Delta Region — During several recent meetings, regional philanthropic organizations, policy makers, business leaders, and private citizens engaged one another in candid dialogues about the region’s challenges. From these meetings, a new commitment to regional collaboration is evident in the Delta. ‘Engaging nontraditional leaders,’ ‘working across political and regional boundaries,’ and ‘building upon regional assets’ are common refrains at these meetings.
On November 1-2, a group of national and regional funders, practitioners and government officials convened a meeting appropriately titled “Working Differently with Delta Communities to Achieve Greater Momentum and Impact” at the Winrock International Conference Center in Arkansas. The National Rural Funders Collaborative (NRFC) sponsored the meeting in partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), the Walton Family Foundation, and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.
“It has become so obvious that there have been segments of our society that have been totally invisible and forgotten as we have developed policy, housing and economic opportunities,” said WKKF Vice President Rick Foster. Foster’s comment echoes a growing acknowledgement among funders that engaging traditionally unheard voices in the region and forging connections among development efforts are critical to create long-term change. Based on the meeting discussions, the NRFC developed a series of strategies to help funders maximize the impacts of their investments:
Regionalism: Focus on regional thinking and planning.
Collaboration: Pursue common strategies or linked approaches to leverage regional impact.
Leadership: Develop strong, non-government, regional leadership and implement programs that encourage more diverse public participation in regional decision making.
Philanthropy: Help communities understand that they have assets that can be used to support local efforts and investment. The concept of community philanthropy, the ability to pool small assets and resources together to make a difference, is a tangible strategy to help change perceptions.
Public Policy: Support efforts to better orient elected officials on “regionalism” as well as key local and regional issues; engage colleges and universities in helping to create the research basis for policy formation and analysis; convene focused conversations on building a regional policy infrastructure; equip and bring grassroots voices to the policy table.
Some veteran community organizations are currently developing strategies to connect their work and engage new stakeholders. On November 5th, more than 125 representatives from community organizations, policy advocates, and state agencies attended the Deep South Delta Consortium’s (DSDC) First Annual People’s Convention. Individuals from Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi discussed policy recommendations and program models that could be replicated in the region. Meeting participants identified the following strategies as being essential to the region’s future: better disaster preparation; more workforce investments, job training and job fairs; increased collaboration among faith-based organizations and the for-profit sector; development of community-owned businesses that provide goods and services within the region’s communities.
Mississippi Action for Community Education also organized the First Annual Delta Dialogue Conference in September. Some of the findings discussed by nonprofit and governmental representatives during the meeting included the following:
Foundations want to have partners that are working together for a common goal.
There is a need to pay more attention to the assets of the region.
Understanding that many people give where they live and most philanthropists live in metro areas.
The need for communities to begin to hold public schools accountable for teaching of their children.
Communities need to educate residents about area history and heritage.
Meetings like the Delta Dialogue foster collaboration and innovation among change workers in the Delta. By forming stronger partnerships across the region, engaged citizens are finding new ways to work with Delta communities to achieve greater momentum and impact.