In my April message, I wrote about the importance of leadership in creating social change and I shared several examples of exemplary and courageous leaders I’ve come across in my first months on the job. I also shared my view on the role of Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation as a leadership organization and how we - as a community of donors, nonprofits, volunteers and civic leaders - can harness our resources, relationships and the foundation’s strong reputation to be a visible and effective catalyst for change in our region. Berkshire Taconic has a track record of doing this through our efforts to address affordable housing and early childhood development. As you'll read in the Leadership Spotlight, our most recent initiative, in partnership with two anonymous donors, focuses on access to healthy food in Columbia County. We want to do more of this work in the future, given the opportunities to leverage our region’s strengths and assets to address the critical issues facing our communities.
This year and next, BTCF is building our capacity to be a more effective leadership organization. As a first step, we are conducting a community assessment to deepen our understanding of the issues, trends and the needs of our communities and residents. What we learn from the assessment will become a resource for our donors and nonprofits. It will also sharpen the foundation’s strategic focus. We intend to use the findings to identify a set of critical issues where philanthropy can have an impact and Berkshire Taconic can exert leadership to achieve results.
We need your participation for this assessment process to be informative and inclusive and for it to set up the foundation for future success as a vital partner in our communities. Let me share more about how we are approaching the process and how you can plug in.
We are organizing this assessment and planning process around three broadly-defined themes focused on our region’s people, place and prosperity. This approach allows us to start with a thesis about what we think are the most pressing issues where Berkshire Taconic has the potential to lead and philanthropy can most likely have an impact. Throughout the process, however, we are testing this thesis and open to including other issues or themes based on what we learn.
The first theme is focused on expanding opportunities for all residents. Our region’s human capital - our kids, adults and seniors - is our current and future workforce and the people with the knowledge, talents and skills to make our communities strong. The assessment process is investigating trends in educational attainment across the continuum, from early childhood through adult learning. We are also investigating trends affecting affordable housing, given its importance to family economic security, workforce development and downtown vitality. And finally, we are interested in learning more about the factors that create economic and social disparities among children, youth and adults that keep them from reaching their full potential, such as substance abuse and access to healthy, nutritious food.
The second theme is centered on our place-based resources and how the region capitalizes on these resources for economic development and community vitality. BTCF’s three-state, four-county region is rich with natural and built assets. Our farms, rivers and forests have powered our economy for generations and today, in addition to traditional uses like agriculture, offer abundant recreational opportunities. Our historic downtowns serve as our commercial centers, offer livable neighborhoods and are vibrant with social and cultural opportunities. Nonprofit organizations bring residents together in community and as a sector are a key driver of our economy. The assessment process is investigating the role of natural resource-based industries like agriculture, wood products and tourism on our economy, the economic and community benefit of conserved lands, and the role of our downtowns as centers for economic, residential and civic vitality.
Nurturing creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship is the third theme. For over 150 years, this region has been known as a center for creativity and innovation - in academia, technology and the visual, performing and literary arts. These influences continue to contribute to the region’s prosperity and quality of life, as evidenced by our world-class cultural resources and tourism industry, by the caliber of people who choose to live and retire here, and the revitalization of vital downtowns such as Hudson, Millerton, North Adams and Great Barrington. The assessment process is investigating the role of arts and culture in economic and community development, STEM education and other curricula that can prepare our young people to participate in an innovation-based economy, and factors that drive new and growth-stage business development.
Thanks to a generous grant from the Lennox Foundation, BTCF is partnering with Boston-based Mt. Auburn Associates to undertake the assessment. As this is a data-rich region, we are focusing our efforts on synthesizing existing research findings and data, while seeking input from you and others to answer the following questions:
- What are the relevant demographic and economic trends for understanding the issues, needs and opportunities in our region?
- What is the current ecosystem surrounding each of the themes in our framework? Where are the strengths? Where are the significant gaps and barriers?
- What do our nonprofits, civic and business leaders, and residents see as the core assets, and most critical needs and gaps? Among these core stakeholders in our mission, we are also interested in the role you see for Berkshire Taconic in addressing critical issues and building strong and resilient communities.
- What are the priorities for Berkshire Taconic donors in terms of issues they see as most pressing and ways the foundation can mobilize resources from our generous donor community to have greater impact?
In the next two weeks, we will be inviting our donors and nonprofit partners to participate in an online survey developed by Mt. Auburn Associates in order to gather input from a wide range or individuals and organizations.
Your participation is critical, so I hope you will complete the survey.
This fall, we will host forums and focus groups to test what we've learned through the scan of existing data and research, and to answer the questions listed above and others that surface as we move ahead.
We will keep you posted on our progress. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, please feel free to be in touch with me directly.
August is high season in our region, offering vast opportunities to be outside and to enjoy the region’s many amenities. All of us at the foundation wish you the best for a wonderful summer with family and friends.