President's Letter

Philanthropic Leadership of an Equitable Kind

By: Rip Rapson, President and CEO

Reinforcing values that must become the norm — today, tomorrow and beyond.

The attributes of leadership have been described, analyzed, dissected and reconstructed for centuries in millions of academic treatises, historical profiles, motivational tomes and artistic media of all kinds.

And for good reason: Every act of leadership seeks to apply a unique combination of attitudes, skills and behaviors toward change. And because change churns constantly through every dimension of our lives, the possibility — indeed, the imperative — of leadership is constant and unrelenting. That is absurdly general and reductionist. But leadership can’t be put in a box.

The intention of Momentum, our 2018 annual report, is not to add another leadership manual to the pile. It is instead to explore how one philanthropy has sought to use its institutional resources to promote a particular kind of change — expanding opportunities in America’s cities — with a particular set of values, a particular collection of tools and a particular methodology. At a time when the origins of philanthropic privilege are being called into question … when philanthropy is increasingly wading into the defining issues of our time … when the roles and responsibilities of all sectors are increasingly being blurred, it seems important to define just how we view leadership and why that might be important for the partners with whom we work and the people we seek to serve.

Rethinking Leadership From the Ground Up

In this special publication, you’ll see very personal reflections on those questions from our partners on the ground. The through lines are fixed in the values that animate our institution — respecting our partners’ wisdom, voice and agency … collaborating creatively with the full spectrum of community actors who seek the same change we do … attacking the underlying drivers of inequality and injustice in all their forms.

Each of the reflections makes clear that a distributive model of urban leadership has become a valued and effective way of working in America’s cities, as opposed to the concentrated, top-down, command-and-control structures of the past. Multiple players are now working collaboratively to construct a machinery of problem-solving, not simply getting out of the way as a single actor responds to a transactional opportunity. Let me highlight two examples of Kresge’s own leadership along these lines, and the partners who made it possible.

Community Development Centered on Education

During the past year, Kresge began to assemble a partnership designed to bring to life an integrated, high-quality cradle-to-career educational hub on the Marygrove College campus in Northwest Detroit. The vision: provide an educational, economic and civic anchor for children of all ages and their families living in the surrounding area. The University of Michigan School of Education and the Detroit Public Schools Community District jumped on board and are developing a new K-12 school. Kresge will underwrite the construction of a new early childhood education center, drawing on the design expertise of IFF, operated by Starfish Family Services, and incorporating community-driven wraparound services. A conservancy has been established to steward all partner activities and ensure they align with the 90-plus year educational legacy of the campus.

To get to this point, Kresge exercised leadership to be sure. Providing stabilization funds when Marygrove College was at risk of being consumed by creditors. Articulating a vision for comprehensive educational programming. Ensuring that community engagement shaped the evolution of planning for the campus. Securing the right mix of partners.

But the leadership required for such a complex undertaking was immediately assumed by individuals and institutions who stepped up with courage, creativity and political skill. It has been a great feat in atomistic leadership gelling into something far more powerful than its parts.

A National Platform for Inclusive Economic Growth

A second example is the Shared Prosperity Partnership — a collaboration among five national policy, research and urban practice organizations to explore the possibilities of inclusive, equitable economic growth in a dozen cities. Kresge, the Brookings Institution, Living Cities, the Aspen Institute and the Urban Institute began with the ambition of bringing our toolbox to the aid of cities struggling to crack the code of one or two particularly difficult aspects of inclusive growth. We interviewed local stakeholders, identified the focal point the community wanted help with, provided data and policy analysis and held expansive community meetings.

In Fresno, we examined what capacities the community foundation could develop that would help them bridge deep divides across race and class. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, we explored how we might assist in bolstering a newly created regional center for economic inclusion. In Cleveland, we excavated possibilities for ensuring the city could adopt leading-edge practices for Opportunity Zone investments. In Memphis, we delved into ways of fortifying community lending systems. In Arlington, we elevated the possibility of having the community foundation play a significant role in anticipating the affordable housing challenges that will come in the wake of Amazon’s second headquarters landing in that community. In Milwaukee, we unpacked the challenges of spreading economic opportunity from the city’s downtown to its neighborhoods. We look forward to engagements with more cities in the coming year.

Again, Kresge provided leadership in the form of imagining the partnership, funding it and managing its evolution. And again, the leadership responsibilities distributed quickly. To the national partners, who had to recalibrate how they took their nationally oriented resources and methods to ground. To local residents and organizations, who used the roundtable convenings to clarify how they wanted to move forward as a community. To the local lead partners, who had to weave together their knowledge of a city’s history, context, politics and resources with the external support being offered by the Partnership members. We are still in the early stages of fashioning a new machinery of change in each place, but each will involve layered, interconnected priorities, engagement strategies and investments across sectors and disciplines.

Distributive, Participatory Leadership is Diverse Leadership

These outward-facing examples of Kresge’s bias toward distributive leadership casts in bright relief the imperative of locating racial and ethnic diversity at the heart of the matter. It simply isn’t possible to pursue distributive leadership without the perspectives, skills and ownership of community residents, community-based organizations and community-based decision-making structures being formative and primary.

Kresge’s approach to deconstructing the barriers to opportunity in American cities and substituting for them structures based in equity and justice has been driven by these considerations. You will see that evidenced in the examples that follow in this report.

But we also recognize that they have to shape and propel our organizational culture as well. By dedicating meaningful time and intense effort during the past year to leverage the life experiences and expertise of our staff to define our commitment to equity and explore how we will operationalize it. By developing guidelines to prioritize purchasing goods and services from companies owned and led by women and people of color. By ensuring that every new hire is selected from a pool of candidates that is diverse in all ways. By conducting frequent learning sessions with people whose stories and work underscore the enduring insidiousness of structural racism and shine a light on better paths. By committing that 25 percent of our domestic investment funds are managed by women or people of color by 2025.

This is philanthropic leadership of a different kind. Making sure that we are reinforcing values of leadership that are based in equity. It is a form of leadership that must become normative — today, tomorrow and beyond — for us at Kresge, but more importantly, for all of those who care about social change. That is true distributive leadership.


Letter from the Board Chair

What Makes a Good Leader?