Mission, Money & Markets: New website showcases community development finance system
By Krista Jahnke
This week, Kresge's Social Investment Practice launched a new website, DevelopStrongCities.org, to increase the visibility of the community development finance system and serve as a resource for those new to or interested in the field.
As a communications practicioner working with the team doing Kresge's impact investing work, I found the same challenge popping up again and again. We often needed to educate new funding partners, staff members, philanthropic press, or even new investees about the relevance and need for a robust community development finance system. We needed a resource to easily explain how the system is structured and functions.
Community development finance under-girds nearly every kind of new development in low-income places, where Kresge works. So telling its story in a compelling and straight-forward manner became a goal, one my Social Investment colleagues shared, because we want more people to understand it — and invest with us in it.
So, what is community development finance? The system includes funders, intermediaries such as community development financial institutions, banks, nonprofits, government agencies and community groups, and it is buttressed and supported by federal and state policies and practices. All of which are led and organized, of course, by people. It's the foundation on which to build a thriving community, especially in places where traditional capital markets have failed.
When these many stakeholders align around a goal, a project or a community plan, and when they pull the levels that lead to new sources of capital, the system works well and leads to better housing options, more small business developments, community-led development processes, and other positive outputs. And ultimately, people in these communities benefit by having better access to health, transit, parks, quality schools and housing, and other assets that well-off communities might take for granted.
DevelopStrongCities.org seeks to tell this story and place people at its center. It's also intended to educate policymakers, new impact investors and institutions that want to create sustainable, generational change but aren't sure where to get started. Investing in the community development finance system is a smart way to do that, says Aaron Seybert, Kresge's Managing Director of the Social Investment Practice.
"In our work, we've found that this system is often misunderstood or overlooked, although it's truly the backbone of a healthy, strong community," said Seybert. "We hope this website helps other community development practictioners clarify their work to their audiences and ultimately leads new investors to put their dollars into the system, where they can be transformational."
The project showcases the "story" of community development finance, the kind of outcomes a well-oiled system creates, the terminology that's helpful to understand, cities and projects where the system has worked, case studies and individual stories of people and a resources section that offers ways to learn more or to get started.
"DevelopStrongCities.org is a straightforward, clearly written and visually attractive resource that makes the case for community investment to people who are new to the field," said Robin Hacke, a former Kresge Senior Fellow who now leads the Center for Community Investment. "It includes a set of definitions of commonly used terms, as well as a list of useful resources. We're thankful for Kresge's leadership in developing this wonderful tool."
If you'd like to share a resource or a story for the website, we'd be happy to take a look. Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Krista Jahnke is a senior communications officer at The Kresge Foundation, working with its Social Investment Practice and leading digital strategy. Find her on Twitter @kristajahnke.