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Neighborhood Movement

National Neighborhood Alliance Launched

We're building the movement to combat neighborhood poverty!

UNCA is today joining with several other leading organizations in launching the National Neighborhood Alliance.  The National Neighborhood Alliance is a voluntary collaboration of national, state and local organizations that are supporting work in communities of concentrated poverty.

Starting in October, the Alliance will begin holding a series of regular conference calls (the first is here) to share information about work in, or support of, these communities. The calls will also serve as a forum for sharing information on advocacy efforts (for more information, see this memo).

The original founding organizations are:

Alliance for Children and Families
America's Promise Alliance
The Annie E. Casey Foundation
The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change
The Bridgespan Group
Center for the Study of Social Policy
Child Trends
Coalition for Community Schools
DLA Piper
Enterprise Community Partners
Forum for Youth Investment
Harlem Children's Zone
Intel Computer Clubhouse Network
Local Initiatives Support Corporation
National Congress of American Indians
National Latino Research Center
National Collaboration for Youth
NeighborWorks America
nFocus Software
Poverty & Race Research Action Council
Promise Neighborhoods Research Consortium
Results Leadership Group, LLC
The Rural School and Community Trust
The Skillman Foundation
Social Solutions
United Neighborhood Centers of America
United Way Worldwide
The Urban Institute
YMCA of the USA

The National Neighborhood Alliance is open to any interested national, state or local nonprofit organization, philanthropic organization, or for-profit organization involved in neighborhood-based work.  Membership is free.

Adding your organization to the list is simple. Just email Patrick Lester at plester@unca.org.

The Power of Neighborhoods in The Big Easy

Dan Baum, the author of "Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death and Life in New Orleans," wrote an interesting article for The Washington Post over the weekend that speaks to the organic power of neighborhoods, which in many ways are more about relationships and people than anything else.

In one section, he wrote "about schemes to turn New Deal-era public housing into expensive condos, to open the whole city to casino gambling, to declare generations-old neighborhoods 'pockets of poverty' and 'clean them out' to make way for mixed-income developments."

The people in New Orleans neighborhoods would have none of it.

In church basements and coffee shops, New Orleanians met over and over, plotting to fend off plans that clashed with their neighborhoods' identities and their city's sense of self. At one gathering in a stifling church on St. Claude Avenue, I recall a woman with tears in her eyes addressing the congregation. "People like to talk about 'hard facts,' " she said, "but they don't consider social networks. We have a huge population of single mothers, a huge population of elderly. These new buildings mean absolutely nothing to us. The social networks mean everything.

I still can't explain exactly how they did it, but the exhausted people in that room -- and people like them all over the city -- drove the barbarians from the gate. Some combination of meetings and marches; T-shirts, fliers and spray-paint on sodden houses ("I'm not leaving for any $$$!"); and occasional hollering at council members and planning commissioners got the message across. The people of New Orleans weren't going to play along. The big plans quietly faded, the blueprints were rolled up and stashed away, and the city grew back organically, street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood, the way its people wanted.

We like people willing to occasionally "holler" at people in power and stick up for themselves. As we approach the five-year anniversary of Katrina, our hearts are with New Orleans and its people.

A Revolution of Professionals (gulp!)

We like David Brooks at The New York Times. Among other things, he wrote a widely read column on the Harlem Children's Zone a year back. He is slightly right of center on some issues, but always an interesting read.

His most recent column has implications for Promise Neighborhoods, and most especially all you smart planners out there! You will see the morbid humor in that statement as you read on.

When historians look back on this period, they will see it as another progressive era. It is not a liberal era — when government intervenes to seize wealth and power and distribute it to the have-nots. It’s not a conservative era, when the governing class concedes that the world is too complicated to be managed from the center. It’s a progressive era, based on the faith in government experts and their ability to use social science analysis to manage complex systems.

This progressive era is being promulgated without much popular support. It’s being led by a large class of educated professionals, who have been trained to do technocratic analysis, who believe that more analysis and rule-writing is the solution to social breakdowns, and who have constructed ever-expanding networks of offices, schools and contracts.

Already this effort is generating a fierce, almost culture-war-style backlash. It is generating a backlash among people who do not have faith in Washington, who do not have faith that trained experts have superior abilities to organize society, who do not believe national rules can successfully contend with the intricacies of local contexts and cultures.

This progressive era amounts to a high-stakes test. If the country remains safe and the health care and financial reforms work, then we will have witnessed a life-altering event. We’ll have received powerful evidence that central regulations can successfully organize fast-moving information-age societies.

