that community organizers could take the lead.

This is why Liberty Hill won an NCRP Impact Award in 2013; its grantee partners have won important policy and social victories, including passage of the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

But, recently, the foundation has acknowledged the extent of its power and influence and made a conscious decision to leverage it more aggressively.

In the wake of the 2016 election, Liberty Hill staff observed that many of their allies were overwhelmed and feeling pressure to respond to the onslaught of policy and social threats to their communities. They knew that defending the gains made by progressive social movements was important, but they also knew that being in Los Angeles made it easier to secure gains that weren't possible in other parts of the country.

Liberty Hill staff engaged board members, donors, grantees, and other allies to discuss how, beyond, funding, it could strategically support the work of progressive nonprofits in Los Angeles.

Continue reading »

5 Questions for… David Egner, President/CEO, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation

November 27, 2018

Established by the late owner of the NFL's Buffalo Bills with more than a billion dollars in assets, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation plans to spend those assets down, with a focus on western New York state and southeastern Michigan, by 2035.

David Egner was appointed president and CEO of the foundation in 2015, having served prior to that as president and CEO of the Detroit-based Hudson Webber Foundation. A fixture in Michigan philanthropy for decades, first as an executive assistant to longtime W.K. Kellogg Foundation CEO Russ Mawby, then as director of the Michigan Nonprofit Association and executive director of the New Economy Initiative, Egner is using his extensive knowledge, experience, and connections to make the Detroit and Buffalo metro region better places to live and work.

PND recently spoke with Egner about Ralph Wilson and his vision for the foundation and the two regions he loved and called home.

Headshot_david_egnerPhilanthropy News Digest: Who was Ralph C. Wilson? And what was his connection to Buffalo and southeastern Michigan, the two regions on which the foundation focuses most of its giving?

David Egner: Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. was a tremendously successful businessman and the beloved founder and former owner of the National Football League's Buffalo Bills.

The four life trustees he appointed to lead the foundation decided to focus its giving in the Detroit and Buffalo regions — southeastern Michigan and western New York — where Mr. Wilson spent most of his life and was the most emotionally invested. He had called metro Detroit home since he was two, and Buffalo became a second home after 1959 through his ownership of the Bills.

But above all, he's remembered for being a lover of people and of everyday difference makers. We want the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation to be a testament to his spirit, and that ethos helps guide who we are, what we do, and how we help shape communities.

PND: Why did Mr. Wilson, who lived to be 95, decide to structure the foundation as a limited lifespan foundation?

DE: It was a very personal decision. First and foremost, it was born out of his desire to have an impact on everything he touched. Doing so ensures that the foundation’s work will be completed within the lifetimes of the people who knew him best, our four life trustees, and that its impact will be immediate, substantial, and measurable.

Continue reading »

Newsmaker: Fred Blackwell, CEO, The San Francisco Foundation

January 31, 2018

Fred Blackwell joined The San Francisco Foundation, one of the largest community foundations in the United States, as CEO in 2014. An Oakland native, he previously had served as interim administrator and assistant administrator for the city, led the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Community Development and the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency; and directed the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Making Connections Initiative in Oakland.

In June 2016, TSFF announced a new commitment to racial and economic equity in the Bay Area. PND spoke with Blackwell about the foundation's racial equity lens, movement building in the wake of the 2016 elections and Charlottesville, and what it means for philanthropic organizations to speak out, step up, and actually try to achieve racial equity.

Fred_blackwellPhilanthropy News Digest: How do you define "racial equity"?

Fred Blackwell: I define it as just and fair inclusion in a society where everyone can participate, prosper, and thrive, regardless of their race or where they live or their family's economic status or any other defining characteristic. Obviously, the way we think about equity is colored by our particular focus on the Bay Area — a place where there is tremendous opportunity and prosperity being generated, but also where access to those opportunities is limited for many people. So from an institutional point of view, we need to answer the question: How do we make sure that the region prospers in a way that the rising tide lifts all boats?

PND: When you stepped into the top job at TSFF in 2014, the foundation already had a lengthy history of social justice work. How did the decision to focus the foundation's grantmaking on racial and economic equity come about?

FB: Shortly after I came to the foundation, we conducted a listening tour of the Bay Area. As part of that listening tour, we held what we called our VOICE: Bay Area sessions — a series of large public meetings in seven diverse low-income communities across the region. In addition, we held consultative sessions, half-day meetings with practitioners, policy people, and thought leaders to talk about trends, both positive and negative, they were seeing in the region and how those trends were affecting people. We did a lot of data collection and analysis. And the data all pointed in the same direction: the need for greater levels of inclusion here in the Bay Area. The fact that race and economic status and geography had predictive power over where people were headed and what they could accomplish concerned us, and it was important to try to respond to that.

There are two pieces of the foundation's history that we wanted to build on: one is the social justice orientation of our work, and the other is our regional footprint. We serve Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties. So in focusing on the equity issue, we're also thinking about it from a regional point of view. What makes the Bay Area unique is its diversity and prosperity, and yet we are a prime real-time example of the kinds of inequalities and inequities that you see on multiple levels across the country. It's important to us as a unit of analysis because equity and the issues that emanate from it — whether it's economic opportunity or housing or education or criminal justice or civic participation — none of those issues conform neatly to the boundaries of the various jurisdictions in the region. People may live in Oakland or San Francisco or Berkeley or Richmond, but they experience the Bay Area as a region.

