Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: Arshiya Kherani Creates Activewear for Muslim Women

At the age of 29, social entrepreneur and innovator Arshiya Kherani, founder and CEO of Sukoon Active and a facilitator at the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Spring Ignite Retreat, realized her life hadn’t turned out quite like she’d planned as a teenager. “But that’s not a bad thing,” she noted, writing about the experience in her blog on Dec. 5. Instead of being married with kids and running “a big powerhouse nonprofit,” she’s “single and building a two-woman corporate empire.”

That empire, a women’s activewear brand “designed for real women whose activewear needs aren’t being met by the current market,” has been featured in Forbes, the Huffington Post, Allure and numerous other media outlets. Specifically, Kherani’s company offers activewear, including hijabs, for Muslim women who love to exercise. Although other brands offer hijabs designed for exercise, Sukoon is the only one founded by a Muslim woman, as the Huffington Post noted.

“I am part of the demographic that needs this product,” Kherani told the publication.

Kherani is one of eight facilitators who will lead high-energy interactive workshops and activities for young changemakers at Sullivan’s Spring Ignite Retreat, to be held April 5-7 in Raleigh, N.C. The deadline to register for the retreat is Wednesday, March 20.

Click here to learn more about the upcoming Spring Ignite Retreat for changemakers.


The athletic Kherani grew up playing competitive sports, but finding the right workout clothing to cover her head and arms wasn’t easy. She and a group of friends decided to create their own brand of lightweight exercise hijabs and shirts for women, beginning with a Kickstarter campaign that raised $10,000 in its first nine days.

Sukoon’s garments feature sustainable, odor-blocking merino wool with eco-friendly mesh accents for maximum comfort and ventilation, according to the company’s website. Sukoon offers up-do hijabs as well as long-sleeve and short-sleeve tees. The merino wool helps regulate body temperature, wicks away sweat and fights odor-causing bacteria without the use of chemicals, the website states.

Sukoon is also a social enterprise, with a percentage of its funds going to the Zaatari Taekwondo Academy, a nonprofit in Jordan that teaches martial arts to Syrian refugee children.

In her Dec. 5 blog, Kherani shared some tips for young entrepreneurs building a business from the ground up, including:

Pay close attention to contracts. “Take time to read them, write them and stay accountable to them,” Kherani writes. “Make sure you’re OK with the terms. Make sure there’s enough detail in the scope of the work.”

Don’t go too easy on job interviewees. “Don’t be afraid to make them uncomfortable,” she suggests. “Startups are the most uncomfortable places to be and seeing a candidate handle an uncomfortable conversation is far more telling than hearing them gush about why they want/deserve the job.”

Take care of yourself. If you need a good cry, let the tears flow, Kherani says. And when things go awry, take time to “pray, do yoga and eat a salad … You’ll feel so much better after this trifecta,” she writes. “These are the things you can control, and even when everything is out of control, don’t give up on the things that make you human.”

Recognize a blessing when you see one. “You are lucky,” Kherani writes, “that your dreams look different from what you thought they would be.”

7 Things You Should Know About the Ignite Retreat

How does spending a weekend in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina learning about how to change the world sound? Oh, did we mention you’ll go home with a ton of new friends who have the same passions and interests as you? And that you’ll gain invaluable insights to help you make your dreams a reality?

If any of this sounds good to you, you should consider attending the upcoming Ignite Retreat, to be held April 5-7 in Raleigh, N.C. This three-day event focuses on sparking change and helping young people start on their changemaking journey. Registration deadline is March 20, so click here to sign up NOW!

Meanwhile, here are seven things you should know about the Ignite Retreat.

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Campbell University Student Discovers Power of Creative Placemaking During Field Trip to Chattanooga

All photos courtesy of Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography

As a photographer, Amber Merklinger has an eye for beauty. And like any artist, she often sees it in places others would miss.

So when she learned about creative placemaking—the process of using local arts and culture to strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood or town—during the Sullivan Foundation’s recent Social Entrepreneurship Field Trip to Chattanooga, she quickly recognized its power to transform a struggling community. Now Merklinger—a senior majoring in Health Communications and Public Relations at Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C.—and a group of fellow Campbell students are working on a creative placemaking project of their own: Campbell Create, aimed at helping communities in their area discover and celebrate their own cultural advantages and heritage.

Spark social change in just 3 days! Learn more about the upcoming Sullivan Ignite Retreat and register today!

Merklinger’s project—and the excitement she brings to it—illustrate how Sullivan Foundation events empower college students to channel their youthful energy, ambitions and ideas into positive action. “Students always walk away with an expanded view of what’s possible for their future career paths,” said Spud Marshall, the Sullivan Foundation’s director of student engagement and Field Trip leader. “These trips give students a sense of the multiple ways in which they may package their passions into concrete careers past college.”

When she wasn’t learning about different approaches to social entrepreneurship on the Spring 2019 Field Trip to Chattanooga, Campbell University senior Amber Merklinger (above) was chronicling the event with dozens of beautifully composed photos.

This year’s Field Trip took dozens of students to 10 social enterprises and nonprofits tackling a wide variety of issues around Chattanooga, from community development and environmental sustainability to refugee aid and 3D printing. It was a visit to Glass House Collective (GHC), an organization focused on revitalizing the city’s historic Glass Street area, that opened Merklinger’s eyes to the possibilities of creative placemaking.

Get involved with Sullivan programming and events – click here to learn more!

