Message From PD&R Senior Leadership
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Roles in Partnerships for Place-Based Work

Image of Katherine O’Regan, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research.
Katherine O’Regan, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research.
The main rationale behind partnerships –whether they be teams in the work place or across sectors, is that the task at hand requires a set of skills or strengths broader than one individual, organization or sector can bring to the table. For a while, cross-sector partnerships were seen as a simple governance solution to addressing some of our most complex social problems. But partnerships require the establishment of a relationship across very different entities, with different approaches to processes and very different internal cultures. They also require real work to develop and sustain. Our more sober current view may be that partnerships are potentially a complex solution to complex problems, appropriate where the problem really needs roles that no singular player can play but where there is enough mutual interest or understanding to make the relationship itself work.

Place-based work may be an ideal candidate for such partnerships, entailing very different roles for players and enough ‘mission glue’ to make partnerships feasible. On October 22nd, I was honored to announce the 2014 winners of the Secretaries’ Award for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships on behalf of Secretary Castro at the Council on Foundations Conference for Community Foundations in Cleveland as described below. Each of the initiatives receiving awards entailed cross-sector partnerships to address community needs to improve the lives of its residents. The conversations about their initiatives surfaced complimentary and overlapping roles for community organizations and foundations and their federal partners for place based work.

Place based philanthropy brings the local context and knowledge needed to identify both the underlying problems and potential solutions. Community-based organizations have existing relationships to build from, and the participatory-orientation needed for legitimacy. Local philanthropy also brings long term commitment to the place and its people, a necessary perspective for the type of long term investment needed to affect community change. This makes local foundations natural agents for the very-first stages of community development. While the federal government generally lacks that local knowledge, it brings a different set of resources to the table, resources that may help in taking initiatives to the next level.

For example, the San Francisco Foundation has been committed to community development in the Bayview and surrounding neighborhoods of San Francisco since 2005. Through its HOPE SF initiative, the foundation has supported public housing revitalization that prioritizes current residents while investing in high-quality, sustainable housing and broad scale community development. This locally driven partnership has now led to the successful application for a 2014 HUD Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant. The accomplishments of this revitalization effort in San Francisco lie with the long-established relationships and capacity of our community-based philanthropic partner, while the federal government is playing the key role of taking it to scale.

Similarly, through the Neighborhood Spotlight (NS) Initiative, Legacy Foundation in Indiana has partnered with the City of Gary, Indiana to develop a framework for community change, capacity-building, comprehensive planning, and project implementation. Their work has assisted in positioning the city to successfully secure a Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) designation from the White House, securing additional resources and using that partnership to deliver on the locally-determined plan.

The federal resources brought to bear go beyond financial. One of the federal government’s comparative advantages is its national scale. It is better positioned to undertake activities that are best provided at scale, or that once created can be used by all. One example is the creation and provision of data.

The Raikes Foundation raised data needs in the area of youth homelessness as an ideal role for federal partners. Raikes has made impressive strides in addressing youth homelessness in King County, Washington. The Foundation led the effort to create a comprehensive plan to address youth homelessness uniting stakeholders under a strategic mission of preventing and ending youth and young adult homelessness by 2020. Raikes has been using a data-driven approach and stressed that to be fully successful locally, localities need federal data support on youth homelessness in particular. Over the past 15 years, and in large part through HUD’s efforts, considerable progress has been made compiling homelessness statistics ( These data are now used to better target federal and local efforts to end homelessness. Most analysts and advocates agree, however, that more work is needed and that data sources are particularly weak for youth. This is a role better suited for the public sector, and one to which HUD can contribute.

Government and Philanthropy have a shared role in developing and disseminating knowledge, and building capacity. The Denver Foundation, a primary partner in HUD’s Sustainable Communities Initiative’s Regional Planning effort, leads the Mile High Connects initiative, a collaborative effort of 20 organizations, which has paved the way for the Denver Transit Oriented Development Fund to expand and serve the Denver metro region. The federal government partnered in providing the tools and systems through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities to develop and share knowledge.

Through the Smarter Cities Challenge in Syracuse, New York, IBM Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs furthers this notion of collective capacity building. The program contributes the time and expertise of IBM's top experts from different business units and geographies, putting them on the ground to work closely with city leaders and deliver recommendations on how to make the city smarter. This is quite similar in concept to SC2 which provides localities with federal teams on the ground. Both initiatives leverage non-local expertise to strengthen the ability of localities to address their specific issues, building capacity in the process. An interesting side-effect of both of these initiatives may be their effect on the participants themselves. An early finding from SC2 is that the federal staff who participate report viewing their role and work differently after having engaged in the partnership. The local participants’ view of federal government may also have changed.

This last point may be an important benefit of successful partnerships, making cross sector work more feasible or productive over time. Partnerships are, in fact, quite hard to make successful. In many instances, they don’t work. They may not be the best vehicle for getting the work done or they don’t include the right partners. During the roundtable discussion among award winners (notably a selective group of partnerships that are being showcased because of their promise and success), many of the participants in the room noted their own previous experience in a different sector. As careers increasingly take people across sectors, there may be a greater pipeline of professionals who are particularly well positioned for such collaborative work. Given the prevalence of cross-sector work in the community development and place-based fields, these kinds of career paths may be particularly fruitful.