What I think I brought to the foundation is a laser-like focus on the dimensions of social justice work with respect to racial and economic inclusion and equity — making sure that that "North Star" is something that is modeled at the top and cascades down through all levels of the organization. I would say that we are more explicit than we've been in the past about making equity the focus — not just in our grantmaking but also in how we work with donors, how we provide civic leadership in the region, and how we bring our voice to the table and those of our partners in order to make a difference. We view that North Star as guiding not only our programmatic work but everything we do here at the foundation.

Continue reading »

[Review] 'The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class — and What We Can Do About It'

August 10, 2017

In The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class — and What We Can Do About It (Basic Books: 2017), urban studies theorist Richard Florida offers a mea culpa of sort for the back-to-the-city movement he has long championed. In books such as The Rise of the Creative Class, and How It's Transforming Work, Leisure and Everyday Life (Basic Books, 2002) and Cities and the Creative Class (Routledge, 2005), Florida argued that, if cities hoped to thrive in a competitive global economy, they needed to attract and retain talent — "[t]he knowledge workers, techies, and artists and other cultural creatives who [make] up the creative class.:

Book_the_new_urban_crisis (002)If nothing else, Florida's timing was impeccable. By 2000, the ranks of the creative class in the United States had grown to 40 million — a third of the U.S. workforce — and many of its members had left the suburban or rural communities of their childhood and headed to cities such as New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle, where they moved into neighborhoods that had been written off by the professional class and city officials. That story was repeated around the globe, as knowledge workers and creatives flocked to already vibrant cities such as London, Paris, and Tokyo; booming Asian metropolises such as Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Seoul; and sprawling, emerging mega-cities such as Lagos, Mexico City, and Mumbai.

Indeed, today — in a stunning illustration of the power of urban centers to transform societies through what Florida dubs the "3Ts of economic development" (technology, talent, and tolerance) — more than half the population of the globe lives in cities, and the United Nations estimates that by 2050 upwards of 70 percent of the global population will live in urban areas. Little wonder, then, that in recent decades urbanists have proclaimed "the triumph of the city" (the title of an excellent book by Harvard economist Edward Glaeser), or that the future of humanity is urban.

And yet this newfound appreciation for the richness, convenience, and stimulation provided by city living has not been without costs, as gentrification, rising rents, and real estate speculation have squeezed blue-collar and service workers out of neighborhoods and livelihoods, contributed to the re-segregation of public schools, and driven huge increases in wealth and income inequality. It is an economic failure that we should have seen but didn't, and from the Brexit vote in England, to the election of Donald Trump, to the growing popularity of far-right populist parties in Europe, we are living with the consequences of that failure. The New Urban Crisis is Florida's attempt to diagnose where things went wrong — and offer a prescription for how we can recover an urbanism that works for all people, not just elites and the creative class.

If that's too conceptual, allow me an anecdote by way of illustration: As I was finishing Florida's book in Washington Square Park in Manhattan earlier this summer, surrounded on all sides by buildings belonging to New York University (where Florida is a fellow), I could see, firsthand, his 3Ts at work. Across the way, diverse crowds of college students walked to their next class or appointment while sending photos to friends on the latest app; on the corner, a well-heeled couple waited impatiently for their Uber driver; and, a group of foreign tourists were listening to their guide about the history of the square. To the "urban optimist," it was a perfect illustration of "the stunning revival of cities and the power of urbanization to improve the human condition," while for the pessimist, it might suggest just how profoundly "modern cities [are] being carved into gilded and virtually gated areas for conspicuous consumption by the super-rich...."

And that's not the half of it. The juxtaposition of boundless opportunity and desperate poverty found in so many cities has led to mounting alienation and resentment. Indeed, Florida, who counted himself among the optimists "not too long ago," argues that to truly understand this new urban crisis (as opposed to the mid-twentieth-century urban crisis of deindustrialization and white flight), we need to recognize and come to grips with the fact that cities are both "the great engines of innovation, the models of economic and social progress," and "zones of gaping inequality and class division."

Florida identifies five key factors that have combined to create this crisis: 1) the growing economic gap between so-called superstar cities — where a disproportionate share of high-value industries, high-tech startups, and top talent are concentrated — and struggling industrial cities, or what he calls "winner-take-call urbanism"; 2) the steep rise in urban housing costs, which has resulted in the displacement of countless numbers of blue-collar and service workers, not to mention the poor and disadvantaged; 3) a rapid increase in inequality and segregation driven in part by "sorting" — a phenomenon in which creatives and the well-off congregate in neighborhoods formerly favored by the working middle class, creating a patchwork of relatively small areas of privilege surrounded by large tracts of poverty; 4) the growing crisis in the suburbs, where problems typically associated with urban areas — poverty, economic insecurity, crime, and segregation — are growing and becoming entrenched; and 5) the urbanization of the developing world, often without the improvements in standards of living that accompanied an earlier wave of urbanization in the U.S., Europe, Japan, and China.

At the core of these challenges, writes Florida, is an economic divide that shapes our built environment and determines where we live. "Simply put," he adds, "the rich live where they choose, and the poor where they can." This reality creates a host of related problems with both short- and long-term consequences (e.g., "people who live in far-flung suburbs and endure long commutes have higher rates of obesity, diabetes, stress, insomnia, and hypertension and are more likely to commit suicide or die in car crashes").

