Earlier this month, we attended the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities (CUMU) Conference, for which over 400 academics, practitioners, thought leaders, philanthropists, and community engagement pioneers in the field of higher education descended upon Denver, Colorado. This year’s theme – “The Urban Advantage“ – provided a heightened level of energy, particularly in light of the national discourse on race relations and disparities among urban communities.
The CUMU conference is a forum in which leaders and practitioners can share their experiences and challenges, as well as approaches that their institutions take to dealing with these issues as a major employer, buyer, and presence in their urban communities. We were among those presenting this year, detailing an approach through which we supported our long-standing client The University of Chicago. Our presentation, “Getting Creative to Buy and Hire Local: Meeting Anchor Goals through Food Service Contracts,” discussed the ways in which the University of Chicago levered a major outsourced contract to meet their local economic development and employment goals.
Presented by Jonathan Salzman, an Associate at Next Street, and Alyssa Berman-Cutler, Director of Community Economic Development Initiatives at University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement and Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the session drew attendees from university procurement, economic development, senior leadership, and more. Our workshop provided a tactical roadmap for how institutions can use their buying power and scale for the advantage of local communities without having to make great exceptions to how they operate.
We came away from the conference with 10 takeaways that provide insights into how to connect the concepts of community engagement and anchor institution strategy:
- Anchor mission work cannot exist or progress in a silo; it requires alignment and connection to every functional aspect of an institution.
- Within that, higher education institutions have been most successful when linking their defined anchor mission within the university’s overall strategic plan—and connecting it to community engagement and leaders therein.
- The value proposition for compelling anchor mission and community engagement efforts is simple: Uphold its dual purpose to educate students and to serve as a citizen itself. As a result, “improving the livelihood of our citizens must be the goal of an institution.”
- Anchor mission work is tough to do as an individual institution. With collaboration across institutions, the collective activity may lead to better results at any one institution. This is something we’ve see through our work in Chicago, Baltimore, and Rhode Island.
- One of the biggest challenges to anchor mission work is the perennial change in institutional executive leadership; anchor mission teams must continue to execute while bringing fresh leaders up to speed.
- Institutions must take it upon themselves to bring the concept of anchor mission to the local philanthropic community. Community foundations can play an outsized role in moving forward the anchor mission agenda.
- Understanding and leveraging philanthropy’s role in anchor mission is critical to success. Anchored in Place is a survey of national philanthropic investment, detailing 23 foundations that have invested in place.
- Community development is most successful when impact, measurable metrics, and specific outcomes are targeted from the offset. Defining “to what end are we doing this?” at the beginning is a critical alignment activity.
- Many institutions might espouse rhetoric that says, “Community Engagement is part of our DNA as an institution.” A more tangible question might be: “Is it part of our budget? Why/Why not?”
- While some institutions work to convert their efforts into dollars of impact achieved, not all mission work is easily (or possibly) translated into tangible savings or ROIs, reiterating the need to align on what the intended outcomes should be.
CUMU will be hosting its 2018 conference in Chicago, and we encourage you to attend. In the meanwhile, we are more than happy to discuss our experience and takeaways.