Program Director Megan Trischler reflects on the PL team's process and progress to date:
Three years ago, we set out to build something bold, to challenge our community to dream bigger, to uncover and call to action the next generation of civic leadership and to test a new approach to community development through philanthropy. When we began this experiment, there was one big question we sought to answer: Does providing individuals with support to build, launch and test their good ideas have the power to positively impact and advance our region? As we move into the third year of this five year exercise, begin reviewing applications for our $100,000 Haile Fellowship and recalibrate our storefront, it seems timely to evaluate what we’re uncovering in regards to that big question.
Impacting People: Process > Outcomes
From the beginning, we determined that our grants to individuals would be project-based. This was an intentional decision supported by the age-old notion that one learns best by doing. Our grants are designed to give people the time, the permission, the support network and the capital to go test their idea. It’s really that simple. We’re not funding people to go think about their idea. We’re not funding people to go write an extensive white-paper making a case for their idea. We’re not imploring folks to assemble ten months worth of focus groups to talk about their idea some more. We’re literally saying, “you have a great idea, other people think you have a great idea, it seems like this great idea could positively impact our region, you seem to have the passion and skills to pull it off, go...do it.”
Do the project outcomes matter? Sure. Yes. A little bit. But we’re far more interested in uncovering, connecting and building the capacity of our city’s future leaders, those who might someday occupy seats at city hall, lead neighborhood councils, launch effective nonprofits and social enterprises, rally the troops, start movements, etc. While we certainly hope our grantees succeed in pulling off what they’ve set out to do, we believe it’s the process of experiencing what it’s like to bring an idea to life that remains the most valuable takeaway. Our hunch is that the more people do, the more they’ll want to do.
Impacting Community: Rubbing Elbows, Building Relationships
One unanticipated result of granting to individuals to develop their own projects are the collaborations that have started to form among the cohorts. It’s no surprise that people gravitate towards people with shared interests, be that interest art, architecture, dance, storytelling, food security, social justice, etc. We’re starting to see this happen more and more. Fellows are lending support to Project Grantees, past Project Grantees are supporting current Project Grantees, Residents are supporting Fellows. It’s a magical thing. Our role is shifting from that of frontline “supporter” to more “air-traffic controller.” In 2017, we have plans to further embrace our convening and connecting abilities by hosting frequent and consistent events to gather people around ideas and issues that matter most.
Related to this is a revamp of our sidewalk presence. Since reopening at the Globe Building in March of 2015, we’ve struggled to make our 800 sq.ft. storefront a welcoming, active space that embodies our vision of bringing philanthropy to the ground floor. We’ve tried many approaches in two-years time, but have yet to really hit the mark. This year, we’re putting more brainpower and people-power behind the effort, and this spring, the storefront will transform into the Department of Implementing Things (D.O.I.T.), a resource for anyone and everyone in Cincinnati inclined towards starting something. We’re excited to see how the public reacts to this change.
Impacting Philanthropy: Developing Community Differently
People’s Liberty has always existed as a place to test new approaches to community development. That term—Community Development—means a lot of things to a lot of different people. For us, it means fostering creative ways for real people to play a role in shaping everyday life in their neighborhood and city. Here’s a few things we’re learning:
People attract people. People gravitate towards places where the likelihood of connection is high. For foundations and philanthropists, this means leaning into your ability to convene people from a broad spectrum of disciplines and interests and doing so regularly.
Environment is everything. Ever been to a coffee shop where you’re the sole customer, the music is bad and the barista is awkward? Us too. Space matters. Creating an environment where people want to be, is the first step to forming community connections. Open your doors, but do so with great care and intention.
Stories matter. Data doesn’t compel, inspire or energize, and it certainly doesn’t foster community. There are countless stories to be told, but often not enough resources allocated to do the job well. We made the conscience decision to make good design and storytelling an integral part of our everyday work, and built a team equipped to carry out the task. Cincinnati is rich with eager young designers/writers/storytellers ready to exercise their creative sensibilities in meaningful ways. (We’re happy to send you our talent list. Get in touch.)
Community is a process not a product. Community is not something you win, earn, design or fund into existence. It’s something you do. Verb. It grows. You lay the foundation, plant the seed, water, tend to it and wait...eventually the fruit comes. Community building doesn’t happen at your desk. It’s real, hard work. And it takes a long time.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The more time I take to reflect on our work, the more certain I become of a few things. First off, what we’re doing is uncommon, unprecedented and an incredible opportunity at this moment in time for the people of Greater Cincinnati. However, at the end of the day, what we’re actually doing is quite simple, not that radical and, more than ever, what we should all be doing as a human race—lifting each other up, building bridges and exerting our ingenuity and creativity to make the places we call home better.
Five years ago when Eric invited me to Cincinnati to help him dream and develop some ideas and new paths for the Haile Foundation, my world opened. My twenty-six year old self was given permission to do, and supported throughout the entire process. That’s the environment we’re trying to build everyday at People’s Liberty. It’s not rocket science. Our process is simple. We’re in the business of growing hearts and connecting minds, all while encouraging folks to do more and care more for their city, their neighbors and themselves.
Please, come be a part of it.