Change in the South Requires Focus on Wealth Building, Report Finds

Philanthropic investments in the South should focus on building locally created and owned wealth in marginalized communities, a report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and Grantmakers for Southern Progress argues.

The second in a series of reports about opportunities for philanthropy to improve the lives of underserved communities in the South, the report, As the South Grows: Strong Roots (36 pages, PDF), found that philanthropic funding can help advance equity and justice by supporting community-driven economic development that builds assets while protecting the regions' culture and heritage. Funded by the Educational Foundation of America and the Kresge and Mary Reynolds Babcock foundations, the report features community leaders in Kentucky Coal Country and the Lowcountry of South Carolina who are working, through their organizations — the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, the Center for Heirs' Property Preservation, the South Carolina Community Loan Fund, the South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development, and the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation — to bring about a community-led transition to a more equitable, sustainable regional economy.

"Unlike traditional economic development carried out by local governments and private sector interests without accountability to local people and communities, Babcock sees community economic development as efforts led by and accountable to low- to moderate-income people as having great potential for structural change," Lavastian Glenn, program director at the Babcock Foundation, says in the report. "[Community economic development] provides local people the opportunity to address economic and systems inequality by creating alternative solutions to address the need for high quality, energy efficient housing, good jobs, and stronger neighborhoods."

The report's authors offer a number of recommendations with respect to funding community economic development in the region, including taking the time to learn about the harm done to Southern communities and how Southerners have been excluded and exploited; adopting a positive narrative focused on the connections between the South, the national economy, and a prosperous future for both; exploring how inclusive economic development in Southern communities can have lasting change; and committing to long-term, flexible investments of capital, time, and capacity.

"With increased philanthropic engagement to capitalize on assets that already exist and build assets where they are needed," write report authors Ryan Schlegel and Stephanie Peng, "Southern communities can successfully transition to new economies built around equity and inclusion."

For more information about institutional philanthropy for the Southeast Region, visit Foundation Center's SECF Southern Trends Report dashboard.

"Donors Need to Help Build Wealth Among the Poor, Underserved in the South." National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy Press Release 06/27/2017. "As the South Grows: Strong Roots." National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy 06/27/2017.