We all know the proverb. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. The underlying message is clear, it’s better to teach someone to do something than to do if for them.
At JumpStart, we’ve found this proverb can also be applied to the important work of economic development. Give a community the tools to build a prosperous, sustainable economy and its residents will benefit for decades to come.
Traditionally, community foundations have allocated the majority of their dollars towards education, health, and human services, rather than economic development. This is understandable, since the needs in those areas are acute. However, economic development issues like job creation and income growth are also critical to the long term well-being of a community. That’s why some forward-thinking foundations are beginning to make economic development a real priority.
So, how do you teach a community to turn its citizens into better economic fishermen? In many cases they already have many of the tools, it’s just that those tools are scattered around or siloed within different agencies.
Think of a local company that wants to expand production, but is unaware of state and local assistance programs than could help them maximize their chances for success. Or a community college that has raised vocational grant dollars for workforce training, but isn’t well-connected to the members of the community that need it most.
Community foundations are uniquely qualified to bring these kinds of people and programs together. Here’s a few other areas where community foundations can make real economic impact in their community.
Assessing Strengths & Opportunities
Community foundations are locally focused, have their noses to the ground and know their communities intimately. For these reasons, they are often the ideal agency to create a holistic assessment of the existing economic development resources in their community. As communities like Erie, PA, and Richland County, OH have proven, you can’t facilitate economic expansion if you don’t know what tools are at your disposal.
Helping Community Organizations Refine Their Focus
Once they’ve assessed their region’s strengths and opportunities, community foundations are in an excellent position to encourage the groups they fund to cluster around a set of common goals. Ideally, these goals will be focused on helping existing companies expand their businesses and hire employees while also assisting homegrown entrepreneurs with the next generation of economic growth.
Breaking Down Siloes & Driving Collaboration
When community organizations collaborate effectively, the result becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Community foundations have the power to encourage and even incentivize this kind of collaboration, allowing for greater economic efficiency, and ultimately, greater prosperity for the community.
Many foundations have never played in the economic development space, but groups like the Cleveland Foundation are proving that those who do are well-positioned to drive the kind of enduring economic prosperity that can truly transform entire regions. The foundation’s Evergreen Cooperative is gaining national recognition for its ability to generate living-wage jobs in low-income neighborhoods through the creation of employee-owned green businesses. Meanwhile, others such as the Richland County Foundation in Central Ohio are also taking action to turn around their local economies.
Click here to learn more about how JumpStart is helping these and other regional leaders do their important work.