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October 14, 2014 / Ciara Myers, Editor

What does it take to launch a new initiative?

2014 WRAG Delegation to Cleveland

By Tamara Copeland
President
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

It was 2011 when I first learned of the Evergreen Cooperatives from three local grantmakers – Linda Howard of the Summit Fund, Kristin Pauly of Prince Charitable Trusts, and Margaret O’Bryon then of the Consumer Health Foundation. The Evergreen Cooperatives are worker-owned businesses located in underserved areas of Cleveland that supply nearby anchor institutions with services and goods they need. This philanthropy-led initiative in Cleveland, designed to actually move people out of poverty and into the middle class, was causing a buzz. By inviting the Evergreen Cooperatives’ leader to speak with local leaders, these three foundation executives started a powerful conversation.

A spark/an idea. The spark was undoubtedly the dynamic presentation (View part 1 and 2) by Ted Howard of the Democracy Collaborative, the organization that had been hired by the Cleveland Community Foundation to lead this work in Cleveland. He shared the model, the goals, and the potential for the Greater Washington region with funders, nonprofit leaders, and government officials. There were many questions and some reservations about the model’s potential here, but overall, attendees left wondering, “What if this really could work?” However, that spark alone was not enough to launch the initiative.

Resources and research. A group of about a dozen funders combined their resources for a $250,000 pool to hire Ted Howard and the Democracy Collaborative (based at the University of Maryland) to research the viability of the Evergreen model here in our region. This work included interviewing almost 200 local leaders. Afterwards, there was no question that an adaption of the principles and ideals of the Evergreen Cooperative’s worker-owner model was possible here. But, the due diligence alone was not enough to get it off the ground either.

Deeper research. Now a leader was needed to decide what kind of business had the greatest opportunity for success and to develop a capital plan to underwrite the start up costs of that business. John Hamilton, President of City First Enterprises, was that leader. He understood the business world and he understood the needs of the community. John and his team determined that the biggest opportunity laid in anchoring this work to a municipality. Next, they determined that stormwater/cleanwater management was the area of work with the greatest immediate potential here in our region. Combining those two factors with a desire by Prince George’s County to identify new approaches to combat wealth inequality in the County made Prince George’s County the optimal municipality to begin this work.

Collaboration. So, what does it take to launch an initiative? A strong cross-sector collaboration to meet a community need is a must have. The philanthropic community was the catalyst, the academic community provided the research, and government had a need to address: compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act standards. All of these factors have converged in a way to make the initiative possible.

The last ingredient. Even with all the partnership stars aligning, there is still work to be done. All parties are eager to launch the initiative and implement the tenets of community wealth building in Prince George’s County, but are awaiting finalization of the necessary agreements. We are excited about the potential impact of the Community Wealth Building Initiative and look forward to providing you with an update of our progress soon.


Note: Late last month, WRAG hosted the second tour of the Evergreen model for local funders potentially interested in becoming a part of this work. To learn more, contact Tamara Copeland at WRAG or Jason Washington at City First Enterprises.

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