Florida illustrates each of these challenges using the latest demographic and economic data, much of it pulled from the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto, which he leads. In fact, the book is filled with interesting graphs and charts, including one showing the number of houses one could buy in various U.S. cities for the price of a single apartment in Manhattan's chi-chi SoHo neighborhood (Memphis, Tennessee, tops the list with 38!). He also highlights his institute's New Urban Crisis Index, which reveals high levels of combined economic segregation, wage inequality, income inequality, and housing unaffordability not only in superstar cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, but in Chicago, Miami, and Memphis. (While interesting, many of the maps and charts could have benefited from better graphic design, and most of the data cited are for U.S. cities — a weakness in a book that purports to be about global trends.)

But what most readers will be looking for is a solution (or solutions) to this complex crisis of inequality. On that score, the glass is half full (or empty, depending on one's perspective). Florida points to the tension between the kind of "urban density and clustering that innovation and economic progress require" — and a "New Urban Luddism" — as the greatest impediment to the kind of equitable development and opportunity needed to overcome rising inequality. He has little sympathy for these twenty-first-century Luddites, who live in well-off communities and neighborhoods and are quick to say no to projects that may pose inconveniences but whose benefits in terms of the greater public good are indisputable. As he writes at one point, "If we are to...enjoy a widely shared and sustainable prosperity, we must become a more fully and fairly urbanized nation."

With that tension in mind, Florida sets out seven strategies designed to foster a "more productive urbanism for all": 1) make clustering work more efficiently by switching from a property tax to a land value tax; 2) invest in urban infrastructure to support greater density and growth; 3) build more affordable housing; 4) convert low-wage service jobs into living-wage work by raising the minimum wage; 5) address urban and suburban poverty by investing in people and places and providing a universal basic income; 6) shift development policies from nation-building to city-building and mobilize behind a global effort to build more resilient, prosperous cities; and 7) empower cities and communities by devolving political power from states and national governments to cities themselves.

As wide-ranging as these solutions are, the recommendations at the core of Florida’s books are fairly straightforward: governments and the private sector need to make investments in new and upgraded infrastructure and adopt tax and land-use policies that encourage increased density. Around the world, he writes, "strategic investments in basic infrastructure can help connect [poor people] to jobs; leverage their talent and productive capabilities and enable them to become more fully engaged; and, ultimately, turn the vicious cycle of urban isolation and poverty into a virtuous cycle of urban progress." In an American context, that means moving beyond the longstanding practice of encouraging suburban sprawl and expansion into rural areas and, instead, putting a new focus on the country’s neglected urban cores — a re-urbanization movement, if you will — that creates jobs and opportunities for all Americans.

While The New Urban Crisis may not be the twenty-first-century equivalent of Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities or Lewis Mumford's The City in History, it is an interesting and highly readable update of Florida's creative class concept and an excellent introduction, for those not familiar with his earlier work, to how a new generation of knowledge workers and creative class types are shaping our economy, our cities, and, for better or worse, our future. The challenges posed by this development are profound, both in the U.S. and around the world, and The New Urban Crisis is a welcome contribution to the conversation around the best ways to address those challenges.

Michael Weston-Murphy is a writer and consultant based in New York City. For more great reviews, visit the Off the Shelf section in PND.

Abdul Latif Jameel: Empowering Communities to Help Themselves

June 27, 2017

At the annual summit of the Family Business Council-Gulf (FBCG) in Dubai, Foundation Center's Lisa Philp led a plenary session on philanthropy in action in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. She was joined by Hassan Jameel, deputy president and vice chair, Abdul Latif Jameel Domestic Operations, and Caroline Seow, director of sustainability, Family Business Network International. Philp is working with FBCG and FBN International to shine a light on thoughtful and sustainable philanthropy in the GCC. This post — part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work — is an adaptation of a case study she wrote on lessons learned from Community Jameel.

Jameel_philpAbdul Latif Jameel is an international diversified business with operations in seven major industries — transportation, engineering and manufacturing, financial services, consumer products, land and real estate, advertising and media, and energy and environmental services. Founded in 1945 as a small trading business that later evolved into a Toyota distributorship in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the company has achieved this scale and market success in just over seven decades.

The company's entrepreneurial founder, the late Abdul Latif Jameel, saw that better personal transportation could empower businesses and individuals and, in turn, advance the economic development of his nation. With that vision to guide him, he established an extensive operations infrastructure and over time built the largest vehicle distribution network in Saudi Arabia. Along the way, the company developed comprehensive expertise across the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey (or "MENAT"), the region in which it operates, fashioning a reputation for building the "infrastructure of life." Today, Abdul Latif Jameel has a presence in more than 30 countries and employs 17,000 people from over 40 nationalities.

Jameel was a visionary and dynamic entrepreneur who dedicated his family and company to meeting the needs of his fellow Saudis. In 2003, Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel, who had been named chair and CEO of the company a decade earlier, created Abdul Latif Jameel Community Services, or "Community Jameel," as it is known today. Community Jameel has evolved into a sustainable social enterprise organization focused on six priority areas: job creation, global poverty alleviation, food and water security, arts and culture, education and training, and health and social. From its headquarters in Jeddah, the organization coordinates a rage of programs focused on the development of individuals and communities in the MENAT region and beyond.

