How We Work

Philosophy/Theory

Living Cities harnesses the collective power of philanthropy and financial institutions to improve the lives of low-income people and the cities where they live. Through our investments, we create innovations with a limited number of cities but work to scale nationally.

We believe we must use the resources available to cities differently in order to stimulate more ‘dynamic collaboration’ by on-the-ground players. We believe that cities must build and sustain the right ‘ecosystem” of actors and public and private institutions that can blend and deploy resources, measure results and adapt to changing conditions in order to solve their most pressing problems. This collaboration should to be guided by the following principles:

1. Places need a resilient civic infrastructure -- Problems such as poverty and lack of economic growth are complex and require long-term solutions. Yet often cities don’t have the capacity to bring about such solutions. Responses are technical and short-term, such as a supporting a better after-school program in one school or renovating buildings on one block. Instead, key decision-makers from government, philanthropy, the non-profit sector, and the business community must come together formally at "one table" to manage a more “adaptive” change process -- a process that involves creating a new solution becase no known one exists.

2. Obsolete and fragmented approaches must be disrupted -- Essential systems such as education and transportation were built decades ago and are based on now-outdated assumptions, such as the imperative of a nine-month school year to accommodate summer harvests, or an endless supply of oil. Local leaders need the space to be innovative and propose bold new approaches that cut across traditional silos. We all must accept that we can’t ‘nonprofit’ our way out of our problems but neither can we fix them solely with government grants or market forces.

3. Private markets must be engaged to work on behalf of low-income people -- The engagement of private markets and capital is critical to sustainability and scale. Living Cities supports solutions that intentionally blend grants with debt to attract private sector money and bring mainstream market goods and services, such as grocery stores and financial services, to underserved people and communities.

4. “New normalsmust be established – Innovation must be moved from the periphery to the mainstream. We believe it is important that both government and business drive funding streams away from obsolete approaches and to apply them to solutions that work.