From rising income inequality and aging infrastructure to climate change, communities of all sizes are facing unprecedented challenges that threaten the health and well-being of individuals, families, and local economies.
CCI believes that improving these conditions will require powerful and effective community investment systems. We have developed a framework and approach that communities can use to mobilize investment capital to address upstream determinants of health and make communities more cohesive, resilient, and environmentally sustainable.
Earlier this month, as part of our new Connect Capital initiative, we invited 14 multi-sector teams to participate in a two-day learning community in Chicago, designed to help teams begin to map their local community investment system and identify ways to strengthen it. Teams worked through a series of exercises on the three key community investment functions outlined in our framework:
- articulation of a clearly defined set of the community’s shared priorities;
- development and execution of a pipeline of feasible deals that together will help to achieve the strategic priorities; and,
- creation of an enabling environment of policies, processes, practices and platforms that support the development of socially useful investments.
By exposing multi-sector partnerships to our framework, tools, coaching, and peer learning, we aspire to help communities change the structures, policies, and relationships that determine what gets financed.
The work we did with these communities built on learning from our pilot engagements in Denver, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Detroit, and other communities. Key ideas underlying the exercises we worked through in the learning community included:
- 1. A clear result can galvanize action and resources: Many partnerships had difficulty articulating clearly the result(s) they want to achieve by working together. CCI believes that to get money to flow “uphill” to things that are more difficult to finance but essential to healthy communities (i.e. affordable housing, child care centers, grocery stores, etc.), multi-sector partnerships need to define their goal. This first step will help determine the stakeholders that need to be engaged, the work to be done, and the best way to sequence action. Investors appreciate knowing that their dollars will be used to finance the things the community wants.
- 2. Equity must be at the center of the result: An explicit commitment to equity—and an understanding that low-income people and communities of color have faced structural discrimination—is critical as partnerships formulate and implement their strategies. Too often, change efforts fail to think through what is required to address a legacy of economic, social and spatial inequities.
- 3. Adaptive problems cannot be solved with technical solutions: Adaptive problems are problems (e.g. health inequities, climate change, etc.) for which there is no known solution; the solutions must be invented. In contrast, technical problems (e.g. building bridges) have known solutions applicable in a variety of contexts. Looking for “silver bullets” to solve adaptive problems results in frustration and wasted effort; what is required instead is creative thinking and collaboration to imagine and execute the structures, policies, and relationships that are needed to make change at scale.
- 4. Big challenges require system-changing actions: No one deal or project alone will result in a population-level impact. Moving from individual transactions to transformational change in communities to benefit people with low-wealth and communities of color requires strategies that match the scale of the problem.
5. Defining shared priorities, creating a pipeline, and changing the enabling environment are not sequential stages, but an iterative process: CCI’s framework is based on helping communities strengthen key community investment functions. Making the systems changes necessary to overcome disinvestment requires teams to work concurrently on each of the functions, rather than focusing on one at a time.
Over the next month, we’ll be checking in with teams to see how they are moving on their action plans. We look forward to continuing to share lessons learned via our newsletter.