Continue reading »

The Brave New World of Open Source

May 09, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

_____

OpensourceAllow me to introduce myself. My name is Dave Hollander, and I'm a data scientist here at Foundation Center. The role of a data scientist is to use techniques from statistics and computer science to make sense of and draw insights from large amounts of data. I work on the Application Development team, which engineers the code in Foundation Center products you use, including Foundation Maps and the new search tool that was launched as part of the redesign of foundationcenter.org.

Like nearly every software development team, the members of the center's Application Development team share code among ourselves as we work on new projects. This allows us to work on smaller parts of a larger machine while simultaneously ensuring that all the parts fit together. The individual parts are assembled during the development phase and eventually comprise the code base that powers the final product. When finished, that code lives internally on our servers and in our code repositories, which, in order to protect the intellectual property contained within, are not visible to the outside world. The downside to keeping our code private is that it does not allow for talented programmers outside Foundation Center to review the code, suggest improvements, and/or add their own entirely new twists to it.

We plan to change that this year.

Open-source software (OSS) is a term for any piece of code that is entirely visible and freely available to the public. Anyone can pull open-source code into their computer and either use it for a personal project or change it and "contribute" those changes back to the original project. Open source is not strictly related to code, however. Wikipedia, which allows anyone to create an account for free and edit articles and entries, is also an example of an open-source project. To ensure a high-level of quality throughout, submissions to Wikipedia are evaluated by volunteer editors, and while a bad entry may sneak through on occasion, the Wikipedia community eventually will find it, review it, and amend it.

Open-source code projects work in much the same way as Wikipedia, but rather than editing text, users edit code and then submit their changes back to the project. The process can be a challenge to monitor, but today there are tools available that make it relatively easy to manage the edits of multiple users and prevent source-code conflicts. The most popular is GitHub, a free service that serves as a repository for code projects and allows any user to make copies of any other project hosted on the platform. Once a project on GitHub is copied, the user can make changes to the original code, or use the code for his or her own purposes.

Continue reading »

[Review] 'Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations'

January 30, 2017

One morning at the gym, I looked up at the TV and saw that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was promoting his latest book and opining about the state of the world following the U.S. elections. It took me a minute, between the banter and the buzzwords, but I eventually understood Friedman's reason for writing the book: like most of us, he thinks the world is moving too fast. His recommended remedy? We all need to slow down and reflect on the causes of this acceleration so that we can more confidently (and optimistically) chart our way through an increasingly complex world.

Bookcover_Thank You For Being LateAs he explains in Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, writes books (The Lexus and the Olive Tree; The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century; Hot, Flat, and Crowded) "because I love…taking a complex subject and trying to break it down so…I...understand it and…readers better understand it." Reading his work, one can see the interplay between the best sellers he writes every few years and his twice-a-week musings on the op-ed page of the Times. In Thank You For Being Late, for example, he sets the table with one of his go-to subjects: Moore's law, named after Intel-co-founder Gordon Moore, who noted in 1965 that computing power had been doubling every year based on the increasing density of silicon transistors in computer chips — and was likely to continue at a similar rate for at least the next ten years. As anyone who follows tech knows, Moore's famous observation continues to bear out forty years after its predicted expiration date. And the consequences of that astounding increase in computing power serve as a backdrop against which Friedman explores three accelerating forces affecting every aspect of our lives: technology (especially cloud computing, which he calls the"Supernova"), globalization (the "Market"), and climate change ("Mother Nature").

The exponential growth in computing power and the increasing rate of innovation it drives have created, according to Friedman, an orders-of-magnitude change in digital interconnectedness, transforming how we communicate (texting, social media), shop (e-commerce), and even where we sleep (Airbnb). At the same time, he argues, the rate of change, both technological and social, enabled by this connectivity now exceeds our ability to adapt, causing many of our current political, economic, and sectarian challenges. "When fast gets really fast," he writes, "being slower to adapt makes you really slow — and disoriented."

And guess what? The world continues to speed up.

He notes, for instance, that the typical cellphone today provides SMS texting capabilities and mobile access to the Internet to anyone who can afford one, creating a previously unimaginable global exchange of goods and ideas. Residents of small towns in sub-Saharan Africa are just a text or a click away from family members in northern European cities — and everyone in between. "Globalization has always been everything and its opposite — it can be incredibly democratizing and it can concentrate incredible power in giant multinationals," he writes; "it [also] can be incredibly particularizing — the smallest voices can now be heard everywhere — and incredibly homogenizing, with big brands now able to swamp everything everywhere."

On the downside, the forces unleashed by globalization and a digitally networked world are merging with human-driven climate change to create a perfect storm of unintended, and mostly negative, consequences, with the most profound effects being felt in the most vulnerable countries and communities. Sadly, efforts to cope with the massive movement of people triggered by climate change have been woefully inadequate, not least because "when Moore's law and globalization accelerate at their current rates and your country falls behind on education and infrastructure, it falls behind at an accelerating rate as well."

The book is classic Friedman — a smorgasbord of ideas interspersed with conversations with world leaders and parking attendants. In a single chapter he might explore the potential of article intelligence, reflect on the political cataclysms of recent years, and offer policy recommendations based on lessons learned from Mother Nature. Throughout he indulges his seemingly insatiable curiosity and penchant for asking questions that border on the metaphysical. If at times it causes his narrative to feel a bit scattered — jumping from topic to topic with an alacrity that can be fatiguing — most readers won't hold it against him; in fact, it is probably what makes his writing appealing to so many.

