Our friends at Youth Today ran an interesting front-page story on Promise Neighborhoods in their most recent (November) edition. The article also mentions HCZ’s upcoming conference in NYC and appears to be timed with that in mind, which suggests more media attention may be coming in the weeks ahead (the conference is November 9-10).
Unfortunately for anyone who does not have a subscription to Youth Today (plug: you should), it is password protected. But here are some highlights:
The question everyone is asking, somewhat nervously, is: Can the idiosyncratic HCZ really be replicated, and if so, what would it take? Yes, the obvious things: time and money. But how much money, and from whom? The HCZ experience, as well as observations from key people who have been involved in such efforts, suggest that it will take a remarkable combination of program fidelity, local leadership, capital infusions specifically for nonprofits, federal interagency coordination and political will from cities on through the White House.
Obviously we think it can be replicated, and so does the Obama administration. The authors pick out a few items that some consider challenges, including:
Fidelity to HCZ’s Model: I am not sure about this. HCZ itself says, according to a recent front page article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, that “projects do not have to copy its specific programs to succeed and should be adapted to fit the local circumstances.”
Federal Interagency Coordination: Yes. We point that out in our Tipping Neighborhoods to Success report, which includes both an overview of Promise Neighborhoods and our policy recommendations. The White House has established an interagency working group on urban policy run by the White House Office of Urban Affairs, but Promise Neighborhoods doesn’t appear to registering there very highly. Their focus is really more on metropolitan-wide economies and the environmentally-focused sustainable communities initiative. Control over Promise Neighborhoods, for the moment, is lodged solidly (and solely) in the U.S. Department of Education. But interagency cooperation will be needed, so it is our hope and expectation that this will change.
Patience: “HCZ’s successes emerged over a very long time … Will Promise Neighborhoods and Choice Neighborhoods allow their grantees the same?” the authors write. “Will every project have that [ability to think long term]? I doubt it,” the article quotes Clara Axam of Enterprise Community Partners as saying. I think this sets up a false choice between short and long term results. While it is true that a program focused on cradle-to-college outcomes will, by definition, take years to see full results, that does not mean that intermediate, short-term results can not be tracked and accomplished. The Obama administration will almost certainly be looking for such intermediate results, and organizations prepared to address that will have an edge in the grant competition.
Capital infusions for Nonprofits: Yes, this is an issue. The article quotes me as saying this is surmountable as long as other governmental dollars can be used, not just private dollars. It is otherwise not realistic to assume that local nonprofits based in low-income communities can replicate in their own communities what HCZ was able to do with Wall Street money.
Political Will: Yes, but not just political will. Also strong, unified leadership and political cooperation. This is not a given.
Strong Leadership: The article suggests that finding strong community leaders like Canada may be a challenge. I am less concerned about that. I know there are many such leaders at the local level, a number of whom head agencies in UNCA’s own network. Getting these individuals to cooperate and work with one another is the larger challenge.
Technical Assistance: The article quotes me as saying “I think you really do need a solid technical assistance piece in this.” Not surprisingly, I agree with myself (smile). Hopefully organizations like ours will be put in a position to do that. We are already doing it with documents like our recently released Promise Neighborhoods Planning How-to Guide.
Kudos to Youth Today for an insightful article!