First Blog in Three Part Series: Reflections from Community Leaders Forum

CLFBelow is the first of three blogs, that will be posted over a month, reflecting perspectives on the Fed’s Community Leaders Forum, which took place on March 5 and 6 in Washington DC.  Our guest bloggers in order of posting are Michelle Hoereth of IFF, Renee Hatcher of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and Sarida Scott of the Community Development Advocates of Detroit.

A key purpose of the Community Development function in the Federal Reserve System is to document trends, observations, and concerns of organizations serving consumers and communities.  Information we gather informs our programmatic and research agendas.  To that end, we invite perspectives of both newer and well-established private sector community development organizations, and build relationships with long-tenured as well as emerging leaders in the field.

The Community Leaders Forum, organized by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, and the Federal Reserve Banks of St. Louis and Chicago was a dialogue with emerging leaders, and we are grateful for their participation and thoughtful input.  The goals of the forum were to:

  • Strengthen the community development function through peer-to-peer learning that promotes applied research and innovative community strategies; and
  • Improve the Federal Reserve’s understanding of emerging trends and their impact on consumers and communities, in particular those traditionally under-served.

By Michelle Hoereth

In March 2014, the Federal Reserve Board hosted 13 rising community leaders from across the Midwest region for a peer-to-peer exchange. The goal of the meeting was to promote applied research and encourage innovative strategies to address the current trends in the communities that we all serve.  As a participant in the two-day meeting, I returned home with renewed energy and optimism about the future of community development, but also with a greater appreciation for the broader, systemic challenges we face in trying to create sustainable communities.

For most community development professionals, our commitment and passion for the field has not wavered over the years, but the tools in our toolbox seem to either not work quite as well or simply just are not enough.  We are constantly grappling with whether capital resources are shrinking or whether the problems in our communities are just continuing to grow.  Many of us acknowledge that we have become very sector driven, which has led to a narrow focus on a “single” problem that plagues a community.  We have backed away from the challenge of thinking more comprehensively about community solutions, which requires a “re-tooling” of our toolbox.  Perhaps the focus on one major issue at a time is less about a “retrenchment” from the challenge and is just simply more pragmatic.  Maybe our work is a function of available resources and the real innovation around community solutions must come from a multitude of strategic partnerships.

It was an incredibly enlightening meeting with several key takeaways.  The first takeaway is that there were key themes that surfaced from state-to-state – economic development, the link between transportation, employment, and affordable housing, asset building, and rebuilding communities.  Each theme was loaded with several sub-themes, but the major takeaway is that we all share these exact same experiences in our prospective cities and we need to collectively think about advancing the conversations towards a comprehensive solutions-based approach.

The second major takeaway is the need for greater innovation and creativity to move the community development pendulum to a point of sustained progress and success. Each city “representative” at the two-day meeting eloquently spoke about innovation across many sectors they are spearheading in their towns.  The challenge to us is to now find a way to bottle up that innovation and use it to help strengthen and in some cases rebuild our communities across all sectors.

The 13-member team of rising leaders also had the opportunity to spend time with Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin and discuss many of these emerging issues.  All of these issues seemed to resonate with the Governor and her responses and comments to our questions came from a place of sincerity and conviction that the Federal Reserve is committed to creating solutions.

At the conclusion of our meetings, without a doubt, we all increased our understanding of the broader community development issues that impact each of our cities.  With several Federal Reserve staff on hand, including two from Chicago, our discussions were productive, educational, and informative, to say the least.  We all ended the day thinking about how to re-tool our toolbox and approach our work from the perspective of trying to get out in front of the issues rather than continuing to play catch-up.  The community development field requires smart, innovative, and creative minds now more than ever and we all left feeling like 13 of those great minds just spent the last 48 hours together.  This would not have been possible without the Federal Reserve’s commitment to understanding our issues and being local engaged partners.

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