March 1, 2008

"Contagious" Support for Active Citizenship

I’ve noticed something remarkable about those places where there is active citizenship seems to be in the water. When I visit those places – usually at one organization’s invitation – I discover lots of organizations there in the active citizenship business.

In Omaha, the Omaha Community Foundation, the City of Omaha, the Neighborhood Center of Greater Omaha, the Mutual of Omaha Corporate Giving Program, and an impressive group of family and private foundations are nurturing active citizenship in a variety of creative ways.

In Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center, the Central Indiana Community Foundation, Making Connections Indianapolis, Indianapolis LISC, the Indianapolis Parks Foundation, and Keep Indianapolis Beautiful are creating opportunities and space for people to practice active citizenship.

In central North Carolina - Greensboro and Winston-Salem - the Winston-Salem Foundation, Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods, the Building Stronger Neighborhoods Coalition, the Community Foundation for Greater Greensboro, the Greensboro Public Library are working to strengthen the local civic engagement infrastructure by what they do and how they do it.

In Denver, the The Denver Foundation, The Piton Foundation, Metropolitan Organizations for People, the Chinook Fund, Making Connections Denver, and some other amazing groups such as Civic Canopy are creating the patient support (with an impressive social change edge) needed to nurture active citizenship in a community.

For lack of a better term, I’ve started thinking about places like Omaha, Indianapolis, Central North Carolina and Denver as “clusters”. Instead of one organization serving as active citizen “home base”, there are many organizations that are nurturing active citizenship in one way or another. There are grant programs for resident-initiated and resident-led groups that we clearly recognize as “grassroots grantmaking”, but there is so much more. Training, technical assistance, connections, recognition, open access to information, seats set at important tables.

Maybe the most important common denominator in these "clusters" is the presence of influential institutions who are expressing the high value that they place on active citizenship as a critical ingredient of social change and quality of life. They are not just talking the talk - they are walking the walk. This expression gets played out in how things are structured, how things are done, and who's at the table.

In other places I see wonderful work by a committed organization - making good and important strides to till the active citizenship ground, but working essentially alone, rowing upstream.

I’m curious about the path from the committed, solo organization to many organizations supporting active citizenship in many ways. What is it that makes embracing active citizenship contagious? And why do some organizations and institutions seem to have a natural immunity?

What do you think?

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