2011 Annual Report

Ben Hecht

Ben Hecht
President & CEO
Living Cities

Dear Friends,

In 1991, a handful of visionary philanthropists and corporate leaders came together behind a simple but powerful idea–real change in cities could be achieved only through a new type of intentional and sustained collaboration between the private, public and philanthropic sectors. Two decades later, this collaboration, then called the National Community Development Initiative (NCDI), now Living Cities, has helped catalyze $16 billion of urban investment and changed the trajectory for low-income people and the cities where they live by disrupting obsolete approaches to such critical issues as jobs, education and land use.

I joined Living Cities as President and CEO four years ago, but had worked closely with the organization in the mid-1990s as Senior Vice President at the Enterprise Foundation. From 1991 through 2006, Living Cities’ support of and partnership with Enterprise and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), two national nonprofit ‘intermediary’ organizations, helped scale a maturing place-based, community development sector.

Through Living Cities’ grants and commercial debt at concessionary terms, Enterprise and LISC provided technical expertise and reliable, multi-year financial resources to community-based housing developers to not only increase the availability of affordable housing in 23 cities but build one of the most resilient nonprofit sectors in the nation. Enterprise and LISC, with support from Living Cities and, later, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, helped move neighborhood redevelopment efforts from isolated successes to greater scale, shape federal funding programs and build more than 150,000 homes, stores, schools and community facilities.

What began with a handful of leaders and a focus on neighborhoods today brings senior executives from 22 of the nation’s largest foundations and financial institutions together to catalyze broader change. Living Cities is helping cities re-imagine what should be done with underinvested neighborhoods and find new ways to connect low-income people to economic opportunities wherever they exist in a region. Instead of trying to work around long-broken public systems, such as education, workforce development and transportation, we are helping to re-engineer them for the 21st Century.

Our five city, $85 million Integration Initiative, announced in 2010, was designed to take advantage of all we have learned over the years. We are focusing our resources on efforts that simultaneously tackle issues of people, place and opportunity; encourage the aggregation of talent, knowledge and dollars locally; integrate leadership across multiple sectors; and drive private markets to work on behalf of low-income people. Fundamentally, we are working to permanently redirect public and private sector funding streams away from systems that have failed to those that work.

To commemorate our twentieth anniversary, we asked more than two dozen leading urban thinkers and practitioners to reflect on the value and impact of our long-standing collaborative. As you can see in the following pages, these reflections represent a diversity of perspectives and issue-areas, much like the collaborative they describe. However, taken as a whole, the collection helps to define the ‘secret sauce’ at the heart of Living Cities’ success to date in making material improvements in the lives of low-income people, cities, and the systems that affect them.

Indeed, together these reflections provide keen insight into the new approach to social change that Living Cities has helped define and nurture over its 20-year history—an approach I’ve come to refer to as dynamic collaboration, which is comprised of three core elements:

Collective action. In his piece, Doug Nelson speaks of pooling “experience, expertise, imagination, knowledge, resources, and political influence in order to accelerate the adoption of innovative policies, practices, programs, and financing strategies.” Meanwhile, Rip Rapson discusses a co-creation across sectors, which “far exceeds the collective impact of their individual capacities.” Each describes the power of (and necessity for) sustained alignment and unprecedented partnerships to address complex social problems—not just among funders but also local actors from private, public, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors.

Adaptation and Innovation. Our nation and the world have changed dramatically over the last 20 years. As Bruce Katz explains, successful organizations “do not ‘stand still’ in times of disruptive change. They maintain their core goals and values, but readjust their strategies and tactics to reflect new realities.” Impactful social change requires risk taking, catalyzing fresh thinking, experimentation, testing new approaches close to the ground and continually adapting to changing conditions to transform the status quo.

Leadership. Mayor Chris Coleman speaks of the “revolutionary” nature of this work and of having to overcome “those who will tell us that fundamental change is not possible.” In the past, innovative work to improve the lives of low-income people has often consisted of a series of pilots. Real change requires bringing these successful innovations from the periphery into the mainstream by continuously asking difficult questions, challenging obsolete norms, and supporting others in their efforts to do the same. Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mouray refers to this as “leadership in charting the course for greater impact” by acting as a “trusted champion of best practices and a cutting-edge resource for advancing urban policies that work.”

We have organized this monograph, Dynamic Collaboration: Reflections on Living Cities at 20, around these three core elements. Each section is anchored by two essays and includes others that echo the same theme.

I hope you enjoy it and look forward to the next 20 years.

Ben Hecht
President & CEO, Living Cities