September 1, 2016

For the Surdna Foundation, Communities Should Define Their Futures

Will Cordery, Program Officer of Surdna Foundation’s Strong Local Economies program, writes about racial justice and inclusive economic development.

This post originally appeared in NCRP’s quarterly journal, which you can find here.

When people have asked me what compelled me to join the team at the Surdna Foundation more than a year ago, I’ve often shared that I saw a philanthropic organization that is not only guided by principles of social justice, and working to address real societal problems, but one that is committed to investing in new ways of building economies, environments and communities that place those directly impacted by inequity at the center of making decisions on the best solutions. 

In essence, I saw Surdna as a foundation that was driven to invest in a better, more just world with people at the center. And this was important to me as a former fundraiser and organizer for Project South, an organization whose work for racial and economic justice was guided by principles of investing in people, place and regional identity across Southern states. Few national foundations support marginalized communities in building local leadership and long-term infrastructure that not only works to address current challenges, but also prepares them for future challenges and supports their leadership.

As a family philanthropy, Surdna and the Andrus family have been practicing responsive philanthropy for nearly 100 years. Much of those years were devoted to direct service and programs for children. In 1989, the third and fourth generations of the Andrus family established Surdna Foundation’s programs in environment and community revitalization, which came with a decision to expand the professional staff to broaden the foundation’s effectiveness. By 1994, programs in effective citizenry and the arts were added. Guided by the principles of social justice, the foundation today seeks to foster sustainable environments, strong local economies and thriving cultures in marginalized communities in the United States.

Surdna Foundation is a national philanthropic leader working across both the public and private sectors to actualize smart and inclusive economic growth. I am especially excited by what our Strong Local Economies program has so far accomplished and the work that continues. The line of work, which I lead, is committed to improving the lives and economic opportunities for low-income communities, people of color, women and immigrants by investing in communities to win good economic policies, building and growing locally owned businesses, creating quality jobs and improving jobs that millions of low-wage workers hold by bringing up the labor market. 

I am inspired by the vision of a country where communities that have been systematically locked out of economic mobility can realize true economic opportunities and security. 

Minority Business Investment

One of the areas of work under the Strong Local Economies program is Business Development and Acceleration (BDA), which aims to create jobs and wealth in communities through thriving, diverse, sustainable local businesses increasingly owned by people of color, women and immigrants. 

This past year we continued to focus our efforts on harnessing the power of the private sector to broadly promote quality job growth in local communities. Our work with minority-, women- and immigrant-owned businesses remain one of our larger areas of investment. Our program is able to provide grant dollars to business accelerators – private or nonprofit entities that provide early capital and technical assistance to start-ups and small businesses to assist with their growth. Many minority-owned businesses struggle to secure the capital needed due to their size, location and leadership. 

The business accelerators we are supporting provide an array of services to a diverse business audience. One of them is Chicago United. As part of Chicago United’s Five Forward 20/20 Initiative, each company commits to working with five local minority-owned firms over five years, better positioning local minority-owned firms to compete for corporate contracts. To date, Chicago United has produced partnerships with 21 area companies that reported spending an aggregate of more than $350 million in 2014. Among these businesses, a select number of minority-owned enterprises created more than 4,700 jobs. 

Some of the most compelling work happening in the BDA portfolio is the investment in converting small businesses into worker-owned cooperatives. In a recent report, Ours to Share: How Worker Ownership Can Change the American Economy,  Surdna explored the opportunities of worker-owned firms to fundamentally change local economies and to build wealth for historically low-income communities. 

With the pending retirement of tens of thousands of baby boomers that were successful in entrepreneurship, there is going to be a huge transfer of wealth in this country. That wealth could be transferred to a larger corporation in a buyout, to a developer for repurposing of their land or to the workers who’ve worked for those small businesses for years who would now have an opportunity to own a business and help drive the local economy. Transferring ownership of a business from just one person or group to the business’ workers creates opportunities for workers to build wealth, to own their work and products in an entirely new way and to increase economic activity in communities that have suffered from years of stagnation and inequity. 

Although this model of local economic drivers redistributing wealth is relatively small, there are immense opportunities to scale and make this a practice of wealth redistribution that is good for workers, retired business owners and local economies. 

Economic Development for and by the People

Historically, economic development projects do not benefit all populations and oftentimes exclude the communities we serve – low-income, people of color and immigrants. We believe that economic development can be done in a different way – a way that reaches beyond city centers and produces positive impacts on local communities, placing its residents at the decision-making tables and creating opportunities for economic mobility. 

The attention being paid to growing income inequality and an uneven economic recovery this past year has created an opportunity to redefine economic development guidelines and practices to include equity and to engage people directly affected by development at the most local level. Surdna is working with a host of economic development, policy research and nonprofit and philanthropic partners to further advance an equitable economic development framework. 

This summer, the Surdna Foundation, in partnership with the National League of Cities, PolicyLink, the Urban Land Institute and Open Society Foundations, launched the first-ever Equitable Economic Development Fellowship. This is a two-year, $1 million effort to promote equity, transparency and sustainability as driving forces in local economic development efforts. It also will provide participants with leadership development, technical assistance and peer learning. Leaders were chosen from six cities for the inaugural class: Boston, Charlotte, Houston, Memphis, Milwaukee and Minneapolis. We and our partners are hopeful that advancing an equity frame in these respective communities at this time will place local leaders in positions of influence at the cusp of impending economic development boom in these cities. 

