With an understanding that the field of community development has been impacted significantly by the challenges of the current economic downturn, the St. Louis Fed’s three-part public policy dialogue series, New Voices, Fresh Ideas: The Future of Community Development, brought together representatives from financial institutions and community development practitioners to discuss possible directions to keep the field relevant and impactful. During each event in 2010, audiences were introduced to groundbreaking approaches and asked, in response, to leverage their own expertise to engage in robust dialogue that could inform their work in the industry. Emerging themes included a renewed focus on the vital role community members play in the development process, a need for increased collaboration among different sectors, the importance of education in economic development and the value of new financing models.
April’s event, “Restructuring and Retooling for the Future,” featured Ruth McCambridge, editor-in-chief of The Nonprofit Quarterly; Gary Logan, founder of Synago Consulting; and Ray Boshara, vice president and senior research fellow at the New America Foundation. These experts urged a return to the fundamentals of community development—organizing at the grassroots level, respecting the intrinsic values of our communities and a return to relationship banking. This public policy dialogue was the focus of the Summer 2010 issue of Bridges.
During the second conference, “Addressing the Achievement Gap and Fostering Community Leadership,” Jean Horstman, CEO of Interise in Boston, stated that “behind every ‘I’ of our highly individualistic society is a larger ‘we,’” and indicated that collaboration is essential to the development process. She noted that “the future is something that not one of us owns, but paradoxically, all of us own together,” a theme reiterated by Donna Ford, professor of education and human development at Vanderbilt University. Ford said that many of the problems experienced in development work exist because of a lack of interconnectedness between potential partners, stating that “there is a lack of five Cs: caring, commitment, co-destiny, collaboration and comprehensive services” in many of the most needy communities.
Ford highlighted the impact the educational achievement gap has on workforce development. She noted that the gap exists before children enter school and grows to four years by the time students are 17 years of age. Douglas Scarboro, executive director of the Office of Talent and Human Capital and the education liaison for the City of Memphis, emphasized that trending out educational achievement gaps have broad economic development implications. Scarboro said that Memphis’ percentage of college-educated individuals is 23.7 percent. “If that percentage increased just 1 percent, to 24.7 percent… the economic boost to the economy would be $1 billion,” he said.
Our final event, “Tapping New Sources and Exploring New Models for Community Development Finance,” featured Trinita Logue, founder and president of IFF (formerly the Illinois Facilities Fund), who echoed Ray Boshara’s comments at the April event by saying that “in the future we need more CDFIs operating at different levels.” Logue stated that conventional financing models cannot address the field’s growing needs and emphasized that more resources are needed to fund health centers, education facilities, food centers, and transit-oriented development.
Ian Galloway, investment associate in the Center for Community Development Investments at the San Francisco Fed, offered an unconventional model, suggesting that technology could be a valuable asset for acquiring capital. Galloway pointed to the success of peer-to-peer lending sites such as Kiva and noted that an increased use of technology would be a “radically democratic” method for securing financial capital.
Dione Alexander, vice president of the Nonprofit Finance Fund, encouraged audience members to transform their outlook from alleviating problems (project financing) to expanding opportunities (platform financing). She proposed that new financial models must be collaborative and asked participants to think beyond the usual suspects to find partners to assist in financing opportunities. Returning to the theme of placing the focus on the value of community members, Alexander said, “The success of community development finance is not about how clever we are with the numbers, but rather the important understanding that a person is always attached to the end goal.”