Lessons in collaboration reach beyond the boundaries of NE Ohio – Knight Foundation

Lessons in collaboration reach beyond the boundaries of NE Ohio

Networking at JumpStart

Cities and regions across the country face economic and social challenges far too complex to be addressed by any single organization. This has motivated funders and nonprofit institutions to increasingly collaborate on common strategies to maximize their impact. A headline on a Harvard Business Review article put it this way: “Collaboration is the new competition.”

In 2004, Knight Foundation joined 27 other philanthropic institutions in northeast Ohio to pool $30 million and form the Fund for our Economic Future, a funder collaborative that has aimed to reshape the region’s Rust Belt economy by cultivating high-growth industries and promoting broader economic opportunity. Nearly a decade later, Fund membership has grown to more than 50 organizations, including businesses, universities and government entities. Fund members have had a significant impact; they have pooled $90 million on common grant-making strategies. The work of the Fund has led to the creation of 14,543 jobs and  $518 million in payroll, and raised $2.87 billion in capital.


Business accelerator jump-starts opportuniites in NE Ohio” by Laura Bennett on KnightBlog

Business mentors guide growing startup” by Shawn Mastrian on KnightBlog

NE Ohio fosters environment for entrepreneurship” by Tony Giordano on KnightBlog

The power of convening and coordinating” by Wayne Watkins on KnightBlog

Using a strategic review of the Fund’s work completed in 2012, Knight and the Fund have authored a report that distills key lessons from this assessment and highlights tactics for increasing the impact of funder collaboration. The insights give all of us who believe in the value of collaboration—as tough and messy as it can be—a compass for navigating this tricky terrain. A few insights discussed in greater depth in the report include:

  • Using federal and state grant funding opportunities to encourage institutions to partner on shared strategies;
  • Funding research and analyses that shape strategic priorities and maintain accountability for results;
  • Building a strong mandate among residents for government and systems change.
  • The insights are especially useful at Knight, where our work across our Community and National Initiatives portfolio emphasizes the value of partnerships as we invest in helping people make their communities successful in real time.

For example, Knight recently renewed its commitment to the New Economy Initiative in Detroit, a $100 million funders collaborative managed by the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan. We’re supporting the region’s transition to a knowledge-based economy with help for entrepreneurs and startups. In addition to that renewal, this fall we joined with several other funders—the federal and state governments, other foundations and private companies—to announce an even larger collaboration, a $300 million package to help revitalize Detroit. It’s a partnership that can produce tremendous dividends as the city faces its current economic challenges. Katy Locker, our Detroit program director, is on the ground helping lead the transformation. 

In Minnesota, we co-founded the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative to create investment along a new light rail line linking St. Paul and Minneapolis that will open in 2014. We continue to support that work with grants and with leadership by Polly Talen, the local Knight program director. We want to maintain access to affordable housing, create vibrant destinations along the new line and ensure that all residents and businesses share in the opportunities created by this project.

In Miami, Program Director Matt Haggman is leading collaborations across South Florida to make the region a place where innovators and doers come together to actuate great ideas. This year we committed $2 million to bring Endeavor, a global entrepreneurship nonprofit, to Miami. It’s the first Endeavor affiliate in the United States, and an application of one of the lessons demonstrated in northeast Ohio through the Fund: We can’t just seed new industries; we must develop ecosystems that also grow small and mid-size businesses—and attract and retain talent—to create successful communities.

As we and our grantees apply the lessons from this unvarnished analysis of the Fund, the effectiveness of our grant-making will increase across all 26 of our communities. We can put these insights immediately to work. Collaborations can help us tackle the thorniest challenges, whether we face them in Detroit, St. Paul, Miami or Akron. Every community must speed their adaptation to fast-changing conditions, and we hope to mine more experience through conversations and convenings in the coming year. It’s one of the ways we can cultivate vibrant places while enabling economic opportunity.

Carol Coletta, vice president of community and national initiatives at Knight Foundation, and Jon Sotsky, director of strategy and assessment

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