“I had never heard of that term until I went on this field trip,” Merklinger said, “but it inspired a group of Campbell students and myself to start the process of emulating this concept on our own campus and in our surrounding communities. They took an issue they saw in the community and found a solution that impacted everyone in the city, bringing life to a culture not easily seen. That’s the kind of thinking I wish to apply to my future endeavors as a social entrepreneur.”

Spud Marshall, the Sullivan Foundation’s Director of Student Engagement, leads a Field Trip excursion in Chattanooga. Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography

Campbell Create is still in the planning stage, but Merklinger’s group wants to use creative placemaking to help small communities in their own area spur economic growth through local arts and culture. “My team and I all agree we want to capture the expressionism, dreams and culture that so deeply enrich the communities surrounding Campbell University,” Merklinger says.

Each community has its own problems, but that’s not the focus of Campbell Create. “Like the Glass House Collective, we don’t feel it is our place to fix these issues, but instead to amplify the cultures found there in order to bring the community together,” she adds.

Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography

In addition to Glass House Collective, Field Trip participants also visited and met the owners of social enterprises like Mad Priest Coffee Company,which works with displaced individuals and employs refugees while educating the community about social injustice and humanitarian crises; Branch Technology, a pioneer in 3D-printed homes that has brought innovation to the housing industry; the Chattanooga Mobile Market, a mobile grocery store that brings fresh, healthy food and produce to underserved neighborhoods; and the Lookout Mountain Conservancy, which protects Lookout Mountain’s scenic, historic and ecological resources while providing environmental education and leadership training to middle school and high school students.

Other stops on this year’s Field Trip excursion included the Edney Innovation Center, CPR Wrap, Co.Starters and Treetop Hideaways.

Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography

As the Field Trip crew shuttled around by car between the various locations, new friendships were born and powerful bonds were forged. “As much as I love getting to visit each of the sites and social enterprises, one of the aspects I find most rewarding is the car rides between visits,” Marshall said. “This year we had 10 cars caravanning across the city throughout the day, and the conversations that take place in the car are always the most meaningful. That’s where new connections are formed, discoveries are processed, and possibilities are explored for how students may take what they’ve learned back with them to their home communities.”

Prior to the latest Field Trip, Merklinger attended the Fall 2018 Ignite Retreat in Black Mountain, N.C. She first learned about the Sullivan Foundation when Marshall spoke about social entrepreneurship to the Campbell University School of Nursing. That first encounter, she said, “had such a huge impact on me that I wanted to become more involved with the organization. I was also attracted to the trip because I’m currently enrolled in a class centered on discovering underserved communities, and I felt (the Spring 2019 Field Trip) would correlate well with my class. I was informed that the businesses we would be visiting were run by social entrepreneurs who had made a positive difference in their community, despite the difficulties they faced. I wanted to get a closer look at how their entrepreneurs did this and how I could learn from their example.”

Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography

Merklinger said she would recommend the Field Trip and other Sullivan events to any college student looking to help others without trying to solve their problems for them.

“When you walk into a city or town and see issues such as poverty, low incomes, lack of healthcare, violence, and a variety of other problems, what is your natural instinct?” she said. “Do you want to run away and forget you’ve ever been there? Or do you want to fix their issues and completely flip the script? If you would choose the latter, this field trip is for you. But instead of ‘fixing their issues,’ how would you like to take a creative approach in learning how to walk alongside the community members and create positive change?

“Sometimes we go through life and become so engrossed in our passions or ideas—or blinded by the negativity we see—we miss the beauty of the communities right in front of us. This trip will give future students new and fresh perspectives on how you can implement change in different areas that you’ve come across in life. Some of the approaches these businesses take would be solutions you may never have thought would solve the issues the communities were facing and thus, engage your creative and critical thinking skills. This trip will ignite in you the desire to think outside of the box in order to go beyond the superficial, to dig deep into the heart of the community in order to help those around you. So, do I think this trip is worth going on? I do 100 percent.”

Danielle Holquist, a Campbell University student, poses for a photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography.

Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: How Josh Nadzam Outran Poverty and Uses Art to Change Kids’ Lives

Sullivan Medallion Award winner Josh Nadzam came by his passion for helping others naturally—because others helped him when he needed it the most.

A 2011 graduate of the University of Kentucky (UK), Nadzam survived a hardscrabble life in poverty-stricken, drug-infested housing projects near Pittsburgh. Now the driving force behind On the Move Art Studio in Lexington, the changemaker returns as a facilitator for the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Spring Ignite Retreat in Raleigh, N.C., to be held April 5-7.

The deadline to register for this year’s event is March 20. Click here to learn more about it.

Josh Nadzam (standing in the rear) and his On the Move Art Studio team have introduced more than 10,000 at-risk youth to the arts so far. (Photo by Marcus Patrick)

As Nadzam explained to Kentucky author Steve Flairty of the online newspaper KYForward.com, he was raised by a single mom who “worked inconsistent hours at miserable jobs and inconvenient times just to ensure we could have food on the table and a roof over our heads. Things got so bad that my mother had to save up money to declare bankruptcy. Through her hard work and the assistance of various governmental programs, we managed to scrape by as we clawed our way through life.”

Adding to the family’s stress was his father’s alcoholism and multiple suicide attempts, followed by the death of Nadzam’s best friend in a car accident when Nadzam was 17. Despite these personal struggles, Nadzam, with his mom’s constant encouragement, kept his grades up and excelled as an athlete at school, which proved to be his saving grace.

