Murder and the reinvention of community philanthropyNovember 28, 2012
Author: Devin Thorpe | Forbeshttp://www.forbes.com/sites/devinthorpe/2012/11/28/murder-and-the-reinvention-of-community-philanthropy/
Hser Ner Moo, a seven-year-old refugee from Burma was brutally murdered by another refugee in South Salt Lake City in March 2008. The murder helped to catalyze the community around a radical shift in the operation of community philanthropy.
Focusing on community needs and coordinating cooperative responses, called “collective impact” in the jargon of the philanthropy community, rather than funding overlapping or competitive programs is yielding improved results.
At Woodrow Wilson Elementary I had the opportunity to see the first hand evidence of the success of the new approach.
Agnes Chiao, Vice President of Collective Impact for the United Way of Salt Lake, and Lindsey Edwards, the Woodrow Wilson Community Learning Center Coordinator, gave me a tour of the Center and told me about their progress they’re making.
Edwards explained that the Center is a cooperative effort among South Salt Lake City, the Granite School District, the Utah Food Bank, the Bennion Center at the University of Utah, the Boy Scouts, 4-H and the United Way.
The student population in the after school program I visited was a mini United Nations with a diverse range of students and languages spoken. Students were provided with a hot, nutritious meal—something many of them wouldn’t be getting at home.
Coordinated by the United Way, a community learning center was also established right in the apartment project where Hser Ner Moo lived. The center, named for the tiny victim, provides a place where students who live in that apartment project can have their after-school program. There are also adult education and other programs run at the community learning centers.
Adult education includes family unit training, English as a second language, and parental training. Students in the Centers speak more than twenty different languages, with the majority coming from Asia. The number of refugees from Africa is increasing.
Caring for the refugee community is challenging. Chiao notes that when refugees arrive in the U.S. their problems are far from over. “In many ways it’s just starting,” she notes.
Chiao described the process of reinventing the model for community philanthropy, which started about ten years ago with pilot projects. In 2010, The United Way of Salt Lake shifted all of their efforts to the new model.
Under the old model, nonprofits approached United Way for grants to fund their programs. Each organization measured and defended its own results. Under this model, each agency competed with the others for money and often provided overlapping services.
With the new model, agencies were required to submit cooperative proposals. The first year that they were required to submit cooperative proposals, none of the proposals were actually accepted. The United Way required the applicants to go back and work more cooperatively to address community needs.
Working collaboratively, Chiao explains that they are taking a “cradle to career” approach to ensure that no one falls through the cracks. In South Salt Lake, Chia notes that crime rates dropped significantly after the implementation of the collective impact approach.
The program has been so successful in its initial implementations that the model is being applied to broader and larger populations. This creates new challenges. Recognizing that multiple participants in the community will impact a child’s ability to eventually choose to go to college and succeed there, means also that no one organization is solely responsible. Time will tell whether the collective impact approach can be effective on a larger scale.
Rebecca Dutson, Executive Director of the United Way of Salt Lake City, shared her feelings about reinventing community-based philanthropy, “Working with committed individuals and corporations to create meaningful and measureable change in communities where the need is greatest is inspiring. Together, we are literally changing the odds so every child has the same chance to succeed in school and life. It’s a privilege for me to be a part of this transformational work.”
The United Way of Salt Lake is an independently governed organization that serves just over half of Utah’s population. Dutson notes, “This structure allows each United Way to serve within a framework that best meets the needs of its community, while still harnessing the power of a multi-billion dollar brand.”