Resilient Places Require Intentional Strategies

By Angela Brown, The Hyams Foundation

In September, the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions and Neighborhood Funders Group convened 100 local, regional, and national funders for Towards a More Resilient Place: Promising Practices in Place-Based Philanthropy. Here, Raquel Gutierrez of Vitalyst Health Foundation reflects on where the culture in foundations needs to evolve to match developments in the field. 

Six weeks ago I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the convening Toward A More Resilient Place: Promising Practice in Place-Based Philanthropy, hosted by the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions and the Neighborhood Funders Group. The two-day event gathered almost 100 grantmakers and community leaders to reflect on the longstanding social inequities that we see today. While the participants in the room represented a range of funding approaches, we all were committed to looking at the inequities that many communities are experiencing squarely in the eye.

Some funders were focused on community improvement, with grantmaking that recognizes and builds upon the strengths and assets of low income communities; other funders talked about how their funding was focused on a specific issue facing a community and establishing practices and policies to reverse troubling trends; still others were learning and applying ways to make their grants strategies more bottom-up, and having more community-driven funding strategies. We remarked that no matter what funding approach our respective organizations take, it is essential to call-out and put race and ethnicity openly on the table.

I so appreciated the energy and curiosity of the grantmakers attending the conference, who were of all backgrounds and identities and were willing to put race and privilege on the table. This was incredibly helpful, challenging, inspiring, and in short, beautiful. Weeks later, I still have wind under my wings from the community and the learnings that we shared over those two days.

One area on which I’ve been reflecting on is the grantmaker’s craft. We connect and build relationships with community organizations, digest and sift through data looking for emergent trends, scan the policy and economic landscape, and use all this information to allocate resources in ways that can impact longstanding issues borne out by all the disparities we see at a local level.

Additionally, while many of the major place-based initiatives show how important community models can shape federal programs, we must be willing to confront the fact that long-standing drivers of social inequities can’t and won’t be corrected by a focus on program innovation and incremental policy change alone. We must recognize that our strategies address issues that have been present for years, decades, or likely longer, so developing our strategies with the assumption that we’ll begin to see a “tangible” change in community and social indicators in a short span of two, or three or five years will not hit the mark.

It’s time to increase our ability to partner with community on a longer-term change agenda. The grantmakers attending Toward A More Resilient Place were willing to engage in this much needed conversation, setting the stage for many more to follow.