After a fracas on the basketball court in which Nadzam knee-butted an opposing player from behind, he gained a new mentor in Coach Tom Karczewski, a.k.a., Coach K. The coach reached out to the youth shortly after the game and soon realized the full extent of his problems. “He totally fell apart,” Coach K told Flairty. “I remember tears streaming down his face as he told me that he was all alone at home with almost nothing to eat. His mom was in the hospital. He was so frustrated with life that he had to take his aggression out on someone. He told me about his father and all of the issues with him. He was just hopeless.”

A full track-and-field scholarship at the University of Kentucky helped Nadzam earn his college degree.

From then on, Coach K and other coaches took a special interest in Nadzam, ensuring that he had food to eat and constructive projects to keep him busy – and at a safe distance from the local drug scene. With their help as well as the guidance of another mentor, his aunt’s boyfriend known as “Uncle Brad,” Nadzam made it through high school, walked on to the track and field team at UK and soon won a full scholarship. He became one of the top milers in the SEC and won the Sullivan Medallion for community service in 2012 while pursuing his masters degree in Social Work.

As a dedicated community servant, Nadzam has been involved in and led many community initiatives, including #BringUsHome, Josh’s Run to Frankfort, and the 24 Hour Homeless Challenge. He also received the Lexington Leadership Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award as the co-founder and director of On The Move Art Studio.

On The Move Art Studio is a mobile art room created in a refurbished vintage trailer that travels to underserved neighborhoods and hosts free arts classes for at-risk youth. “Children from impoverished homes are often ‘left out of the picture’ when it comes to city development and engagement,” the On the Move website notes. “They become further marginalized as they are pushed back into their low-income neighborhoods.”

On the Move Art Studio reengages these children while trying to decrease their exposure to negative influences. The organization has served more than 10,000 children since it started and has recently begun raising funds to renovate a second trailer.

It’s no wonder Flairty included Nadzam in his “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes” series for KYForward.com. “Josh Nadzam knows all about redirections in his life,” Flairty notes in the conclusion of his article. “You just might call him an expert on the subject, along with a few other things, namely poverty, tragedy, triumph and purpose. As far as expertise on the subject of defeat, well, he has very little knowledge … because he has never accepted or dwelled on it.”

Impact Investing and Racial Equity: These Foundations Are Leading the Way

By Matt Onek

It has been inspiring to be part of the rapidly growing impact investing movement over the last several years, as foundations and their partners have committed more of their assets to social and environmental change. In the midst of this growth, Mission Investors Exchange (MIE) and our 250 members have taken a leadership role in keeping “impact” at the heart of the movement. But one critical element of “impact” has received insufficient attention: racial equity.

By 2020, median white American households are projected to own 86 times more wealth than African-American households and 68 times more than Latinx households. Significant racial disparities also exist in employment, educational attainment, access to healthcare, incarceration rates, and many other aspects of American life.

It is therefore crucial that racial equity become a central part of the impact investing movement. That’s why MIE recently started on its own journey in pursuit of racial equity, working both to evolve our internal practices and to surface best practices in the philanthropic community at MIE’s 2018 National Conference and as part of the Racial Equity track at SOCAP 2018. These and other collective efforts led up to this series, launched with a companion essay by La June Montgomery Tabron, president of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

In a field in which a disproportionate number of leaders, like me, are white men, this series aims to present a diverse set of philanthropic voices. Together, MIE, Tabron, and the nine other foundation presidents will lay out the moral and economic imperative for action, as well as concrete ways philanthropy can ensure that racial equity is at the center of the impact investing movement as it continues to scale.

Moving from Positive Intentions to Bold Action

While the foundations that are using impact investing to advance racial equity embrace a wide range of investment strategies, they all started by stating a strong and intentional commitment to racial equity. As part of this process, they have undertaken the hard work of internal learning, investing time to understand how bias shapes their own thinking, as well as the systems and markets that impact the people and communities they serve.

Once foundations commit to racial equity, a world of investing opportunities opens up, with tremendous potential to positively impact individuals, organizations, and systems. Indeed, organizations can use all the tools in the impact investing toolbox—including program-related investments (PRIs) and mission-related investments (MRIs), investments in asset classes ranging from fixed income to private equity, and shareholder advocacy.

In deciding how to deploy these tools toward racial equity, investors are focusing on who controls and receives capital as it flows among asset owners, asset managers, intermediaries, investees, and the ultimate beneficiaries of products or services. We explore these questions below.

Who Allocates Capital?

People of color have often been locked out of positions that make investment decisions. And as Tabron explains in her essay, unconscious biases among decision makers can have a deep impact on the allocation of capital to individuals and communities of color.

To address these concerns, many foundations are examining and increasing the diversity of their own boards of directors, investment committees, and staff. They are also working to direct capital toward advisors and fund managers of color. Some, such as the Ford Foundation, consider this support of diverse investment decision makers as core to their overall impact investing strategy. Several foundations are also working to reduce racial biases by all investment decision makers by investing in firms like Illumen Capital LP, an impact investor that provides its fund managers with bias-reducing strategies to unlock latent financial return and impact.

Who Receives Investments?

Organizations led by people of color—whether small businesses, new ventures, or intermediaries, such as community development financial institutions (CDFIs)—often experience underinvestment. To address these disparities, foundations are examining and changing the demographics of the leaders they support, both through direct investing and intermediaries, and through PRIs and MRIs.

Northwest Area Foundation’s support of Native-led CDFIs, for example, ultimately helps revitalize local economies while directing investment capital to Native-led businesses. And Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation’s CDFI strategy is oriented around supporting businesses, housing, and community facilities that benefit low-wealth communities and people of color in the South.