Workers and the Economy

Through our Job Quality & Career Pathways (JQCP) line of work, we strive to improve the quality of jobs and conditions of work in low-wage sectors in this country as well as expand access to higher-paying jobs, identify and develop promising career paths in emerging industries and seek the overall improvement of economic mobility. 

Over the past few years, advocates have fought for and celebrated tremendous policy wins that improve conditions of work for millions in this country – from increasing the minimum wage to securing paid sick and family leave, fair scheduling and other labor standards improvements that have the potential to transform the lives of working families. As a result, there are renewed efforts around the country to engage key stakeholders in the enforcement of job quality measures. Many cities have dedicated staff focused on policy implementation, but some cities still lag behind with insufficient staff, accountability measures or true commitments to achieve intended results. 

Surdna is working to better understand the capacity needs and current challenges of government in addition to community-based interventions to realize the benefits of new policies to improve the quality of jobs. This past July, in partnership with the National Employment Law Project and Rutgers University Center for Innovation in Worker Organization, we convened leaders from worker organizations, government agencies and small business advocacy groups from across the country to share some of the challenges and opportunities they’re facing, the importance of worker power, business compliance and revenue sources separate from local and state budget negotiations to fund enforcement of labor policies. 

Over the coming year, we will explore how best to invest in efforts to safeguard all of the significant strides we’ve made in creating good economic policies as well as how best to respond to preemptive attacks that attempt to halt progress. 

The Importance of People and Place

As we approach our centennial, the Surdna Foundation understands just how important people and place are to a community’s ability to flourish. History has taught us that trickle-down economics do not work. In order to create the ecosystem needed for local communities to thrive economically, socially and culturally, we have to invest in their success at the local level. 

Over the summer, the foundation staff conducted an exercise during a staff retreat that challenged us to summarize Surdna’s mission-driven work in eight words. One of my favorite statements was “Communities define their futures. We support their goals.” 

As a social justice foundation, we are not alone in this sentiment. Although our collective resources are somewhat finite, if all of philanthropy was responsive in a way that put the resources into the hands of those most affected, we could lead a renaissance that would drastically reshape how communities and economies are driven.

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February 28, 2020

NFG Newsletter - February 2020

February is Black History Month and, in this newsletter, NFG honors Black resistance. Given the persistence of structural racism and the legacies of segregation, NFG has mobilized philanthropy to support POC-led organizing for equitable development since our start 40 years ago. Through our member-led and local advisor-led programming, we are lifting up how Black communities are reclaiming land ownership and addressing the racial wealth gap through grassroots power building.

At the beginning of the month, NFG’s Amplify Fund staff and steering committee spent a day with local organizers, non-profit leaders, and organizations in Charleston and Edisto Island, South Carolina — one of Amplify’s eight sites. Both national and local grantmakers learned alongside some of Amplify’s grantees, including the Center for Heirs’ Property PreservationLow Country Alliance for Model CommunitiesCarolina Youth Action Project, and South Carolina Association for Community and Economic Development, which are bringing together Black, Latinx communities and youth in the region to fight for community power, land rights, and environmental justice in the face of corporate power, criminalization of communities of color due to gentrification, and land theft.

This week, NFG’s Democratizing Development Program (DDP) hosted a two-day Health, Housing, Race, Equity and Power Funders Convening in Oakland, California. Over 100 participants grappled with how anti-Blackness and xenophobia fuel the complex housing & health crisis and community trauma, and heard examples of concrete organizing wins led by Black women from Moms 4 Housing and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. Organizers from around the country urged grantmakers to significantly invest in long-term general operating support, community ownership models, POC leadership, and 501(c)4 funding for Black, Indigenous, and POC communities engaging in policy and systems change around housing affordability and justice. 

From Amplify’s funder collaborative to the DDP convening’s planning committee, funders organizing other funders has been a key part of our work. Funder members: how are you stepping up as an organizer and moving more resources for power building in Black, Indigenous, and POC communities? We invite you to connect with NFG staffprograms, and upcoming events — including our National Convening — and be part of our community where we bring funders together to learn, connect, and mobilize resources with an intersectional and place-based focus. 

Onwards,
The NFG team

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January 23, 2020

NFG Newsletter - January 2020

Animated fireworks with the text "40 Years Strong"

This year marks NFG's 40th anniversary. During our early years, NFG was one of the few spaces in philanthropy specifically focused on people of color-led, grassroots organizing, and power building as the key to effective social change strategies. Today, NFG continues to be many funders' political home at a time when moving resources to struggles for justice is critically important: communities of color are bearing the brunt of the housing crisis, growing wealth and income inequality, and climate change; white nationalist backlash is rising; and our democracy is profoundly threatened. NFG is a space to draw support, deepen relationships, and find co-conspirators as we propel philanthropy to shift power and money towards justice and equity.

In 2020, the NFG network is continuing to explore structural racism in health and housing, racial capitalism, migrant worker justice in rural areas, reimagining community safety and justice, and more. We will also return ‘home’ to NFG’s founding city — Washington, D.C. — for our 2020 National Convening.

As we celebrate 40 years, our dynamic community of grantmakers and grassroots leaders is what makes us strong. This newsletter spotlights The Libra Foundation, an NFG member that shares our commitment to organizing funders in moving more resources to frontline communities and movements.

Keep reading below for more opportunities to engage with NFG. Whether you are new to NFG or a long-time member, we look forward to collaborating with you to accelerate racial, gender, economic, and climate justice.
 
Onwards,
The NFG team

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