Thursday, July 18, 2013

Philanthropy can solidify rural communities by bringing people of different backgrounds together

Nonprofit Quarterly has a story by Max Rose about how philanthropy can bridge economic, social and cultural gaps, bringing people of differing backgrounds together to form a common bond. "In rural communities and small towns, philanthropy can take stands, create coalitions, and break down racial barriers that other institutions avoid. Philanthropy plays the role of professor, listener, pulse reader, dream interpreter, and community organizer." (Birmingham News photo by Bernard Troncale: More than half of children in some Black Belt counties in Alabama live in poverty)

Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam told Rose that social capital comes in two forms, bonding and bridging, Rose writes. "Bonding social capital defines the networks that exist among similar types of people, while bridging social capital characterizes networks between different types of people. The two "occupy a critical crossroads in the community, harnessing mainstream resources and connecting them to grassroots concerns." And that doesn't necessarily mean big sums of money, Rose notes.

One example is in the Black Belt of Alabama, where more than half the children live in poverty. Known as the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement, the region consists of 19 counties mostly in the southern and southwestern part of the state, where public schools are mostly black and private schools are mostly white, Rose writes. But a program called 100 Lenses is bridging the racial gap by giving cameras to 100 students from various backgrounds to photograph their communities. The students, many of whom never interact with children of other races, then spend a week together at the University of Alabama. (UA photo: The 100 Lenses project)

James Joseph, chair emeritus of the board at Manpower Development Corp., which says it helps organizations and communities close the gaps that separate people from opportunity, told Rose that a program like 100 Lenses "uses social capital to increase trust, bringing together black and white students who would not normally interact" and it "uses moral capital, suggesting that a healthy and functioning society is one with interracial community and leadership."

The Danville Regional Foundation was created in response to the closing of mills in Danville, Va., that employed 14,000. The foundations and community leaders "face the challenge of reversing a culture that stems from the mills, where hierarchy reigned and education did not matter," Rose writes. Community leaders have challenged the town to "change the conversation from a hierarchal, top-down approach to one that values wide civic engagement and young and diverse leadership." (Danville Register and Bee photo by Julian Henderson from the Daily Yonder: Demolition in 2008 of a Danville textile mill)

Joseph told Rose, “Foundations can help our nation focus on the macro-ethics of our aggregate existence, the public values that build community.” Rose writes that "doing that involves challenging racial prejudice and inequity, or suggesting the need for broader leadership. Foundation leadership can lower the social risk of tackling sensitive issues by helping policy makers and the public face difficult issues and imagine progress. Exerting moral capital requires philanthropic courage, but done wisely, the returns on investment can and will move society forward." (Read more)

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