In addition, many foundations are increasingly investing in broader funds that target entrepreneurs of color. The Detroit Entrepreneurs of Color Fund, created by Kellogg Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, and the Detroit Development Fund, for example, more than tripled in size in 2018. Invest4All, an initiative of Prudential Financial, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Kresge Foundation, is focused on low-income communities of color in the South and invests in entrepreneurs of color among a variety of financial inclusion strategies. And Impact America Fund, supported by Prudential, Surdna Foundation, and Kellogg Foundation, directs capital to overlooked and underserved markets, with an emphasis on supporting leaders who have first-hand experience with the problems they seek to solve.

Who Is the Beneficiary or End User?

Impact investing capital, of course, ultimately supports programs, products, or services that directly address the needs of specific individuals and communities. Given the historic, systemic barriers for individuals and communities of color—including a lack of access to high-quality education, health services, affordable housing, and banking—it matters greatly who impact investments ultimately serve, and where service or product gaps disproportionately affect people of color.

Foundations are actively seeking to understand who benefits from the organizations in which they invest and targeting their investments accordingly. As noted, many strategies focus on supporting historically underserved communities of color in specific places such as Baltimore, Detroit, the American South, or Native American tribal lands. Other efforts seek to tackle sectors or systems that disproportionally underserve people of color, like Lumina Impact Ventures’ focus on post-high school learning and The California Endowment’s work in health. Still other investment strategies focus on solutions to systems and industries that negatively affect people of color, such as private prisons and predatory lending.

The individuals and organizations in the flow of capital often play more than one role. For example, we can characterize CDFIs led by and for communities of color as both investees and investors—both receiving capital from foundation investors and then deploying that capital to individuals, organizations, and communities. Foundations that hire and invest in leaders of color break down barriers for those individuals, as well as support the broader societal transformations those individuals can help achieve.

Making Racial Equity Central to the Impact Investing Movement

Philanthropy is ideally positioned to lead the charge for racial equity. Free to challenge status quo systems and free to use the power of their endowments to tackle societal challenges, foundations can ensure that racial equity becomes central to the growing impact investing movement. Some foundations, like Mary Reynolds Babcock and Winthrop Rockefeller, are even exploring bold commitments to align their entire endowments with their racial equity goals.

But this series makes clear that there is a broad range of approaches that any foundation can use. Now is the time for philanthropy and its partners throughout society to embrace their responsibilities and maximize their unique capabilities. Together, we can ensure that the impact investing movement plays a major role in the pursuit of racial equity.

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Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: Jasmine Babers, a Publishing Prodigy at 15

Jasmine Babers, a facilitator at the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming 2019 Spring Ignite Retreat and a proponent of women empowerment, believes every girl has a story to tell. But as a magazine publisher since the age of 15, Babers’ own story deserves a little attention, too.

Babers was still in high school when she launched Love Girls magazine. “Being a girl—being a teenager when I started the magazine and being surrounded by teenagers … I really was just immersed (in) what it’s like to go through the struggles that girls face every single day with bullying (and) with body image,” Babers says.

According to the Love Girls website, she created her own magazine to help a close friend who was being bullied at school—and others like her. “Like so many who face bullying and harassment, she struggled, wondering if the things being said to her were true,” Babers writes. “She lacked role models and mentors to help her (recognize) the amazing, intelligent and wonderful person she was.”

The cover model from Love Girls magazine’s fall 2018 issue

“I decided that I could sit back and watch this happen or I could do something about it, and that is how Love Girls Magazine was born,” she added. “I wanted to show my friend that she was beautiful enough, inside and out, to be in a magazine. I wanted to create a set of everyday role models for all the young girls who did not see themselves reflected in the media.”

The magazine, which is published both in print and digital formats, started out at just 10 pages and grew into a 40-pager. It focuses on self-esteem and women empowerment and provides girls with opportunities in writing, photography, event planning, and leadership. Today Love Girls has impacted over 25,000 girls across the nation.

Babers is now a senior at the University of Illinois in Chicago, where she’s double-majoring in Gender and Women’s Studies and Political Science. She is the treasurer and social chair of SISTERS, a member of Woman 2 Woman, and a founding member of the UIC philanthropy group. She also sits on the Student Advisory Board for the Dean of L.A.S. and the advisory board for the Provost and chairs the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Women.

Off-campus, Babers takes on roles through Fellowships. She is a Peace First Fellow, where she advocates for young people to make peacemaking a part of their lives. She also recently won the prestigious Soros Justice Youth Activist Fellowship.

Babers has received numerous awards, including the USA Characters Unite Award; the Prudential Spirit of Community Award; The Peace First Prize; The Women’s Connection Award; the Royal Neighbors of America Award; and the Young Women of Achievement Award.

Being a product of the foster care system, she says she is thrilled to be spending the next several months working on her project, Fostering Incarceration, where she is doing research and writing a book on the Foster Care to Incarceration pipeline.

Babers accepts a check from Characters Unite in support of her magazine.

“Today I am a college student,” Babers writes on her website. “My journey has led me to tell my story and to tell the story of others. I have had many challenges, although I let none of them define me. When I was first getting started, it was reiterated time and time again that I had two strikes against me: I was a woman, and I was black. I decide to add a third one: I was young. And the list could go on and on because I’ve faced many obstacles. I am a product of the foster care system. I am dyslexic. I’m short. But none of these barriers were so big that they couldn’t be broken. I found many people and organizations also believed in my mission. Royal Neighbors of America, Peace First, School Seed, Iowa Women’s Foundation, and USA Network provided funding and support along with many others.”