I know: Friedman's technique is often criticized for being a form of lesson-by-anecdote that is taken more seriously than it should be. The caricature goes something like this: I was in [insert world city] for two days and took a cab to meet with [insert world leader]. While in the ride over, I spoke to my driver, who shared his view that [insert insightful comment], and all of a sudden I thought to myself: Eureka! this is the answer to [insert complex world crisis].

And it's true, to the extent that any caricature is. But the final chapters of Thank You for Being Late are much more substantive and give us the musings of a grounded, authentic, and, yes, deep thinker — not to mention a badly needed voice of reason in our current politically fraught climate. In the final pages of the book, for example, he visits his childhood home of St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis, where he grew up in an environment of "inclusion and civic idealism." Once there, he tries to see the community for what it was and is, all the while looking for the source of its still-evident civic spirit — and for lessons that can be replicated in communities across the country. The story of St. Louis Park, he writes, "is the story of how an ethic of pluralism and a healthy community got built one relationship, one breakup, one makeup, one insult, one welcoming neighbor, one classroom at a time." While nostalgia is certainly a factor in this rosy assessment, there's more to his trip down memory lane and explorations of what happens in a community where people take the time to get to know each other and build bonds across their differences — or, as he puts it, who are willing "to belong to a network of intertwined 'little platoons', communities of trust, which [form] the foundation for belonging, for civic idealism, for believing others who [are different] [can] and should belong, too." Yes, in an age of accelerating global interdependence and contact between strangers, "the bridges of understanding that we have to build are longer, the chasms they have to span much deeper." But that is the challenge.

In our ever more complicated world, generalists who wrestle with a broad spectrum of ideas and seek to help us understand often difficult issues and events are in short supply. In the crowded (and increasingly noisy) public square of the twenty-first century, reasonable, thoughtful, and generous are not adjectives applied to many: Thomas Friedman is all three, and Thank You for Being Late offers some of his best work to date.

Michael Weston-Murphy is a writer and consultant based in New York City. For more great reviews, visit the Off the Shelf section in PND.

A Conversation With Steve Case: The 'Third Wave' and the Social Sector

June 23, 2016

Anyone of a certain age remembers when free America Online software — delivered on 3.5" floppy disks and then in CD form — seemed to arrive in the mailbox on an almost-daily basis. Although its genesis was in online gaming, the company soon evolved into an online services company and, by the early 1990s, was one of the leaders of the tech world, innovating and helping to build the infrastructure for the online world we know today. In the words of the company's co-founder and former chair, Steve Case, AOL was part of the "first wave" of innovation driven by the Internet.

By the early 2000s, a "second wave" of Internet-enabled innovation featuring apps and mobile phone technologies had sparked a new communications revolution, with companies such as Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook leading the way and birthing a new generation of billionaires. Even as this second wave was cresting, however, a third wave of innovation was forming in its wake. In his new book, The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur's Vision of the Future, Case lays out his vision of an emerging era in which almost every object is connected to the Internet and the network of all networks "stops belonging to Internet companies.…The entrepreneurs of this era are going to challenge the biggest industries in the world, and those that most affect our daily lives. They will reimagine our healthcare system and retool our education system. They will create products and services that make our food safer and our commute to work easier."

PND spoke with Case, who chairs the Case Foundation and, with his wife, Jean, is a signatory of the Giving Pledge, about what these changes mean for the social sector and how nonprofits, large and small, can partner with business and government to solve some of our most pressing challenges.

Headshot_steve_casePhilanthropy News Digest: What you have labeled the "third wave" of Internet-enabled innovation will affect many areas of interest to the social sector, including health and health care, education, and food and agriculture. Do you see this next wave of innovation as a boon for nonprofits and social entre­preneurs?

Steve Case: I think it can be. Obviously, there are different folks focusing on different things in different ways. And there will always be an important role for nonprofits to deal with issues that, frankly, only nonprofits can deal with. But some of the sectors you mentioned — health care and education, food, agriculture — I think there's a role there for entrepreneurs to build companies that can have an impact.

One of the big things I talked about in the book — and which the Case Foundation has been championing for years — is the importance of partnerships. Partnerships between startups and other organizations — whether it's other companies, nonprofits, or government — will become more important in the nonprofit sector generally and will have a significant and, I think, positive impact on some of the sub-sectors you mentioned.

PND: The Case Foundation has always emphasized the importance of working across sectors. How do you think the changes brought about by the third wave of Internet-enabled innovation will affect its own work?

SC: I think we'll continue on the path we've been on. We've been talking about some of the issues around cross-sector collaboration for the nearly twenty years the foundation has been around. In the last few years, we've focused on things like impact investing, inclusive entrepreneurship, leveling the playing field so every entrepreneur who has an idea has a shot, and we'll continue with those efforts and try to use all the levers available to us.

Jean [Case] has spent a lot of time on impact investing. Part of her focus is advocating for policy changes that actually free up and expand more impact investing capital. The kinds of things we're focused on at the foundation are very much in sync with the kinds of things I address in the book.

Continue reading »

Flint’s Crisis Raises Questions — and Cautions — About the Role of Philanthropy

April 08, 2016

Dirty-bottled-waterThe public health crisis in Flint, Michigan, continues to unfold before the eyes of the world. For nearly eighteen months, water drawn from the Flint River was sent without proper treatment into the city's infrastructure, corroding aging pipes and fixtures. Lead leached into the water supply and flowed to local homes, schools, and businesses. The results: a near doubling in the number of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood, a wave of other health concerns throughout the community, severely damaged infrastructure, and despair regarding the city's prospects for economic recovery.

