Building community and assets

By Ret Boney

To generate needed societal transformation, funders in the U.S. should invest in projects aimed at building assets that benefit the public good, a national expert says.

Gar Alperovitz, a professor and historian at the University of Maryland, addressed a gathering of foundation representatives from across the U.S. at the Neighborhood Funders Group’s annual conference held Sept. 11-13 in Durham, N.C.

Titled “Building Community, Building Assets: Race, Place & Equity,” the conference drew about 240 attendees.

In his talk, Alperovitz warned of the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, and urged funders to address the growing disparity.

“Folks in this room are the kinds of people who are midwives of possible transformation,” he told the group.  “Many of us hope the pendulum will swing and these trends will be reversed,” he said.  “I don’t think so.”

And as the federal government’s interest in financing programs that address such issues wanes, Alperovitz called on foundations to step up.

Funders should put their financial heft behind efforts that can build wealth in communities, not just among individuals, he said.

That includes worker-owned companies, which tend to keep jobs at the local level rather than outsourcing, thus strengthening the entire local economy, he said.

He also praised the efforts of community-development corporations that, in addition to developing affordable housing, have begun using associated nonprofits to gain greater independence for advocacy-related efforts.

And he encouraged investment in land trusts, which can develop land for affordable housing while capturing the appreciated value of the land for public benefit.

While at the conference, funders also attended various panel discussions and spent the majority of a day venturing into nearby communities to see local efforts first-hand.

These “learning tours” included trips to learn about the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership, civil-rights history in Greensboro, and cross-sector partnerships aimed at increasing affordable housing.

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