And Babers was glad to accept the support. “It’s OK to ask for help,” she notes. “It’s also OK not to know how to do everything. I really have learned to play to my strengths and not focus so much on what I’m not good at and keep working at things I excel at.”

How Foundations Can Help Opportunity Zone Communities Succeed

By Cody Evans & Agnes Dasewicz

The Opportunity Zone tax incentive–passed in amended form as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017–is a potentially powerful new tool for helping low-income communities. By providing breaks for certain investments in distressed areas, it has already led to the creation of nearly $1 billion in new funds. Officials from the Treasury Department expect $100 billion in private capital will be deployed through the incentive.

But the policy may fail to achieve its goals unless foundations guide investments in the right direction. Their deep experience in struggling local communities around the nation prepares them for the challenge.

Lawmakers passed this policy with the belief that investors don’t pay enough attention to the breadth of good financial opportunities available across the United States. But investors may still worry that low-income neighborhoods present more risk than other areas. And they may only use the Opportunity Zone tax break to enhance investments they would have undertaken anyway, rather than pursue potentially lower-return projects that truly help local communities.

Failure to address the challenges the Opportunity Zone policy seeks to solve has ramifications for a critical factor in communities’ health around the nation: the distribution of jobs. The majority of new employment in the United States over the past 10 years has come from the formation of new businesses, yet between 2010 and 2014 half of America’s new firms were concentrated in just 20 counties. Entrepreneurs and small business leaders in undercapitalized areas around the country need help, or their communities will fall further and further behind.

Fortunately, foundations already know how to serve as the connective tissue that channels investment to marginalized regions and nascent economic ecosystems. Here are their four proven approaches:

1. Support Independent Transaction Advisors

Since Opportunity Zone areas are now indirectly competing with each other for tax-advantaged capital, local public officials, association heads, business leaders, and other community constituents need expert advice to develop investable deals and recognize alignments of interest with new investors.

Transaction advisors—private and independent experts who work with local government officials to prepare a pipeline of potential private sector investments—can provide it. They helped Power Africa, launched under President Obama in 2013, deliver more than $5 billion in private investment for energy projects on the historically undercapitalized continent in the program’s first five years. Their efforts contributed toward lining up at least $10 in private funding for each $1 in public funding, demonstrating that well-placed funds can drive high multiples of market-rate capital towards beneficial investments.

Foundations who wish to support local champions in Opportunity Zones can use their limited funding to directly embed independent transaction advisors in city governments, local associations, or community nonprofits. There they can help prioritize projects, provide financial expertise, and become the focal point for Opportunity Zone investments. If enough experts are deployed nationally, they can form a powerful knowledge-sharing network, help develop appropriate metrics of success, and replicate approaches that work from one area to another.

The California Opportunity Zone Partnership from Accelerator for America, for example, will use experts from metropolises in California to advise leaders in smaller cities on attracting productive investment. Foundations could encourage similar programs across the country.

2. Support Policy-Aligned Fund Managers

By supporting fund managers who align their efforts with the intent of the Opportunity Zone policy, foundations can signal the best investment options among many, and in the process reduce financial risk for other investors and channel money to where it’s most needed. They can do this by:

  • Providing guarantees that would reduce the risk of investing in a fund by compensating investors for a pre-specified amount of losses.
  • Taking on first-loss positions in a fund’s investments.
  • Supporting new innovative fund structures.
  • Seeding new fund managers.

The federal government has a long track record of funding innovative businesses and investing structures through programs such as Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), In-Q-Tel (IQT), and Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). By taking early stage risks that the private investing market wouldn’t bear, these institutions have used relatively small amounts of dollars to achieve massive impact. Foundations can occupy a similar space.

Access Ventures, an investment fund in Louisville, Kentucky, for example, has been rebuilding the low-income neighborhood of Shelby Park. Over the last five years, through a combination of investments, loans, and grants, the organization has supported local businesses and created more than 200 jobs. It is partnering with Village Capital, a small business investment fund based in Washington, DC, to replicate this experience nationally in places such as Atlanta, San Antonio, and Kansas City. Both Access Ventures and Village Capital were seeded and developed with public and foundation support.

3. Be Hyper-Local

When the Kresge Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation issued a request for letters of inquiry from aspiring Opportunity Fund managers, 113 of the 141 respondents were raising funds with an explicit state or local focus. This embrace of geographic specificity indicates that foundations will likely have many chances to support Opportunity Funds that share a focus on the same communities, while also giving them a position from which to ensure new capital goes toward inclusive growth.

Fund managers would benefit from such partnerships at all stages of the investment process. Before investment, they would enjoy access to community expertise that foundations have built around across the country, including recommendations for mission-aligned local investors. With foundations’ help, fund managers could also identify promising local projects that aren’t quite off the ground and help move them toward investment readiness.

Foundations could use program-related investments to support development of local entrepreneurs or the re-skilling of local workers. And once investments are ready, foundations can provide first-loss guarantees or other forms of support. Finally, they can help investors broker successful exits to other local investors years down the road.

In Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, the Incourage Community Foundation partnered with the local chamber of commerce to launch more than 20 programs. One of them, an entrepreneurial boot camp, helped launch more than 40 local businesses. The collaboration also led venture funds to support the programs and created workforce training that benefitted a dozen local companies. By combining its philanthropic efforts with local community investment, Incourage drove inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

Foundations that replicate approaches like Incourage’s would have the chance to direct a whole new pool of capital towards inclusive investments in the local communities they already serve. They would also define what a beneficial project looks like for a local area, drawing in further investment from others who want to see their dollars go to work in a policy-aligned manner.

4. Develop and Track Success Metrics

Investing alongside the private sector will help foundations exert influence over the goals and success metrics of new Opportunity Funds—an especially important undertaking because the policy currently lacks impact reporting requirements. And by directly supporting new funds, foundations have the chance to shape fund managers’ definitions of equitable growth and ensure periodic reporting on those measures. It shouldn’t be too far of a reach—investors increasingly want partnerships with socially driven institutions to help them embed sustainable development measures into their financial goals.

There are already efforts in the foundation community to develop and publish standards for Opportunity Zone investments. Existing frameworks, such as the Social Progress Index, can also be used to develop best practices.

Harm or Help?

As the Opportunity Zone tax incentive enters the mainstream of the investment world, foundations have a choice. They can allow the policy to fall prey to the view that it is just another tax cut for the wealthy and an accelerator of gentrification. Or they can drive the policy closer to its intended outcomes by forming the much-needed connective tissue between private investors, community leaders, and the public sector.

Our most distressed communities are counting on their answer.

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Three Ways to Make Civic Engagement Efforts Really Work

By Hollie Russon Gilman & Elena Souris

When city government officials combine technical expertise with a real understanding of local residents’ lives, they stand to create truly effective policy. That diligence, however, requires time, money, and a willingness to experiment—resources municipalities usually have in short supply—and as a result, it can seem unrealistic.

But experiments with civic engagement, outreach, and philanthropic models in Philadelphia show it’s possible to make real progress despite these constraints. With our colleague, Chayenne Polimedio, and at the invitation of the Knight Foundation, we spent nearly a year researching how nonprofits, philanthropy, and local government in Philadelphia are engaging with and learning from “lived experts”—people who have first-hand experience with their community’s unique challenges—and combining these hyper-local insights with their own technical, policymaking expertise to make municipal government more responsive to people’s needs. Here is a look at three ways this is playing out.

1. Change What Services Are “Supposed” to Offer

At a time when civic trust is low and loneliness is high, public spaces like parks, recreation centers, and libraries can make a difference by fostering personal connections, as well as social capital between residents and government. They are where residents gather to participate in educational and after-school programming, to use free wi-fi and information resources, and to work out and play with recreational equipment. In short, they are accessible places where communities and local government can meet.

One innovative way to expand civic participation around existing public spaces is through structured volunteer organizations. In Philadelphia, most parks and libraries have “friends” groups, and recreation centers have advisory councils. These groups are made up of neighbors who help support their public spaces through fundraising, planning programming, providing light maintenance, and doing other work. They also host meetings and events, where they act as a mediator between group members and the city. In these forums, local residents can voice their concerns and views on municipal matters and build relationships with civil servants. A public park can become an entry point into local politics and enable new community leaders, thus helping the city make decisions with residents, rather than for them.

“The best caretakers [of public spaces] are the stakeholders,” says John “Stash” DiSciascio, executive director of a disc golf course volunteer group called Friends of Sedgley Woods. Members of the group participate in social gatherings, as well as tournaments to raise money for course upkeep and projects. DiSciascio’s passion for his neighborhood park has made him well-known within the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department and helped him become a community leader within the municipal system.

But even residents with less time than volunteer group members regularly visit parks, rec centers, and libraries. George Matysik, executive director of the Philadelphia Parks Alliance (PPA), sees these spaces as important channels for public service delivery—and not just for sports teams and afterschool activities. The alliance is working on revamping rec centers so that programming better serves the broader community. “Libraries are more than just books, and rec centers are more than just basketballs,” he says. One form of outreach involves block-walking to invite neighbors to free community dinners, where 20-60 residents usually turn out. When Matysik speaks with them, he’s careful to ask what the community needs, not what the rec center needs. The former gets answers like “ESL classes” or “job training programs”; the latter yields “sports equipment”—what people think rec centers are “supposed” to have. With this feedback in hand, PPA has set up more community meetings and elections for advisory council positions. This has created an effective outreach pipeline for diverse community members to build up sustained engagement with their rec centers and put their ideas into practice—without the time commitment of a formalized volunteer position.

2. Combine Creative Financing with Better Public Service Delivery

Social sector leaders can support and influence projects within City Hall, not just outside it. As a 2017 Knight Cities Challenge winner, for example, PHL Participatory Design Lab used its philanthropic dollars to place design fellows within a variety of Philadelphia’s city departments, with the aim of working with city agencies and recipients of public services to improve service delivery. One fellow worked with the Office of Homeless Services (OHS), which serves 20,000 people each year, to help define what “person-centered”—vs. traditional top-down service delivery—looks like in practice. One of the findings from interviews with OHS users was that not being allowed to bring in their own food into the centers, which it established as a health and safety precaution, was demoralizing. OHS is now working to make changes to this system.

