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The Promise of Place-Based Partnerships

We have seen significant early success in improving community-wide outcomes through investment in what are called Place-Based Partnerships.

Written by: Jeff Edmondson, Eshauna Smith,

The promise of the Place-Based Partnership approach has driven us to commit a significant portion of our grantmaking to this work. But there is often confusion about what Place-Based Partnerships really are. 

We start with the problem they are seeking to solve. In the United States, certain places are teeming with opportunity. Families are employed at high rates, have access to high-quality schools, and neighborhoods are safe. In other places, we find the opposite. Families face barriers to employment, schools are resource-starved, and opportunity is hard to access, fundamentally stagnating the economic mobility of whole communities. This isn’t anecdotal; real data shows that the opportunity gap in upward mobility is driven primarily by environmental factors – noting, for example, that Black boys who move to neighborhoods that have less concentrated poverty as children have significantly better economic outcomes.

We start with the problem they are seeking to solve. In the United States, certain places are teeming with opportunity.

If evidence shows that place determines opportunity, it makes sense, then, to invest in places furthest from it. However, while decades of well-meaning philanthropic efforts have realized some success in creating opportunity for individuals, improving outcomes for entire populations has remained elusive.

Enter Place-Based Partnerships. Our grantees tell us the following five attributes define what they are and what makes them work: 

  1. They must be led by communities themselves, bringing together government, nonprofits, philanthropy, business, and the civic sector.

  2. These partners agree on a core set of measurable goals - like early childhood development targets or third grade reading proficiency, or any other vital sign that helps to show if outcomes are on track to improve for an entire community 

  3. There is a central structure – often referred to as a backbone or intermediary – with a dedicated team who wake up every day thinking only about supporting partners.  

  4. Partners constantly use local data, disaggregated by race, to identify and improve what services, programs, and policies actually work 

  5. Philanthropy and public agencies actively work to invest new and existing dollars into what the local data shows gets results for children and families.

We’ve talked previously about our commitment and understanding of what communities are doing. Since publishing that piece, we’ve moved forward in our grantmaking, including co-founding Place Matters with Blue Meridian Partners, a $450 million fund dedicated to investing resources in places facing the deepest barriers.  We’ve also invested in multiple national networks to support communities in bringing rigor and discipline to the development of Place-Based Partnerships, including Community SolutionsPurpose Built Communities, and StriveTogether.

Here are three great examples from our grantees of their work in progress: 

  • In San Antonio, data has compelled UP Partnership, a StriveTogether Network member, to change disciplinary practices, thus improving academic outcomes for boys and men of color.  

  • Bakersfield, CA reaches functional zero for its homelessness population using the By-Name-Data approach pioneered by Community Solutions.

  • Founded by Geoffrey Canada, a pioneer of the Place-Based Partnership approach, the Harlem Children’s Zone has defined what success can look like, neighborhood by neighborhood, and has inspired the work of numerous cities and organizations, like Purpose Built Communities.

We will continue to share what we are learning and publish our newest grants. But, of the many things we have learned from our last five years of investing in Place-Based Partnerships, two significant lessons stand out. There is great promise in investing in Place Based Partnerships that align with the characteristics listed above; and we, as funders, need to be in this for the long haul to support communities in making long-term, systemic change. 

Jeff Edmondson, Executive Director, Community Impact

Jeff Edmondson

Executive Director, Community Impact

Jeff Edmondson is the Executive Director of Community Impact for Ballmer Group, where he leads the national strategy to improve economic mobility and reduce racial disparities at scale via Place-Based Partnerships.

Eshauna Smith, Director, Community Impact

Eshauna Smith

Director, Community Impact

Eshauna Smith is Ballmer Group’s National Director of Community Impact, where she focuses on improving economic mobility and reducing racial disparities at scale through Place-Based Partnerships and Talent Development. 

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