If the reforms fail — if they kick off devastating unintended consequences or saddle the country with a maze of sclerotic regulations — then the popular backlash will be ferocious. Large sectors of the population will feel as if they were subjected to a doomed experiment they did not consent to. They will feel as if their country has been hijacked by a self-serving professional class mostly interested in providing for themselves.

If that backlash gains strength, well, what’s the 21st-century version of the guillotine?

Postscript: It is a good thing Promise Neighborhoods has a local community / civic engagement component, no? Maybe I should cool it with the statements about Obama's revolution in government? (smile)

Networked Nonprofits vs. Nonprofit Fortresses

In case you missed it, last month The Chronicle of Philanthropy ran an interesting opinion piece by Allison Fine and Beth Kanter about how nonprofits should be using social media. We think these ideas are central to lifting up Promise Neighborhoods and making it work. More on the Promise Neighborhoods link in a moment.

Called How Nonprofit Groups Need to Adjust to a 'Networked’ World, the article lays out the case against what they call "nonprofit fortresses."

Fortresses work hard to keep their communities and constituents at a distance, pushing out messages and dictating strategy rather than listening or building relationships. And that is the model of how nonprofit organizations have historically worked in the United States: They are organized and financed as solo entities, each starring in their own Sisyphean tragedy, rolling their own boulder up the hill, alone, every day.

These habits and assumptions stop nonprofit organizations from effectively building communities to solve complex social problems. And almost all social problems are complex, outstripping the capacity of any single organization or person to solve them. Only networks, ecosystems of individuals and organizations, can solve social problems.

Fortress organizations are losing ground today because they spend an extraordinary amount of energy fearing what might happen if they open themselves up to the world. But that trajectory changes when organizations learn to use social media and actually become their own social networks.

Nonprofit fortresses are distinct from truly networked nonprofits.

Those organizations—and many others like them—understand how and why networks work. They are simple and open, focused on building relationships with supporters, not just conducting transactions. They pursue all of their work in social and connected ways, and they are all fluent in social media.

That approach to their operations enables them to engage crowds of people in shaping and sharing their work. As a result, they raise awareness and organize communities of supporters with less effort than traditional organizations, and they can turn friends into donors and even turn their governing boards into social networks.

Any nonprofit organization can become what we call a networked nonprofit organization, but to do so, groups need to think differently about how they work. In particular, organizational leaders need to come out of their corner offices and listen and engage directly with their supporters and detractors as real people, not as logos or brands. Their personal example paves the way for their organizations to open themselves up to their ecosystem and lead by listening and learning.

As part of changing their behavior, senior leaders must also demonstrate that they trust their staffs. The default setting for organizations has to shift from control and mistrust to trust. Organizations need to let employees talk with people without a script. Relationships can be built only through personal connections.

But those small steps are possible only when organizations face their fears about what could possibly go wrong. The fear of losing control of their strategy, message, and supporters is a huge barrier for many groups. The fact is that no organization can control any of those things today, if they ever could, so time spent worrying about them is lost time.

While Building Neighborhoods is not yet as fully networked as we (or they) might like, we agree with their sentiments. Many of those same ideas are outlined in our mission statement and are evident in the tone and engaging aspects of our work.

More importantly, they are ideas that you as readers might want to think about adopting as you engage with your local communities and push forward your place-based programs. No, you don't need to be as wacky as me (and I'm not, really). But you do need to use social media to escape professionalized, silo-friendly fortresses and become a real person -- and to reach out and engage people as people, not as a brand or corporate logo.

For those who want to learn more, check out their new book, The Networked Nonprofit. From the book blurb:

This groundbreaking book shows nonprofits a new way of operating in our increasingly connected world: a networked approach enabled by social technologies, where connections are leveraged to increase impact in effective ways that drive change for the betterment of our society and planet.

Named one of the most influential women in technology by Fast Company and one of BusinessWeek's "Voices of Innovation for Social Media," Beth Kanter is the author of Beth's Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media and the CEO of Zoetica.

Allison H. Fine is the author of Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age, which was the winner of the 2007 Terry McAdams National Nonprofit Book Award. [She also has a blog.]

"The Networked Nonprofit is a must-read for any nonprofit organization seeking innovative, creative techniques to improve their mission and better serve their communities."
—Diana Aviv, president and CEO, Independent Sector


In keeping with our favorite DOE-approved dancing metaphor, what better way to close out the Promise Neighborhoods competition and bring the nation together than this little Motown favorite from Martha and the Vandellas -- from way, way back in 1964!

They mention a few cities in this song. You're all out there! Congratulations!!!


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by Dr. Radut