Philadelphia has also found a way to fund resident-based projects through a controversial soda tax, which taxes sweetened drinks at 1.5 cents per ounce. The project’s funding model—a seven-year, $500 million investment—involves city government capital funds ($48 million); state, federal, and philanthropic grants ($152 million); and bonds. Alongside this, the Philadelphia-based William Penn Foundation has pledged $100 million to neighborhoods for Rebuild, a public-private effort that includes $3.28 million in new funding for the Fairmount Park Conservancy to support a citywide, civic engagement strategy. The strategy’s focus will be giving residents the ability to shape activities in Philadelphia’s public spaces. The Knight Foundation is also supporting Rebuild by making investments throughout the city. While the soda tax faced a variety of legal challenges, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ultimately upheld it, and the money will support public services like education and repairing public sites through the Rebuild initiative.

3. Bring In New Voices—in a Structured, Careful, Thorough Way

Rebuild will seek to revitalize public spaces, empower communities, and promote economic opportunity. Given its massive scope, it will be especially important to involve community voices in the process. Rebuild, the city, and nonprofits see the project as an opportunity to create new interest around public spaces. Because not all prospective sites will receive financing, they’re not only using the moment to build future civic engagement infrastructure, but also supporting existing volunteer groups to make them stronger, more equal, and more inclusive.

Volunteer groups often reflect larger-scale, city-wide inequality. Higher-income residents are more likely to have free time for community organizing and fundraising. In addition, members of decades-old groups may not adapt to a neighborhood’s changing needs, or conversely, volunteer groups in gentrifying neighborhoods may reflect only a small demographic. To combat problems like these, the Fairmont Park Conservancy carried out organizational surveys to gauge its strengths and weaknesses, and required that advisory councils that weren’t following the mandatory election cycle hold new elections. Such efforts will help ensure that collaborative efforts to amplify residents’ voices will be more equitable.

Philanthropic work in Philadelphia also speaks to the opportunity for national and community foundations to work together. Some of the projects on the ground in Philadelphia are connected to the national Reimagining the Civic Commons Project, which includes a $40 million donor collaborative with $20 million from national foundations and $20 million in local matching funds. These funds are focused on rebuilding five cities: Akron, Ohio; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; Memphis, Tennessee; and Philadelphia. New models of local and national philanthropy, combined with creative financing like soda taxes or municipal bonds, demonstrate creative approaches to addressing the budget deficits municipalities face without sacrificing innovative policy approaches.

While some of these suggestions may seem small in scale, they nevertheless offer concrete examples of how social sector leaders can help bring together the expertise of residents and city government for healthier and more-vibrant communities—and how large-scale philanthropic work can best support those efforts.

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Upcoming Sullivan Events

The Sullivan Foundation exists to support those who work to make their world a better place, and one of the best ways we do that is through our events. From our retreats to our field trips, Sullivan events are places of inspiration, information, and connection for changemakers. And this spring, we have a great lineup of events.

This March, we’ll be holding a field trip for budding changemakers in Chattanooga. In April, we’ll be hosting our spring Ignite Retreat and a Faculty Summit. Read on to learn more about our upcoming Sullivan events and how you can be a part of them.

The Ignite Retreat

The Ignite Retreat is an awesome weekend that happens twice a year in the mountains of North Carolina. Participants spend three days focusing on learning, networking, and igniting change in their worlds. The retreat happens in April and October and rotates between Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina.

You can choose from three tracks for the Ignite Retreat: the personal track, the problem track, and the project track. No matter where you are as a changemaker, you can find tools to help you take the next step. Our next retreat will take place April 5-7 in Raleigh, and registration is open through March 30.

The Chattanooga Field Trip

We also have an awesome opportunity coming up for those in the Tennessee area. In February, we will be taking a field trip to Chattanooga to talk with some local business owners. These leaders are working to tackle pressing social and environmental problems in creative entrepreneurial ways.

This year’s field trip in Chattanooga will feature ten social enterprises who are changing the face of their city. These include the Glass House Collective, Lookout Mountain Conservancy, and Mad Priest Coffee Roasters. You can register online through February 13.

The Faculty Summit

If you’re on the faculty side of college operations, don’t worry; the Sullivan Foundation has programming for you, too. This April, the same weekend as our Ignite Retreat, we will offer a chance for faculty to learn more about social entrepreneurship. You will deepen peer relationships and connections and gain a deeper understanding of social innovation and the entrepreneurship community.

During the Summit, you’ll gain fresh new tools that you can apply in your classroom and on your campus. We’ll also provide a forum for you to get actionable feedback and suggestions for you to put into practice back home. Registration is open online through March 20.

Sign Up for Upcoming Sullivan Events

We are very excited about the upcoming Sullivan events we’ll have this spring. We hope you and your campus will get involved. If you’d like more information about any of our events, visit our website!

Changing the Climate by Leaving “Climate Change” Behind

By Robert Russell Sassor & Beth Strachan

Many movements struggle to let go of the revered stories they use time and again to win supporters, but change often requires a new narrative. In 2012, for example, the US marriage equality movement replaced its long-used “basic human rights” messaging with messaging focused on love and family. Doing so allowed the movement to overcome setbacks and dramatically shift norms, behaviors, and expectations through savvy campaign strategies. Since then, public support for marriage equality has been climbing steadily, from 37 percent in 2009 to 62 percent in 2017. And since the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality, it is now the law of the land.

Changing hearts and minds, building public will, and thereby influencing political will and judicial engagement on any issue requires that advocates first connect with people through language and stories rooted in values we authentically share. Yet by and large, climate change advocacy has continued to focus on the imperative of a stable climate and trends in rising temperatures (often accompanied by ice cap and polar bear imagery). The movement typically relays that we are in crisis mode, and must act immediately to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. But while all these arguments are true, they have largely failed to inspire individual action or widespread change in the United States.

