Friday, December 12, 2008

Combatting Poverty through Place-Based Initiatives

Yesterday I attended a forum hosted by the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago and the Urban Institute. The title was "LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: Combating Urban Poverty through Place-Based Initiatives.

Panel members were:

Robert Chaskin, Chapin Hall research fellow and associate professor, School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago,
Ajay Chaudry, director of the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population, the Urban Institute
Craig Howard, director of community and economic development, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, who talked about New Communities Program, and
• Celena Roldan, director of child care, Erie Neighborhood House. 1701 W Superior St., Chicago, IL 60622.

This session was broadcast as a webinar and potentially more than 1000 people were listening. The recorded session will be available on the Chapin Hall web site so hopefully many more people will find this and learn from what was presented. If you subscribe to their email list you can get notification of when this will be available and of future events.

The speakers were each given a few minutes to offer their ideas, and each talked about how children living in places with high poverty face greater disadvantages and challenges than do youth in more affluent situations. Furthermore they all focused on the need for long-term solutions, and emphasized how difficult it is to evaluation community building efforts. Mr. Howard emphasized that donors and policy makers need to be thinking in 10 to 20 year time frames, rather than in 2-3 year grant cycles.

In their summary comments, the speakers each encouraged collaboration, information sharing, capacity building, flexible funding, etc., but when I asked how they might envision President Obama using his internet army to connect and share information, to achieve these goals, none of the speakers seemed to have given this much thought.

My first observation is that 90 minutes is too little time to share the depth of experience of these speakers. Second, the 20 minutes for Questions at the end of the event is too little time for an audience of more than 200 to ask more than a few superficial questions. In addition, I was disappointed that no one used maps to illustrate the range of places where poverty is concentrated.

I would love to see these organizers build an internet platform on Ning or some other portal so speakers and participants could stay connected to each other in on-going idea-sharing and collaboration following the event. Classroom and Fireside Learning are two examples of connected communities. Social Edge is another example of the type of on-line community that could be encouraged.

I posted links to speaker profiles so you can go to their sites and look at their research. There is much to learn. However, in the LINKS Library on the T/MC you can find dozens of additional articles related to poverty and place-based solutions. You can also find links to information that non-profits, businesses and foundations might use in supporting their own involvement.

While yesterday’s event draws attention to new research and the problem of poverty, we need a comprehensive adult e-learning strategy, which engages more and more people in business, universities, philanthropy, non profits, and education with these programs. This village chart illustrates the many different sectors who need to be sharing their ideas and connecting in community problem solving.

If you review the articles I’ve written over the past few years you can see that I am actively engaging in the type of network building that I feel is needed to draw a crowd attract volunteers, donors and policy makers, to the research created by the Urban Institute, Chapin Hall, and dozens of other places, as well as articles and blogs by many who comment on these challenges, and point to solutions.

I’ve created forums for people to connect with T/MC and its network on Ning and at central web site hubs, like the T/MC site, but I’m also participating in forums hosted by others for the same purpose. So far I’ve not found any forum that consistently connects researchers, donors, business leaders, policy makers, etc, with a goal of creating understanding, sharing good ideas, and pointing resources to place based organizations who cannot put the ideas to work without consistent, on-going, flexible funding.

The T/MC is not the only place where this type of information needs to be aggregated and we are a small non profit, and cannot facilitate the learning of this information the way a university or faith network might do.

Just like there are millions of suns in the galaxy, each with stars connected to them by gravity, there needs to be hundreds of hubs drawing people from education, non profit, media, business, politics, etc. to this information, and pointing them to thousands of place based locations where kids need the type of help that volunteer-based mentoring, in many different formats, can provide.

I’m hopeful that President Obama will draw on his community building skills, to engage more people in this learning process, in internet forums, and in place based activities. If President Obama creates an Issue Wheel, like the Boston Innovation Hub, and uses his weekly radio addresses and other public speaking opportunities, to encourage members of his on-line army of supporters to go through the issue wheel to find knowledge about issues, and lists of actions they can take to solve problems, along with maps and databases showing places where they can provide time, talent and dollars to solve problems, he could radically change the way people learn and work together to solve some of the problems we’re writing about.

If public and private sector funding is made available, to organizations who organize this knowledge, and facilitate life-lone learning, understanding and actions, based on this information, these funds would be leveraged by the time, talent and dollars that people contributed to implement the ideas they learn in all of the places where concentrated poverty is a costs to society, and a tragedy to individuals and families.

We don’t know yet what the new president will do, but each reader can do something now to make a difference.

I encourage you to seek out a tutor/mentor program and make your donation before the end of 2008. You can help change the pattern of poverty by how you help kids connect with mentors, and knowledge, and education and jobs.

If you want to help Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection, click here.

1 comment:

char said...

this is a very comprehensive article that has some clear strategies for integrating those heading in the same direction.

The concept of using maps to orgainize and identify areas is great! i will explore this more for the adult students who visit my site~ regardless of the subject discipline, the use of maps appears to be beneficial.