Memphis Organization Lifts Voices of Community

In late 2008-09, two of Memphis’ largest foundations and the area’s community development corporation (CDC) industry created a comprehensive public/private strategy to address community deterioration, poverty and often disjointed approaches to problem-solving. The resulting plan created a local economic and community development intermediary to work with institutions—the government, philanthropic and faith-based communities—as well as business owners and residents to channel resources and build capacity. That intermediary, Community LIFT (Leveraging Investments for Transformation), along with its CDFI affiliate, River City Capital Investment, seeks to convert Memphis’ geography of poverty to a “geography of opportunity.” Eric Robertson is president of both organizations.

The very nature of Community LIFT as an intermediary conveys the importance of partnerships, Robertson says. The organization builds relationships with key leaders and ensures that neighborhood coalitions “lift up the voices of the community.” He gives an important nod to the leadership roles of the city’s mayor and convening roles of the local Reserve Bank and FDIC in the formation and support of the organization’s work.

Data and an evidence-based decision-making approach drive investment and lending decisions, specifically around market conditions and identifying neighborhood assets and opportunities. But coming up with the money hasn’t been fast or easy: Robertson hints at challenges during which the Community LIFT board and its partners needed to be persistent. “We knew we could not stop short until we reached our goal of seeding the fund and getting it launched.”