Shawn joined the Surdna Foundation in 2010 to lead the Strong Local Economies Program. We asked him to talk about his reflections to date and plans for 2012.
My first year at Surdna was an eye-opening experience, as I developed a deeper knowledge of the issues and met the people who are fighting the good fight to address the economic challenges facing this country. My background, which includes an education in city planning from MIT and years working in urban and distressed areas on affordable housing and workforce development, gives me a direct understanding of the challenges people face when they are in poor economic conditions. Also, as a photographer I am very interested in the role of the arts in economic development. This is particularly salient for me coming from New Orleans, where artisan culture is a strong economic engine.
We were nimble enough to start addressing the country’s urgent economic situation; therefore, many of our grants in 2011 were in response to high unemployment and the shift in the types of jobs that were being created. We made our first grants in the social enterprise space supporting Roberts Enterprise Development Fund for the expansion of their successful model to employ individuals overcoming challenges like chronic poverty, homelessness and mental illness. We supported Juxtaposition Arts in Minneapolis, which is developing a youth-led social enterprise focused on visual arts and design. We also supported the National Domestic Workers Alliance and their Caring Across Generations Campaign aimed at improving job quality for home care workers.
We will be doing more grantmaking in economic development, ensuring that social justice continues as a strong theme. We will be looking at regional economies and ways to partner with groups that are innovating and creating new jobs. We hope to support grantees that work in business development, growing innovation in industry clusters, and land use and transportation policies that connect more people to more opportunities.