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A Chat About The Hits And Misses For the Fund For Our Economic Future's First Seven Years

Official staff photo of Jonathan Sotsky, of the Knight Foundation.
Official staff photo of Jonathan Sotsky, of the Knight Foundation.

SOTSKY: “The key findings for the report was, the Fund has been very successful when it comes to incubating new types of businesses in the region. And it’s done that through supporting a series of economic intermediaries that have branded Northeast Ohio as an attractive region to start companies, especially in new types of manufacturing positions. Trying to transition the region’s economy base away from “Rust Belt” manufacturing into new tech jobs and organizations.

So the Fund’s strategy when it came together and put out something called “Advanced Northeast Ohio” a few years back, was centered around four different broad goals. One of them was business growth, the other three were talent attraction and development, government efficiency, and racial and economic inclusion.

While the Fund’s really excelled in promoting the first goal of business growth, less of its efforts have concerned the other three goals. And that’s something that I want this drive to move forward with as it continues on with its strategy.

“From Knight’s perspective, there’s a lot of key insights about how we support funder collaborations in other regions around the country. We’re really extrapolating from the experience of the Fund, and sharing it with some of our other projects, including new economy initiatives in Detroit, a light-rail collaborative called the Central Corridor Funder’s Collaborative in St. Paul, and a few others really centered around how we support collaboration between funders…

“And I think some of the key findings that we have there, are the types of skills…for when you staff a funder collaboration. Things like a strong researcher analytical base. Folks who understand the issue areas, in this case, regional economies. And folks who are really connectors, who can be key for convening different types of cross-sector stakeholders through the work of the funder collaborative.”

BULL: How would like this report used? What would you like to see foundations take away from this?

SOTSKY:: “I’d love for other funders to read the report, and come away with a set of lessons, including ways they can use federal and state grant dollars for spurring coalitions of partners with common strategies in their region, in order to receive that grant funding.

“I’d love to see other foundations continuing to support more research and analysis. A role that is not often played by the business sector. But more research and analysis that identifies what key issues that region’s economies are facing, so that a set of common priorities are formed across cross-sector groups of organizations in the region.

“So using more research, leveraging more grant dollars from a state and federal perspective, and...I’d love to see as a third thing...more efforts on the part of philanthropy to engage the public to create more of a mandate of change.

“Not just efforts that have big institutions in the area sit in a room and determine strategy, but really bring residents in the region into the conversation to identify pressing needs in the region that residents see. Ways that residents can advocate for important changes."

“I think…the Fund has done terrific job of representing that voice, from get-go. The “Voices and Choices” initiative, which went out and conducted hundreds of interviews and surveyed thousands of residents in the region. It’s actually out of that initiative that came the Civic Commons, that recently partnered with ideastream, that was about bringing the resident voice into the conversation about , key priorities, and approaches for tackling those priorities.”

BULL: Jon, thank you for your time, I really appreciate it!

SOTSKY:: Thank you Brian, appreciate it, goodbye!

BULL: Good bye.