“When we no longer work to sustain our own points of view and work toward community ownership of change as accountable partners, we will discover that what endures is the fire of inspired action.”
— Jennifer Vanica, Courageous Philanthropy: Going Public in a Closely Held World
When I first met Jennifer Vanica in May 2017, I was not aware of her history with the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA] and her use of our Technology of Participation [ToP]® methods. I did know of the Market Creek Plaza from a presentation several years ago at an annual conference of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition [NCRC]. This once abandoned 20-acre factory, at the heart of San Diego’s Diamond Neighborhoods, was transformed into a diverse community focal point, incorporating cultural traditions, arts, and entertainment with necessary community retail and services.
Jennifer first shared this story with SHELTERFORCE readers in October 2014 in her article “Residents Need to Own Community Change.” Now Vanica’s book, Courageous Philanthropy, recounts the full 20-year journey of not just this project but also of this community and its unique partnership with the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation (JCNI) and the innovative capital structure required to bring the Plaza to life so the community could enable itself to thrive.
First let me disclose that as CEO of ICA-USA, it is my job to market our ToP methods as tools to build real consensus for real action. I first encountered ICA when I became CEO of the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Organizations [CANDO] in 1984. The Harold Washington Administration had contracted with ICA to provide strategic planning for its non-profit delegate agencies. Given our current Mayoral Election, Chicago’s neighborhoods can only hope the winner is as committed to equitable planning and development as Harold was.
Jennifer acknowledges that ToP’s “power of participatory planning became one of our first and most important tools” and continued to guide work for nearly two decades. The key was resident working teams engaged with Jacobs Center staff to plan, design, build and OWN the Plaza. One chapter title quotes a resident: DON’T DO ABOUT ME WITHOUT ME.
My second reflection is that I am confronted today with the same challenges of raising capital and philanthropic support that Jennifer writes about. I am both in awe of the creativity and distressed by the multi-year saga told in this book. I have only been working four years to restore ICA’s GreenRise in Chicago’s most economically and racially diverse community, Uptown. Personally with 2019 being my 45th year in my community development vocation, I’m unclear on my ability to persist another 16 years.
In a chapter entitled SAILING IN HIGH WINDS, Jennifer remarks that the need for risk capital to support community change remains largely unmet. While financing community change requires learning how to blend types of capital, the field of community change, she proclaims, is “calling out for a reawakening and resurgence.” Readers can only be envious of Jennifer’s mentor, Joe Jacobs, as the indispensable “angle-entrepreneur-philanthropist, willing to take the risk position and provide the patient, flexible resources needed.”
My third interpretation of Jennifer’s message for us all is the prerequisite of “working at the intersection of social responsibility and market–driven approaches.” But to do so requires us to “Lead – not with answers – but questions.” As Jennifer observes, “we stopped being program developers and had become process designers and facilitators.”
My fourth observation is the imperative of Jennifer’s challenge: “It’s about getting at underlying contradictions and barriers that keep disinvested communities stuck.” The captivating chapter, THE PEOPLE’S IPO, starts with this quote from a resident on the Ownership Design Team:
“We’re allowed to buy Lotto tickets and that’s got to be a riskier way to make money than land in our own neighborhood.”
Invest, Participate, and Own; together they formed an IPO like no other.
After six years and three state applications, The People’s IPO was finally issued on January 6, 2006. It closed less than ten months later with $500,000 raised at an average investment of $1,176 from 415 investors [78% African-American, 11% Latino; ages ranged from 8 to 85].
Four years later at the end of 2010, total economic activity generated was $47.8 million with 215 jobs created at the Plaza [65% from the community; 84% people of color]. Of its $10 million in construction contracts, $7.8 million went to minority contractors. Once known for its “Four Corners of Death,” the community became home to 14 major cultural events, attracting nearly 25,000 people.
Vanica counted nearly 4,000 visitors from 31 states and 17 countries for learning exchanges with the resident teams while she was part of the Market Creek experience. I’m sure that number continues to grow annually.
Yes, the book is long; but it is certainly worth the time. Being the community development geek that I am, I enjoyed the chapters with the organizational structures to address the “theory of thirds” and the evolution of a Citizen-Centered Learning Model and the capital stack chart. If only there were five foundations today actively seeking Program-Related Investments [PRIs] for community anchor projects.
Having interviewed community leaders nationally for almost 12 years in my first job, I enjoyed every one of the stories Jennifer shared. I enjoyed their embracing of her story telling in the video from her book launch.
I especially relate to her Top 10 List for thriving in the face of complex community change. My four favorites are:
#2 Choose to act; aim at a headpin
#7 Look for the clearing
#9 Refuse to be defeated
#10 Leap and the net will appear
The lessons she details are especially relevant to philanthropy and the community development field at this point in our history. For example:
• Embrace people as citizens, not clients
• Accept the obligation to hear a public voice
• Form a platform to work together across divides
• Build a collective vision
• Craft new narratives for communities taking charge of change
• Create a culture of ownership
“You must align the work of community regeneration with the heart of democracy by lifting up the chorus of voices within neighborhoods as worthy, mindful and equal at the table…”
Jennifer’s biggest lesson to remember? “When transformational change is needed, courage is required.”