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State of the South: Health, the economy, and what philanthropy can do

State of the South: Health, the economy, and what philanthropy can do

In late 2012, Grantmakers In Health (GIH) hosted a meeting with leaders from the philanthropic, civic, academic, and nonprofits sectors in New Orleans. The topic: how philanthropy can “promote health and equity” in the South—and how Southern innovations can serve as models for the rest of the nation. MDC Senior Fellow Ferrel Guillory presented State of the South 2011 at the meeting and much of the data from that report was used to set the stage in a recently released GIH report about the meeting. “Investing in Opportunities and Assets: Lessons from the South for the Nation” lays out several “key opportunities” for philanthropic organizations—those located in the South and those that fund work in the South. These opportunities range from building nonprofit capacity to increasing engagement of marginalized voices to addressing race and racism. GIH encourages philanthropic organizations to use their financial resources and their convening power to strengthen the nonprofit sector’s ability to make systemic improvements in economic and health outcomes for people across the South. The report highlights several promising innovations across the region that are doing just that.

One opportunity that GIH lifts up is philanthropy’s ability to develop new leaders throughout a community—leaders who can advocate for equity and broader engagement of all citizens. The Danville Regional Foundation is doing this right now with their support of Middle Border Forward (MBF), an MDC-led initiative to build a cadre of next-generation leaders, the MBF Fellows. The fellows will develop an economic and community development plan for the tri-county region in southern Virginia and north-central North Carolina. The MBF initiative has recently formed working groups to complete short, six-month projects in the community. Each working group is composed of several MBF Fellows; each of these groups are focusing on a particular topic, such as generating greater participation in local government advisory boards. And while that may not sound particularly exciting, it is particularly important, since these boards end up making a lot of decisions that affect the particulars of individual citizens’ lives. The group is gathering data about the composition of current boards, presenting the information during neighborhood meetings, and then facilitating conversations about the reasons most people don’t get involved. Providing the support for individuals to step up and then encouraging them to reach out is a great example of GIH’s call for philanthropic action that boosts civic literacy.

We agree with GIH: there’s a lot of good work happening across the South that could show the way to increased civic participation—and healthier, happier communities—across the country.

With Beth Caldwell