This terrible situation in the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation's hometown has sparked numerous questions, including one that should be of interest to every foundation: What is the role of philanthropy in responding to a community in crisis? At Mott, we've felt the need to act immediately on some issues and with great deliberation on others. We've also been called upon to discuss the role of philanthropy in funding infrastructure projects. It's my hope that our experiences thus far might be helpful to other philanthropies that could face similar challenges in the future.

When the high levels of lead exposure among Flint children were revealed in September of 2015, Mott acted quickly to begin the long process of bringing safe drinking water back to our hometown. In addition to a grant of $100,000 to provide residents with home water filters, we pledged $4 million to help reconnect Flint to the Detroit water system. With an additional $6 million from the state of Michigan and $2 million from the city of Flint, that switch took place on October 16.

Our decision to help pay for the switch was a no-brainer. Since our founding ninety years ago, we've had a deep and unwavering commitment to our home community. We couldn't sit on the sidelines while the children of Flint were being harmed. Our role as a catalyst for the return to safer water speaks to one of philanthropy's most valuable attributes: the ability to respond swiftly when disaster strikes to help people meet their basic needs.

But after taking swift action, the question then becomes "What next?"

As important as it was to act quickly to reconnect Flint to the Detroit water system, we also realized that it sometimes makes sense for philanthropies to fight the impulse to make major commitments while a disaster is still unfolding. Two aspects of Flint's water crisis show us why.

Continue reading »

5 Questions for…Ward S. Caswell, President, Beveridge Family Foundation

November 05, 2015

Foundation Center Vice President for Development Nancy Albilal spoke with Ward S. Caswell, president of the Beveridge Family Foundation in West Newbury, Massachusetts, about the foundation’s grantmaking to nonprofits working to create opportunity and a more vibrant economy and quality of life in Hampden and Hampshire counties. Nancy’s Q&A with Caswell is part of the Funder's Forum series, which helps foundation leaders exchange ideas and connect with their peers, and is featured, along with other Forum interviews, in the center’s monthly E-Updates for Grantmakers newsletter.

Headshot_ward_caswellNancy Albilal: How does the Beveridge Family Foundation's grantmaking honor the legacy of Frank Stanley Beveridge while continuing to evolve to meet the needs of the communities you serve?

Ward Slocum Caswell: When the foundation was started back in the 1940s, Frank Stanley Beveridge was doing quite a bit in the community to give back in those areas he felt had helped him become a success. It's important to understand that Mr. Beveridge was the adopted son of farmers up in Canada. He understood the value of hard work, but also what I like to call putting your fingers in the dirt, understanding man's connection with nature and the environment. So, he established a park in Westfield, Massachusetts, that today is called Stanley Park. In the early days, it was small and used quite a bit for Stanley Home Products company events. But it grew over the years and now is the largest non-government-owned, free-to-the-public park east of the Mississippi. It's very popular with people in Westfield and the Pioneer Valley and includes a large playground, beautiful gardens, lots of rolling paths that wind down to ponds and woods and across fields, and it's a hundred percent handicapped accessible.

So the Beveridge Family Foundation exists primarily to fund the needs of the park, which have evolved. Following Mr. Beveridge’s death in 1956, the foundation benefited from growth in its primary investment, the stock of Stanley Home Products. When we exited the stock in the 1980s, we invested in a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds and, well, it was the 1980s, and our corpus continued to grow into the late nineties. Of course, as anyone who reads the business news knows, the markets since the late nineties haven't been that productive. At the same time, costs have risen for lots of things, so we took a pause in 2009 and asked ourselves, "What would happen if the needs of the park eventually exceeded the ability of the foundation to fund it?" As a result of that process, we did two things. First, we started to fund raise within the park, and then we began to require public support for anything over and above how the park looked in 2009, including endowing any new structures or additions. And I am pleased to say that we are finishing up a new pavilion to replace one built sixty years ago that had been ruined by beetles and had to be removed. Not only is the new pavilion much nicer than the old one, its construction was also made possible through the support of the community, which is very different from the way we used to do things. It used to be that if the park needed something, we wrote a check. But the new approach allows us to continue growing the legacy of the foundation, which supports a host of nonprofits, primarily in Hampden and Hampshire counties in western Massachusetts. At this point, we give about $2 million a year, a third of which supports Stanley Park, with the rest going to a range of environmental, social, and other organizations, and all of it in keeping with the interest Frank Stanley Beveridge had in promoting culture, education, and the general enjoyment of the community.

NA: How has the foundation's investment in environmental issues developed over time? And how do you position your work on this issue given your primarily local focus?

