Over the course of 100 years, civic leadership has been an integral part of the Foundation’s role. Here is a conversation with Foundation President Geeta Pradhan about why this aspect of the organization’s work is even more important now.
What do you want Cantabrigians to understand today about the Foundation as a civic leader?
Community Foundations emerged in the early 1900s – a time of great wealth and disparity in America resulting from the impacts of industrialization and urbanization and the effects of war on cities. In Cambridge, a group of civic leaders established this community foundation in 1916. Our essence is best captured in the quote below:
The community foundation is a community partner that creates a better future for all by pursuing the community’s greatest opportunities and addressing the most critical challenges, inclusively uniting people, institutions and resources from throughout the community, and producing significant, widely shared and lasting results, taken from the FRAMEWORK for Community Leadership by the Community Foundation, Council of Foundation’s Washington DC.
A defining aspect of this organization is its role as a neutral convener holding the vision of a vibrant, thriving and connected community. We seek to accomplish this in three principal ways: as a grantmaker, a partner in philanthropy, and as a civic leader. Our civic leadership role, consistent with the quote above, will focus on being a convener of people and ideas, a connector across populations and sectors, and a catalyst for positive change.
How does the Foundation advance this aspect of your role in the city?
We draw upon a range of tools and capacities to advance our civic leadership work. We commission research to explore critical issues for the city; convene stakeholders, residents, change-makers and experts to build consensus for collective impact; we welcome and engage donors and all those who hold a philanthropic interest in the community as core investors in community development and innovative plans to strengthen the city’s social fabric; we make grants to nonprofit organizations serving a wide range of needs, to meet ongoing challenges for residents and to support emerging strategies; we provide space and support to foster collaboration among community members; and work to build, expand and strengthen networks.
What resources do you bring to bear to advance this work?
In addition to drawing upon the city’s civic engagement and intellectual resources, we advance this work with resources from the Foundation’s Civic Leadership Fund. Created by generous donors to make sure we have the capacity, this fund supports our research, convening and connecting activities. To cite one example, the Foundation recently partnered with the City of Cambridge to conduct a city-wide needs assessment. The research combined with our support for the nonprofit sector will offer guidance to the City, the Foundation, our donors and stakeholders to make strategic investments in issues and for populations that most need the services.
Going forward, we will continue to build the Permanent Endowment for Cambridge, as a resource all can contribute to, and that can address needs and opportunities as they emerge and evolve. Cambridge today is a thriving, prosperous community – but we should never take our success for granted. As a community, we need to be prepared for many eventualities – and an endowment for Cambridge held at the Foundation can be a critical asset in changing times.
How does your work as a civic leader connect to the rest of the Foundation’s activities?
It is both a full and defining aspect of our work, and it connects to everything we do. Civic Leadership amplifies our community impact when we connect grantmaking with nonprofits and companies for the flow of ideas, networks and resources; It fosters community dialogue and civic agendas, when we convene people together around gathered research and commissioned reports. It is a catalyst for expanded philanthropy and social connections as neighbors learn about neighbors and reach out to build a better and stronger Cambridge