Back when the Thriving Cities theory was still just a theory, the Robins Foundation was already intrigued. Three factors drew Robins to the effort:
- The asset-based approach that sought to engage the community, rather than a deficit-based approach that imposed an outside solution.
- The data and research that backed up the real world implementation.
- The focus on an overlooked community.
- The ability to leverage existing community relationships, and the trust, credibility, and social capital that go a long way toward achieving buy-in within any community.
- The reliance on broad-based partnerships to leverage the best resources and avoid duplication of effort.
“The people who launched RVA Thrives are self-starters,” explains Robert Dortch, Robins’ director of community innovation. “They were having many conversations throughout the Richmond community – not just with funders like us, but also with partners. They weren’t just depending on Robins to connect them. That allowed us to focus on bringing in some of our peer funding partners to work together on this.”
Looking ahead, Lea says, “My hope is that eventually funders will be using this model, asking us nonprofits: What have you done to listen and hear what the community wants? In addition to asking us about data and outcomes.”
For Elaine, as a social worker returning to her old neighborhood, it started with conversations around kitchen tables. She followed up by assisting with data research. Today she’s a fulltime community engagement assistant, helping Lea support the working groups and steering committee.
Elaine sums it up: “Having Thriving Cities come to our community saying we need your help and expertise, that’s creating real change. We’re improving fairness by tapping into the power that’s already in the community.” ■