WSC: You know, sometimes when people invest in the environment, it's to say "no" to things — to developers, to pollution, et cetera. And saying no to things can create difficulties for people who are trying to earn a living or looking for an affordable place to live. We believe there needs to be an intelligent balance between conservation and the needs of local communities. The park is a great example. It's a large park with very few buildings. A lot of woods, a lot of open fields, and a lot of well-tended gardens, as well as a few facilities that allow people to get out of the rain, to have a wedding or family reunion or hold a concert or any of the hundreds of events we host there every year. When we fund environmental issues in western Massachusetts, we tend to spread that funding across a variety of different activities. Twenty years ago, it would have been for the Connecticut River watershed group that was working to clean up the river after the removal of a lot of paper pulp factories. Thirty years ago, the river I fished as a kid was a mess. You'd pull out your fishing line and it would be covered with strings of paper pulp, and the only fish you could catch were carp and other kinds of junk fish that dug up the bottom. Today the Connecticut River in Massachusetts is beautiful. It's clean. It's clear. There are all kinds of different fish coming back up the river. And for the first time in many years, people are using it. They hold dragon boat races to raise funds for breast cancer research and crew practices and regattas for people of all incomes and from every socioeconomic background. It's a vibrant resource again. And that happened in part because of the work that was funded twenty and thirty years ago, the shutting down of large polluters and the removal of some of the heavy metals and toxins, the replanting of littoral grasses, and so on.

Today the funding we do in the environmental area is a little different. We're strong supporters of the Center for EcoTechnology, for example, and their work in helping make Massachusetts the most energy-efficient state in the nation. We've achieved that not by having crazy restrictions on emissions from cars, which you see in California and which means auto manufacturers have to make special versions of their cars just for California. What the center does instead is to go door-to-door and help people understand the ways in which their homes and businesses are energy inefficient and what they can do with tax rebates and other kinds of programs and incentives to remedy those inefficiencies. The great thing about it is that it actually saves the homeowner or business owner money by lowering their energy bills while making Massachusetts a much more energy-efficient state and reducing our dependence on carbon fuels. It's a win-win.

Another thing we do is fund trusts that help people put agricultural or low-density deed restrictions on their properties as a way to conserve open space in Massachusetts where wildlife can continue to flourish and people can enjoy nature. Often, these trusts also benefit the owners of the property by enabling them to reduce their tax bills and, occasionally, to receive actual funds from a nonprofit organization that is willing to pay the property owner for effectively reducing the economic utility of their properties while preserving the property in perpetuity in a way that benefits the public and is sustainable.

That said, we recognize that one of the greatest needs in Massachusetts is affordable housing. So we do quite a bit of work in trying to help people find effective and efficient ways to build, maintain, rent, and sell affordable housing. We're strong proponents of an east-west high-speed rail line to connect the economic engine that is Boston with the tremendous opportunities in the western part of the state. If you look at the economic cycles that seem to run on a seven- to ten-year basis — think of a sine wave — Boston is interesting in that it is always flattened on the top. Because housing costs are so high in and around Boston, making it increasingly difficult to hire and house employees in up cycles, the city's economy tends to flatten out before the rest of the nation's economy. When the economy is booming, people find it increasingly difficult to live and work within reasonable commuting distance of the city. Meanwhile, Springfield, Holyoke, and the entire Pioneer Valley is full of intelligent, hardworking, experienced people who would love to be earning a higher wage but are reluctant to move from the Pioneer Valley because of its affordability and the quality of life there. Unfortunately, the Mass Pike, along with Logan Airport, is owned by a private corporation that really seems to have no interest in expanding those key transport hubs for the benefit of the state. CFX, which owns the freight lines that run east-west, also is reluctant to give up its rights, which are crucial if we ever hope to connect the two parts of Massachusetts for the long-term economic health of the state and its residents. So we try to work with different groups to understand those problems and find ways to help more people understand the situation and what can be done to address it.

Last but not least, we're involved in a group called City2City in the Pioneer Valley that was incubated by the Federal Reserve and studies what the Fed calls "resurgent" cities. The Fed looked at seventy-five post-industrial cities across the U.S. and found that twenty-five or so of them had actually come back nicely, while the rest had not. Springfield was one of the ones that has not. And so each year, we visit other cities to try to learn what they have done to revitalize themselves and bring those lessons back to Springfield. Next week, we're going to Chattanooga!

Continue reading »

Loose Ties + Strong Trust = Innovation in Los Angeles

October 17, 2015

In 2008, Lisa Watson was the executive director of the Downtown Women's Center (DWC), an organization dedicated to meeting the needs of women on Los Angeles' Skid Row hoping to overcome poverty and homelessness. That year, Lisa received a Stanton Fellowship to investigate the viability of a co-located social enterprise retail store that would offer workforce training to homeless women and generate revenues for the center. Revenues would be used to subsidize housing and supportive services in the pricey Los Angeles real estate market.

For the past ten years the Durfee Foundation has awarded a select number of Stanton Fellowships to social change leaders in Los Angeles with the aim of fostering innovative solutions to some of the city's most intractable problems. Lisa's project became a reality in 2011 with the opening of MADE by DWC, a gift boutique and café that offers organic coffee and food along with one-of-a-kind vintage and contemporary women's clothing, accessories, household accents, and their signature handMADE product line. One hundred percent of the proceeds support the residents of the Downtown Women's Center, providing the kind of earned revenue that is a vital component of long-term sustainability for most nonprofits.

Cross-Disciplinary Connections

Prior to the fellowship, Lisa had met a handful of other Stanton alumni, all in the housing/homelessness space. Over the course of her fellowship, however, she expanded her connections to include Stanton fellows with expertise in urban planning, health, education, the environment, and economic development, as well as contacts in the L.A. Mayor's Office. The interactions with other fellows significantly affected her project's design as well as its resulting success. "By bringing together smart people from various disciplines in Los Angeles," she notes, "problems can be viewed through various prisms rather than through a telescope. Solutions and strategies are developed by looking more richly at the problem from various perspectives and disciplines."

