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Archive for February, 2011

Today, I wanted to “lift up” the work of me and my colleagues in the area of community revitalization.  I am employed with the State of North Carolina as a Program Manager with the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP).  NSP was created by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help alleviate the negative effects of home foreclosures that have swept the country.  North Carolina’s allocation of funds was granted to 19 organizations that will create homeownership and rental opportunities for more than 700 low- and moderate-income families throughout the state.  I wanted to say that, despite the past decisions that led to our present economic condition, I’m blessed and proud to be a part of the solution and I want to publicly thank the grantees and everyone involved for their wonderful work!

I, also, want to honor a friend and sister in Christ, Marva Woodward, who past away this past week from a long bout with cancer, as well as those that cared for her during her time of illness.  She was faithful to her Lord and to her family.  I am blessed to have known her and to have heard her beautiful singing voice.  MARVA, I hope to visit you in your mansion someday!

Be strong and be blessed!

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In last week’s blog, I spoke about the non-profit organization as an “anchor institution” referring to its importance in leading community economic development efforts.  In this and subsequent posts, I will highlight some types of non-profits whose primary focus is promoting and enhancing CED.

Community Development Corporations (CDCs) – CDCs are non-profit, community-based organizations that anchor capital locally through the development of both residential and commercial property, ranging from affordable housing to developing shopping centers and even owning businesses.  First formed in the 1960s, they have expanded rapidly in size and numbers since.  An industry survey published in 2006 found that 4,600 CDCs promote community economic stability by developing over 86,000 units of affordable housing and 8.75 million square feet of commercial and industrial space a year.*  There are successful CDCs associated with faith-based institutions (e.g., Abyssinian Development Corporation in Harlem), HBCUs (e.g., Benedict-Allen CDC in Columbia, SC) as well as community-based (e.g., Rocky Mount/Edgecombe CDC in Rocky Mount, NC).

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) – CDFIs are financial institutions which provide credit and financial services to underserved markets and populations, primarily in the USA but also in the UK.  A CDFI may be a community development bank, a community development credit union (CDCU), a community development loan fund (CDLF), a community development venture capital fund (CDVC), a microenterprise development loan fund, or a community development corporation (how about that :)).**  Nationwide, over 1,000 CDFIs serve economically distressed communities by providing credit, capital and financial services that are often unavailable from mainstream financial institutions.  Some examples of successful CDFIs include the Center for Community Self-Help (based in Durham, NC), NCCDI Capital (based in Raleigh, NC), and ShoreBank (based in Chicago, IL).

So many success stories have been, and are being, written daily by these and other institutions that it would take many books to record them and I could not adequately give them their just due in a blog.  However, I will attempt to provide brief glimpses into their work to encourage you to seek them out OR to start your own local efforts.

Be strong and be blessed!

* Source: Community Wealth.org
** Source: Wikipedia.org

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The third type of “anchor institution” I would like to highlight is the “nonprofit organization”.  As with faith-based institutions and universities written about in previous blogs, nonprofits are important components in community economic development.  True to their name, nonprofits are organizations whose primary mission is other than making a profit.  Some mission examples include providing affordable housing, job creation, education our youth, feeding the homeless, and others.  Some are large and very established (e.g., American Heart Association) and some are very small (which is the case for most nonprofits).

As with the other two “anchor institutions”, the local community and the government look to nonprofits to lead efforts in providing much-needed services to the disenfranchised.  However, many nonprofits struggle to survive day-to-day due to a number of factors, including the lack of financial resources, “mission creep”, the overall economy, leadership capacity, and others.

According to Guidestar, the four main areas to measure a nonprofit organization’s effectiveness are as follows:

  • Mission
  • Impact and Customer/Public Satisfaction
  • Planning and Self-Assessment
  • Business Measures (e.g., how many people are actually served, cost to deliver per service unit, etc.)

It is interesting that the Guidestar list did NOT include an organization’s financials as a top measure of effectiveness.  Other ways that nonprofits can become more effective include the following:

  • Development of board leadership – The board of directors is the heart and soul of the organization and can “make or break” it.  If the board is not strong in its belief of the organization, diverse in its experience, and dedicated to the overall health of the organization, the nonprofit will become ineffective and irrelevant.
  • Partnership Development – With scarce resources, it is vital that nonprofits find ways to partner with organizations with complementary missions to reach their goals.  In fact, foundations and other grant makers require this from organizations seeking funding.

I believe that if a nonprofit focuses on the items listed above, the money will follow.

Much of my career has centered on working with and/or providing services to nonprofit organizations.  I believe in their importance as well as their impact on communities.

It is my hope that the three “anchor institutions” I’ve highlighted will seek to do more to lead community economic development efforts locally, regionally, and nationally.

In future blogs, I will highlight the CED work of successful organizations as well as resources that can be helpful in this work.  If you have suggestions for future subjects, please send me your comments.

Be strong and be blessed!

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Last week I discussed the opportunities that faith-based organizations have to positively affect community economic development (CED).  This week I would like to highlight another “anchor institution” – universities.

The original Latin word “universitas” was used to describe specialized “associations of students and teachers with collective legal rights usually guaranteed by charters issued by princes, prelates, or the towns in which they were located.”[1]  Some of the earliest universities were established as early as 425 AD.

Fast forward to today and we see that universities are at the forefront of teaching not only specialized skills, but how to think critically.  Each day, thousands of students and faculty create “mini-cities” where learning happens and, more relevantly, commerce happens.  The surrounding community has been affected – positively and negatively – by these institutions, intentionally or not.  For some, positive contributions have been accomplished in partnership with the local community (e.g., business creation, housing, etc.).

However, in many instances, the university and the local community are at odds with each other, creating an adversarial “town vs. gown” relationship rather than a partnership.  When a university does not see the importance of working with the local community for mutually beneficial ends, it creates isolation and ill-feelings on both sides.

This situation is much more pronounced with academic institutions such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).  HBCUs date back to the 1830’s, with most being established before 1964.  These institutions are long-time anchors in their community and are (or should be) looked to by the community for leadership in CED.  However, with the financial state of many of these institutions, their focus has been on internal stability rather than community building.

Nevertheless, there are many resources that HBCUs and similar institutions can draw upon, including funding/technical assistance (HUD’s Office of University Partnerships) as well as many other individuals/organizations who desire to assist HBCUs and similar institutions to build their communities while strengthening their respective campuses.

Some key elements of a successful university/community partnership include the following:

  • Engaged leadership at the top of and throughout each stakeholder organization (e.g., community leaders, president/chancellor, etc.);
  • A broad base of involvement within the local community;
  • A thorough knowledge-base of resources, both local, state and federal; and
  • A desire to make something positive happen (MOST IMPORTANT).

My desire is that more HBCUs and similar organizations embrace their community importance and that they take a more aggressive stance in driving positive change instead of being reactive or, even worse, disengaged.

I will focus on the importance of non-profit organizations in leading CED efforts next week.

Be strong and be blessed!

[1] – Marcia L. Colish, Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition, 400-1400, (New Haven: Yale Univ. Pr., 1997), p. 267.

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