Collaborative Democracy in Action: The Summer of Rethinking Communities

May 8, 2014Alan Smith

Students across the country are asking how their colleges and universities shape the communities around them.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s Rethinking Communities initiative is entering a new phase. In January, students began their research, asking difficult questions that drew on the work of the Democracy Collaborative and others. Their purpose: to examine whether their schools are acting as a good anchor institutions, defined here as institutions that are anchored to a particular location by their mission, invested capital, or relationships, and therefore have a stake in improving the welfare of their communities.

As the spring semester wraps up and the data comes in, we’re learning the scope of what we can achieve with this initiative, and we're ready to bring more schools to the table. Watch the video below for an overview of the work our students are doing to jumpstart national change at the local level, and why we think it’s so important:

Nearly 30 chapters signed up for the research phase, and many are close to completing or have already completed their research. The next step will be building a series of local projects designed to improve the economic development, civic infrastructure, and public health and environment of their communities. 

As these projects come together, we're starting to get a sense of where students can be the most effective in rethinking communities. A few early milestones:

  • The George Washington University chapter has proposed a plan to shift money from the university's cash on hand into a local community development financial institution, as a way to empower and invest in businesses that operate in and around low-income neighborhoods.
  • The Amherst College chapter has shone a light on the need for an office of sustainability at Amherst. The college is now in the process of planning for such an addition.
  • The University of Richmond chapter is working with city of Richmond and local elected officials to redesign “The Richmond Promise,” an existing agreement between the university and the city, to reflect best practices and better connect the school’s resources to the community.

The final phase of this initiative will be to take the data we’ve collected from all of these institutions to build a certification system based on a series of local economic development metrics, which will allow us to measure the impact of anchor institutions relative to their peers.

It’s an exciting time to be part of Rethinking Communities. School’s out, but the work is just getting started.

Alan Smith is the Roosevelt Institute's Associate Director of Networked Initiatives.

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