The Stanton Fellowship provides funds over two years for each fellow to think deeply about a specific challenge related to their work and to tease out solutions that will improve life in Los Angeles. The Durfee Foundation deliberately encourages connecting and knowledge sharing among fellows as a way to foster the cross-fertilization of ideas that might lead to new approaches. Stanton Fellows are intentionally selected to represent a wide-ranging spectrum of issues and sectors, with fellows coming from government and social enterprise as well as nonprofits. Key elements of the program include opening and concluding fellowship retreats that overlap with the next/prior cohort of fellows; quarterly get-togethers hosted by a fellow who provides a tour of the issue they are tackling and includes time for fellows to update the group on their projects; and foundation staff matching fellows with program alumni mentors. In addition, every other year the foundation hosts a retreat to which all alumni of the program as well as current fellows are invited.

Enhanced Peripheral Vision

In order to better understand the network dimension of the program, the Durfee Foundation asked Network Impact to assess the role that ties among Stanton Fellows play in contributing to the program's goals. To that end, in the fall of 2014 we surveyed current fellows and alumni, and supplemented that work with focus-group interviews and Social Network analysis (SNA) to assess the nature of the connections among fellows over time. What we found has implications for funders who are supporting innovation in the social sector, particularly investors in fellowship or leadership development programs who are curious about the wider impact of these initiatives.

Continue reading »

Harnessing the Power of Philanthropy to Build Just, Equitable, and Resilient American Cities — Starting With the 'Big Easy'

October 16, 2015

Katrina10_blueNearly two months ago, all eyes were on New Orleans as it marked the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. News crews, policy makers, and organizations from across the social change sector paused to reflect on the progress made over the past ten years — and the work that remains to be done. As funders seeking to make lasting change in the world, we know that true change demands persistent effort over the long term. Many of us have been working in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, and a decade later we are coming together to reaffirm our support for the region and re-dedicate ourselves not just to short-term rebuilding but to enhancing the region's long-term resilience. We know that philanthropic investment is as vital to the region today as it was a decade ago, and we challenge our foundation colleagues to join us in making an enduring commitment to building a just and resilient New Orleans.

The challenges New Orleans faced in 2005, and still faces today — sea level rise, climate change, economic inequality, a dysfunctional criminal justice system, educational achievement gaps — are challenges that many American cities will need to address over the coming decades. Our investment in New Orleans is about more than this one remarkable city: it is an opportunity to identify solutions to twenty-first-century problems that are effective and can be implemented across the United States.

Perhaps no American city exemplifies resilience like New Orleans. Ten years ago, Katrina devastated the city, killing over a thousand people, displacing a million more, and causing $150 billion in damage in the surrounding region. Since then, the city has been battered by other hurricanes as well as a devastating oil spill that wreaked environmental havoc on the wetlands which act as the city's first line of defense against storms. Those events amplified some of the most deeply entrenched social, environmental, and economic challenges facing the city.

As the problems grew and New Orleans' role as a bellwether city became clear, some of the nation's biggest foundations — including the Ford, Kellogg, Kresge, Surdna, and Walton Family foundations, in partnership with local funders — turned their attention to the region. What they saw was not only the many challenges confronting the city but the ethos of resilience that unites New Orleans and New Orleanians. Our philanthropic investments in initiatives ranging from affordable housing and efforts to close the opportunity gap to coastal restoration and prison reform have been magnified by the unflagging spirit of the people who live and work in New Orleans, as well as by the generous commitments of local funders.

While each institution has a unique focus, years of working across issues and sectors in this unique city have brought us to three important conclusions:

Continue reading »

Latino Entrepreneurs: How Philanthropy Can Fuel Small Business

October 15, 2015

Hand-with-FlagsAs National Hispanic Heritage Month comes to a close, it's a good time to recognize and celebrate the critical role that Latino-owned businesses play in the U.S. economy. Consider, for starters, that between 1990 and 2012, the number of Hispanic entrepreneurs in the United States more than tripled, from 577,000 to 2 million (Source: Partnership for a New American Economy).

While significant, however, those gains are modest compared to the growth of white-owned businesses over the same period. What's more, Latino-owned businesses generate less annual revenue than non-Latino small businesses and grow at a slower rate. And, like many small businesses and entrepreneurs, Latino-owned businesses report that access to capital is a major barrier to growth.

That should not come as a surprise. A recent Harvard Business School study (66 pages, PDF) reports that small business loans as a share of total bank loans in 1995 was about 50 percent, compared to only 30 percent in 2012. And a report on minority entrepreneurship by researchers at UC-Berkeley and Wayne State University finds that minority-owned businesses typically encounter higher borrowing costs, receive smaller loan amounts, and see their loan applications rejected more often.

The reasons for such disparities are many, but one thing seems abundantly clear: resolving them is not just a question of social justice; it goes to the heart of American competitiveness in a fast-moving global economy.

On the plus side, there are no shortage of examples of dynamic businesses started — and nurtured — by Latino entrepreneurs who have secured access to affordable loans from lenders who understand their dreams, their businesses, and their challenges.

Continue reading »

Contributors

Quote of the Week

  • "I think one's feelings waste themselves in words; they ought all to be distilled into actions which bring results...."


    — Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)

Subscribe to Philantopic

Contributors

Guest Contributors

  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »

Archives

Tags