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June 8, 2010 / nick geisinger

Thinking like a region–and acting like one

By Tamara Lucas Copeland, President, Washington Grantmakers

Margery Turner

Last month at WG, the Urban Institute’s Margery Turner touched on a dilemma for those working in the social profit sector:

“If you don’t focus, you may just scatter your efforts. But if you focus myopically on one thing—say, education—and you don’t focus on connecting issues, you’re not going to make real headway on education.”

To some extent, scattered efforts are inevitable. Thousands of groups are experimenting with solutions; coordination among them will never be perfect. However, there is plenty of room for improvement—and improve we must, given our post-recession state of heightened need and reduced assets. To that end, Ms. Turner made one suggestion that stood out:

“It’s conceivable that COG could become stronger. I think the way COG could get stronger would be through a small ‘p’ political process in which private sector, philanthropic, and community-based organizations… [push] for solutions that engage all the jurisdictions of the region [and] have a regional framework. That is not easy, but I think in regions where we see some action happening, it’s the nongovernmental forces pushing the political leadership of individual jurisdictions towards thinking and acting like a region.”

Goals outlined in
Region Forward
[click to enlarge]

“Thinking like a region” is how the Greater Washington 2050 Coalition created Region Forward* (pdf). The report sets goals and targets in nine major areas—Land Use; Transportation; Environment; Climate & Energy; Economic; Housing; Health & Human Services; Education; Public Safety.

However, thinking like a region is not the same as acting like one. This COG-spurred initiative will amount to little unless, as Ms. Turner suggested, private sector, philanthropic, and community-based organizations pick up this ball and run with it.

What might that look like?

Let’s take, for example, the Defeat Poverty DC Campaign. It has three over-arching themes:

  1. make work possible;
  2. make work pay; and
  3. make basic needs affordable.

Do you hear those themes echoed in the following targets from Region Forward?

  • “Sustain an annual 1 to 3% increase in the number of new jobs”
  • “Improve access to vocational training and educational options throughout the region”
  • “Annual rate of growth in median wages will exceed the rate of inflation”

By explicitly connecting the goals, targets, communications, and alliances behind Defeat Poverty DC effort to those of Region Forward, the region would have a bigger stake in the outcome. We would give ourselves the opportunity to discover and realize the economies of scale hiding among our collective efforts.

By making Region Forward the first stop in our individual planning processes, the Greater Washington 2050 Coalition could serve as the connective tissue that binds our efforts together.  We could reduce duplication among our various action agendas, messaging campaigns, advocacy efforts, and multi-point plans. We would have the opportunity to reinforce and build upon each others’ work.

I encourage you to read Region Forward and think about your organization. Where do you fit? Who else has the same goals? How can we work together to achieve them?

Washington Grantmakers convened funders at the Case Foundation on May 18 for a post-recession update on the region and to discuss how funders are adjusting to the “new normal.”

* Region Forward was endorsed by the WG Board of Directors on April 21, 2010.


  1. Terri Freeman / Jun 9 2010 6:30 am

    Great commentary aabout Region Forward. As hopeful as I am I understand the difficulties of acting regionally. Unfortunately, some of what holds us back regionally are based on “feelings” not “facts.” Thanks!

  2. Tamara Copeland / Jun 11 2010 8:40 am

    That is so true. We act out of our value system, values that are based primarily on family guidance, but often more on feelings/perceptions and not facts. Part of Mark Miller’s message in “The Tyranny of Dead Ideas” is that even when exposed to the facts, we are so immersed in a prolonged and protracted belief that the facts are almost meaningless. So, how do we align feelings and facts to enable a regional vision to become reality?

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