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Our Voice: Kate Wolford: Building Sustainable Communities Together - The power of partnerships

Greetings. I am delighted to be here today. On behalf of the board of directors of The McKnight Foundation, I would like to congratulate the advisory board and staff of LISC Duluth on your 15th anniversary.

The McKnight Foundation has been pleased to be a funding and thought partner with you for all of those years. To date, the Foundation has awarded over $1.5 million dollars in grants to support Duluth LISC. For us, this has been a wise investment in the vitality of northeastern Minnesota and the region’s largest city.

Duluth is a model for mid-sized cities re-imaging and re-inventing themselves from dependence on heavy industry to a more balanced economy. LISC is an important part of Duluth’s story of vitality, working effectively and efficiently with partners across government, business, non-profits, and community-based organizations.

The McKnight Foundation’s approach is to invest in the power of people, place, and partnerships that yield new possibilities. In LISC, we see the power of people who are deeply knowledgeable about – and highly committed to – the well-being of all members of this community. This group of people includes:

McKnight sees the power of place in LISC’s holistic approach to community development. Transforming distressed neighborhoods into healthy communities of choice and opportunity requires a deep understanding of the local context; it requires an ability to build strong trust among partner organizations and neighborhood residents so that they can work through differences in perspectives and interests, and create alignment around shared goals.

This morning I had the opportunity to tour the Clyde Park complex with Pam Kramer. It is a great example of bringing together a variety of partners and resources to achieve a shared goal of providing economic vitality, jobs, and opportunities for positive youth development and valued amenities in a place once called the ‘blight of Duluth.”

The power of partnerships is obvious as you look around this room. Duluth is seen as a place where nonprofits collaborate well and high quality work is achieved with efficiency. Among those partners, I would like to especially acknowledge the 2012 Building Healthy Communities Honorees:  the Housing and Redevelopment Authority of Duluth and Community Action Duluth. Community Action’s new Financial Opportunity Center brings to Duluth a proven model for providing integrated financial counseling and employment support. It is especially timely given the recession’s devastating impact on low and moderate income families.

“At Home in Duluth” is a terrific example of the power of partnerships. LISC and a coalition of over 25 nonprofit, civic, business and government partners, are working together in five Duluth neighborhoods, to create places of opportunity for all residents through affordable housing, increasing family income and assets, quality education, and healthy environments.

As an intermediary, LISC plays multiple roles which create a strong tailwind for community priorities:

As we look ahead, cities and especially low-income communities, face challenges, including but not limited to:

The power of people, place and partnerships can translate new possibilities into reality. There is a quote from Dwight Eisenhower that I have become fond of. He said, “Whenever I run into a problem I can’t solve, I always make it bigger. I can never solve it by trying to make it smaller, but if I make it big enough, I can begin to see the outlines of a solution.”  That may seem counterintuitive. But as we find ourselves dealing with systems and approaches that – like our infrastructure – may have functioned well once upon a time but are longer up to the task, we need new approaches that enable us to recognize connectivity and interdependence across often siloed issues and sectors. When we make the problem “bigger” by taking a more comprehensive approach, we gain the opportunity to develop solutions with multiple bottom line benefits – economic, social, and environmental.      

A compelling vision for a vibrant, resilient city with opportunity for all enables us to see both our own best self and rational self-interest in that future. It breaks through narrow, exclusionary self-interest and political gridlock, and builds the community’s collective capacity to create new solutions where doing more of the same won’t get us to where we need to be. Over these past fifteen years, we have seen LISC adapt its strategies to meet emerging challenges, and to build partnerships that can translate possibilities into new realities. Through its Building Sustainable Communities strategy, LISC Duluth is well positioned to lead and adapt to changing circumstances. We look forward to our continued partnership in making Duluth a great place to live, work and create. Thank you.