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Kresge President Urges Private Philanthropy to Take a Bolder Role in Revitalizing American Cities

General Foundation News

Speaking to CEOs for Cities, Rapson outlines long-term foundation strategies to address underlying urban problems.

TROY, MICHIGAN – Private philanthropy must work at the heart, rather than at the margins, of the complex economic, social, political and environmental problems plaguing American cities in order to contribute meaningfully to their revitalization and success, Kresge President Rip Rapson told mayors, corporate executives and other urban leaders at the CEOs for Cities national meeting on Nov. 6.

Rapson delivered the keynote luncheon address at the gathering in Chicago – convened only two days after the country, in a historic election, voted Illinois Senator Barack Obama the nation’s 44th president. The influential network of urban leaders who attended the event sought to challenge the President-elect and his transition team to establish a new era of cooperation between the federal government and America’s cities.

While Kresge’s president applauded the commendable work done by philanthropy in helping nonprofits improve the daily lives of millions of individuals in communities around the nation, he insisted ways must be found to address the underlying problems that perpetuate those needs.

“Unless we identify and influence long-term leverage points capable of moving intricately interrelated public, private, and civic systems, we will make no contribution to breaking calcified patterns of disinvestment, inequality, and injustice,” Rapson observed. “We will not, in a word, make any enduring improvement in our citizens’ day-to-day quality of life and their long-term trajectories of opportunity.”

Read Rip Rapson’s full remarks: “Philanthropy’s Role in Urban Revitalization.”

Citing success stories in four urban areas, he urged large, privately endowed foundations to behave strategically in the life of cities by helping establish a vision for concerted action, aligning civic actors, aggregating risk capital, and connecting low-income people to the mainstream economy.

Rapson emphasized the importance of strengthening cities by identifying bridges between low-income communities and regional economic opportunity. He cited the work being carried out in Detroit through the New Economy Initiative, a $100 million fund raised by Kresge and nine other national, regional and local foundations in an effort to help recalibrate the Southeast Michigan economy.

“In my view,” Rapson concluded, “the future of philanthropy rides on our willingness to overcome obstacles and aspire to a bolder role within our communities.”