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Anchor Institutions Task Force Holds Annual Conference

The Anchor Institutions Task Force held its annual conference in New York City Nov. 10-11, attended by over 150 representatives from a variety of organizations.

AITF logoThe task force has been bringing together representatives from various fields to discuss how anchor institutions can make valuable contributions to community and economic development through local partnerships. The task force is sharing lessons that can be applied to strengthening neighborhoods, municipalities and regions. It was created based on the premise that local communities would be best served by creatively leveraging the resources of their enduring local assets—anchor institutions such as colleges, universities, hospitals and others.

Panel discussions were held on the latest efforts of anchor institutions and their partners from across the non-profit, public and private sectors. The keynote plenary was delivered by Earl Lewis, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and a luncheon plenary touched upon the increasingly important role of local government in building community partnerships with anchor institutions.

Earl Lewis (President, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) delivered the AITF Conference 2016 keynote plenary
Earl Lewis, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, delivered the conference keynote plenary. Photo:

Lewis addressed the value proposition of anchor institutions. Higher education, healthcare and local government entities pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the economy, generate new knowledge, employ a wide cross-section of society, care for thousands in their hospitals and become depositories for community treasures. It is important, therefore, that a dialogue exists in which this value proposition can be understood and leveraged as investment for the common good.

The first plenary session focused on education, and included examples of the work being done by three higher education institutions. Wagner College is working to raise graduation rates in a local high school; Rutgers University-Camden has a scholarship initiative that helps students from less-advantaged communities fulfill their potential and enter higher education; and the University of Maryland-Baltimore is addressing the declining percentage of African-Americans enrolling in medical and dental schools by providing taster programs for young students to encourage future enrollment. A presentation from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy focused on diversity, equity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. Presidential goals for STEM education include producing one million more STEM college graduates who reflect the demographics of the college population by 2022, and training 100,000 more STEM teachers for kindergarten through high school.

A panel on anchor institutions as drivers of economic development included representation from finance (Citi Community Development and Inclusive Finance), philanthropy (Ford Foundation), education (St. Thomas University), and healthcare (Fairview Health Services) sectors. The problem of extreme income inequality has increased in importance and is an area in which anchor institutions can work together to make progress. For example, the Central Corridor Anchor Partnership in Minneapolis has brought together 13 institutions to leverage purchasing power and create jobs in an area of deep poverty. Economic development was also described as beneficial to the financial services sector, which is why bank-led initiatives such as financial inclusion programs are not purely philanthropic.

SBH Affordable Housing
SBH Health System in the Bronx, New York City, launched an affordable housing project together with public and private sector partners in 2016. Photo:

The discussion on anchor institutions and community health covered the changing paradigm in healthcare. The sector is increasingly required to consider the root causes of poor health, in addition to its traditional role of administering direct care. For example, SBH Health System in the Bronx recognized the relationship between quality housing and health outcomes, and launched an affordable housing project together with public and private sector partners.

Kaiser Permanente has a strategy to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, which includes use of renewable energy to power its premises. [Infographic:]
Kaiser Permanente has a strategy to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, which includes use of renewable energy to power its premises. Graphic:
Another healthcare anchor, Kaiser Permanente, saw a ”triple win” opportunity by investing in clean energy technology: Jobs are created by large development projects; clean energy is better for the environment; and moving away from fossil fuels reduces health-damaging particulate matter in the air.

Another trend in the work of anchor institutions that was discussed was the role of local government. The city of Tacoma, Wash., found that it is helpful to involve city government in early discussions when anchor institutions are forming collaborative partnerships. In this way, the city government becomes a key anchor partner and can play a role in community and economic development.

In the final session of the conference, attendees shared views on day-to-day challenges as well as hopes for the future. Four separate group discussions focused on education, economic development, healthcare and government.

In education, the group identified challenges including racial and economic segregation, inequity and the lack of non-traditional higher education options. Tackling these challenges requires a sense of urgency and scale, but not at the risk of losing authenticity and practicality.

The economic development group found challenges in measuring the reach and impact of programs, and ensuring that multi-anchor partnerships remain cohesive.

In the healthcare group, speakers emphasized the importance of engendering authentic, reciprocal relationships with the community, together with the need for metrics which help understand broad, systemic issues.

The government group touched upon the problem presented by changing leaders and election cycles when trying to build collaborative anchor partnerships. One way to address this problem is by establishing a relationship with non-elected administrative officials within the government, to create longevity in the partnership.

Journal on Anchor Institutions and Communities, 2016, Volume 1
Journal on Anchor Institutions and Communities, 2016, Volume 1

This year’s conference marked the launch of the inaugural issue of the Journal on Anchor Institutions and Communities. The journal includes articles by previous speakers, and the next issue will include articles by some of the speakers at this year’s conference. Continually chronicling knowledge based on practical experiences will ultimately enhance the potential of anchor institutions to have a demonstrable impact on issues such as education, economic development and health.

The task force is engaging leaders of anchor institutions and other partners throughout the United States and increasingly in other parts of the world. Partners from other parts of the globe are organizing smaller scale gatherings of anchor institution leaders on other continents. For example, the Anchor Institutions Task Force is collaborating with the Council of Europe to convene such a meeting in the coming months.



Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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