Cit­i­zen phi­lan­thropy might change your city

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

WHEN Bran­don Black and his wife were try­ing to fix up the old twounit house they’d re­cently bought in Cincin­nati, they dis­cov­ered they needed some help from peo­ple who ac­tu­ally knew what they were do­ing. His old wrestling coach and her fa­ther – two baby boomers with con­struc­tion ex­pe­ri­ence – proved to be in­valu­able home im­prove­ment men­tors, who hap­pily guided them through the process.

Black re­alised that the project was mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial: He and his wife needed help, and his coach and fa­ther-in-law had skills they wanted to share. He also re­alised there were prob­a­bly many other peo­ple in Cincin­nati – both new home­own­ers and older skilled trades­peo­ple – in the same sit­u­a­tion.

“What if there was a way a new home­owner could just bor­row some­body’s aunt or un­cle and lever­age their ex­pe­ri­ence?” Black says.

He saw an op­por­tu­nity to con­nect th­ese two groups. Now, thanks to a new and un­con­ven­tional ap­proach to place-based phi­lan­thropy, he has US$100,000 to de­velop a pro­gram in Cincin­nati that makes those con­nec­tions.

Black is a re­cip­i­ent of the Haile Fel­low­ship, a year-long “civic sab­bat­i­cal” for in­di­vid­u­als to de­velop ideas that can ben­e­fit the city and its peo­ple. It is a project of Peo­ple’s Lib­erty, an ex­per­i­men­tal “phi­lan­thropy lab” set up by the Cincin­nati-based Carol Ann & Ralph V Haile Jr/US Bank Foun­da­tion.

In­stead of hand­ing out grants to ur­ban plan­ning non-prof­its or com­mu­nity devel­op­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions, Peo­ple’s Lib­erty is giv­ing the money di­rectly to reg­u­lar cit­i­zens with good ideas.

Launched a year and a half ago, Peo­ple’s Lib­erty has given it­self a five-year mis­sion to make more than 100 grants to in­di­vid­u­als in the re­gion. Two of the $100,000 fel­low­ships are granted an­nu­ally; twice a year, eight other in­di­vid­u­als are awarded $10,000 grants to de­velop smaller-scale ur­ban in­ter­ven­tions that fo­cus on peo­ple, places and ideas.

Cur­rent projects in­clude a mo­bile show­room for mu­si­cal in­stru­ments that will travel around the city, and a model to show how va­cant build­ings can be used as ur­ban gar­dens. Three other in­di­vid­u­als will be given $15,000 grants to cre­ate three-month in­stal­la­tions in the store­front gallery of the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s three-storey his­toric build­ing. The cur­rent in­stal­la­tion is a “lend­ing li­brary” for toys and games.

The first two year-long fel­low­ships were awarded in 2015. One fo­cused on build­ing af­ford­able small houses, the other de­vel­oped a plat­form for lo­cal mu­si­cians to earn money through li­cens­ing. Smaller projects range from prac­ti­cal to play­ful: Last year’s batch in­cluded an open-source app to dis­play bus ar­rival times and a pub­lic space in­stal­la­tion fea­tur­ing 15-foot bean­bag chairs.

Eric Avner, CEO of Peo­ple’s Lib­erty, says as well as be­ing se­lected for their po­ten­tial to make a pos­i­tive im­pact on the Cincin­nati re­gion, its grantee projects are de­signed to build up a sorely needed new class of civic lead­ers.

The im­pe­tus, Avner says, was “this recog­ni­tion that it was the same 10 peo­ple we were see­ing run­ning for of­fice, and the same 10 peo­ple run­ning non-prof­its, and the same 10 peo­ple show­ing up for any kind of com­mit­tee ... It was like, I know there’s more than 10 peo­ple. So where’s the next 10 peo­ple; where’s the next 150 peo­ple who are go­ing to be the civic suc­ces­sion plan for this com­mu­nity?”

Though phi­lan­thropists reg­u­larly make grants to artists, it’s rel­a­tively rare to make char­i­ta­ble grants to in­di­vid­u­als not as­so­ci­ated with an or­gan­i­sa­tion, ac­cord­ing to Shena Ash­ley, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter on Non­prof­its and Phi­lan­thropy at the Ur­ban In­sti­tute, a Washington DC– based think tank. That’s partly be­cause of com­pli­cated tax rules, but also be­cause of the risk of giv­ing thou­sands of dol­lars to some­one with­out a track record for com­plet­ing projects.

“It is more risky in terms of not be­ing able to pro­duce the out­come that was in­tended,” says Ash­ley. “But the ben­e­fit can be higher, be­cause that per­son can fo­cus on their pas­sion and on what they ac­tu­ally want to try to pro­duce, rather than try­ing to sus­tain an or­gan­i­sa­tion.”

Avner is hop­ing this will be­come a model that phi­lan­thropists in other cities fol­low. “It sets up an al­ter­na­tive path for cit­i­zen en­gage­ment,” he says. “You don’t have to join the big ini­tia­tive to get some­thing done. You can ac­tu­ally go and do it your­self.” – The Guardian

Photo: Shut­ter­stock

Cincin­nati has cre­ated a new pro­gram to en­cour­age in­di­vid­u­als to ben­e­fit the city and its peo­ple through idea cre­ation.

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