Some leaders and groups are beginning to evolve climate change’s traditional narratives to, for example, encompass health impacts (“climate change is impacting our health”), but new messaging still often hinges on changing people’s attitudes toward climate change itself. It still seeks to build public will in support of the issue as a precursor to driving policy and action to tackle it—and it isn’t working. Surveys show that even though more and more Americans understand climate change is real, is human caused, and directly affects communities, the issue remains a low priority for taking action. More than a decade of investment in advocacy and marketing to raise the alarm on climate change—during both progressive and conservative ascendance—has not yet galvanized political or public will in the United States. In fact, the issue remains a political third rail even for people who believe we need to act now.

It’s worth asking then: Is there a fatal flaw in the discourse around climate change? Is it time to let go of the climate change “sacred cow” and create a narrative centered on common values? We believe the answer to both questions is yes, and a natural place to start is by focusing on the health benefits of clean air, water, and land.

Change Is in the Air

The health impacts of climate change are clear and evident; poor air and water quality, natural disasters, extreme heat, and wildfire make us more vulnerable to illness, disease, and death. In 2009, The Lancet medical journal declared climate change “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century,” and in November, it released a report on how climate change is “shaping the health of nations for centuries to come.” These findings are underscored in a domestic context by the 2018 US National Climate Assessment, which notes the interconnected impacts climate change presents for the US economy, natural resources, and our health. The American Public Health Association is meanwhile prioritizing the issue on behalf of the nation’s public health field, and recently announced the launch of a new Center for Climate, Health and Equity.

Within the health field, the medical literature and galvanizing work of the World Health Organization and others are contributing to a particular emphasis on clean air. At last year’s Global Climate and Health Forum, for example, “air pollution” was the term on everybody’s lips, including Howard Frumkin’s of the the Wellcome Trust, who said: “Five years ago at a meeting on climate and health, we would have heard much less talk about air pollution … Air pollution has emerged as an incredibly powerful issue to advance our discussion of climate change.” He and others have noted that air pollution is salient for policymakers and people, because it is happening now, the pollution is tangible, and its impacts on human health are direct and recognizable.

Air pollution is also salient for health professionals. Independent medical literature underscores the urgency for action, which may be fueling the field’s newfound focus. A 2013 MIT study (using 2005 data) attributed 200,000 premature deaths in the United States per year to poor air quality. Studies are also uncovering other harmful impacts, such as chronic bronchitis and asthma, cardiovascular diseases, systemic inflammation, impaired cognitive development and memory function, and kidney damage, as well as gastrointestinal, liver, lung, and renal cancers. (See a World Health Organization compendium here.) These conditions may also drive absenteeism in schools and workplaces, exacerbate health care needs and costs, and impinge on our well-being and resilience as individuals, communities, and nations. The impacts are far worse for those who live near sources of air pollution, which are disproportionately near communities already facing disparities. Consequently, the World Health Organization is unifying the field—and its policy and behavior change prowess globally and domestically—to tackle the health inequities air pollution poses.

This focus on air quality is one health-focused example that could serve as a compelling impetus for tackling climate change without necessarily referencing “climate” terms. An air quality narrative could, for example, entail calls to action that help end new fossil fuel projects and shift economies away from coal, oil, and natural gas. Domestically, strategies and messaging designed to prompt policies and action for cleaner air could help: safeguard comprehensive regulations in the Clean Air Act and standards for minimizing particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter; commit the nation to 100 percent clean and renewable energy for all; and create opportunity and political capital to advance a new clean power plan, restore emissions standards, and drive other high-impact policies that seem impossible today but could have public will behind them in two years.

Promising Early Evidence

This approach is already showing promise as a mechanism for motivating action in a clean energy context. While clean energy messaging has historically focused on climate change (“the Earth is warming, we need to do something about it, and clean energy can help”), Sierra Club’s US-based Ready for 100 Campaign instead focused on how air pollution from fossil fuels is putting our health at risk, and how clean and renewable energy will improve our health, leave a better world for our children, and save lives.

The campaign drew on a proprietary national survey conducted in 2015, which indicated that Americans’ values for health and quality of life, particularly for future generations, motivate support for clean energy. Respondents generally ranked protecting air and water quality as higher priorities than fighting climate change, and health-based messages about reducing pollution tested best as reasons to support clean energy goals. The Sierra Club research illuminated an opportunity to engage new clean energy champions (beyond those activated in a “climate change” context) through messages linked directly to their values, particularly through values related to their health.

In just two years, the campaign has already inspired 100 cities, along with 10 counties and two states (Hawaii and California) to pledge to shift to 100 percent clean and renewable energy.

Opportunities to Pursue

Given this, is it time for climate change advocates to develop a shared narrative that better taps people’s values and elevates our health, and in a way that will work across fields? How can we more fully connect health to other values, like economic security, economic development, social justice, environment and sustainability, energy independence, jobs creation, and just transitions for those whose livelihoods rely on the fossil fuel industry?

As we work to answer these questions, let us look to how we can promote more-robust collaboration, reduce duplication of effort, and reinforce central concepts; share resources (through pooling funding, resources, and tools), and mobilize and coordinate across fields and movements; and reimagine community engagement by leading with curiosity, and inviting people to talk about these issues in the context of their experiences and those of their loved ones. Together, we can inspire the policies and actions we seek.

If those of us who work to mitigate climate change unite to make health a national priority—bypassing the climate change third rail—it will be an instructive model for broader shifts in narrative and action, and a potentially formidable force for positive change in our communities.

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