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Maybe the New "New Thing" is the Old Thing

By Brad Whitehead, Fund for Our Economic Future, for Community Leader

We've now come through annual report and annual meeting season for foundations and nonprofits, and one thing is clear: We love our projects. Page after glossy page showcases inspiring and innovative new initiatives that lift up our residents and brighten our communities. In philanthropy, we love the new "new thing."

Candidly, we at the Fund for Our Economic Future also are mesmerized by what's possible in a new project. We find inspiration in the anecdotes of lives touched and especially in the hard metrics touting tangible program benefits, individuals served and efficiences gained. 

As some of the most philanthropic communities in the nation, Cleveland, Akron and the rest of Northeast Ohio are often the first to develop and implement new projects.

But this then begs a larger question: If we've been implementing innovative, successful projects for so long, why are we still suffering from such economic distress? There is much to celebrate in our communities, but, sadly, the economic data suggest that we still are leaving too many many people behind. How come all of these great, tangible projects don't seem to be adding up to transformational impact?

One thought is, perhaps, we are using the wrong frame while making philanthropic investments. Too often, we use philanthropic dollars to idenfity and incubate new projects that are separate from the larger civic systems in which they operate. A great case in point is in workforce, where there are countless programs helping individuals. Many of these programs deliver the kinds of inspirational results that make great fodder for annual reports, but fail to scale or spread to the point that they deliver meaningful impact at a community -- let alone regional -- level.

But what if the new "new thing" was improving the old thing?

Continue reading on page 32 of Community Leader here.