Year in Review

From changing the way we build our cities to make them more environmentally sustainable, to finding creative solutions for addressing the jobs crisis that plagues our most vulnerable populations, to helping our communities embrace cultural diversity and improve economic vitality, the Surdna Foundation understands that creating real change happens through partnerships with other like-minded leaders and institutions.

Our 2011 grantmaking highlights our commitment to collaboration, both internally and through our partners. By sharing ideas across our fields of expertise and among our three program areas – Thriving Cultures, Sustainable Environments and Strong Local Economies – we are changing the concept of sustainability from a novelty to an integral part of our society and economy. This means linking such concepts as the need for jobs in our inner cities with the powerful economic engine of new “clean energy” – and directing the buying practices of big local businesses like our great urban universities and hospitals toward communities of color that have been disproportionately devastated by the economic trends of the last generation.

Over the past year, Surdna’s grantmaking prioritized the spirit of innovation and collaboration. This included identifying ‘connector issues’ that unite different sectors to create greater social change.

Our continued engagement in Living Cities – a partnership among 22 of the largest foundations and financial institutions in the United States – is one example of this type of critical collaboration. Through Living Cities, we support significant investments in improving transportation, creating jobs and bolstering energy efficiency to transform where we live and help us have the kind of quality of life we want and need. We believe that when we work in partnership, things turn out better.

This evolved thinking about how best to pursue our program work was driven in part by several changes in our program leadership. Since 2010, three new program directors have joined the Foundation. Judilee Reed, Michelle Knapik and Shawn Escoffery each bring extensive expertise in their own issue area as well as a deep-rooted commitment to solving today's problems by looking beyond typical boundaries. Additionally, our own Sharon Alpert stepped into the role of Senior Director of Programs and Strategy to help us find solutions that take advantage of our experience and expertise in all three program areas.

Each of the Surdna Foundation’s three program areas plays an important role in achieving our mission to create just and sustainable communities. These programs build on the Foundation’s longstanding commitment to helping build communities in a way that increases the livability and inclusiveness of the places we live and work. We are particularly excited about the work we are doing to elevate the prominence of our Thriving Cultures work, which makes the case for the critical role of culture in every community. Many of the indexes that define what needs to be in place to achieve sustainability feature cultural factors. However, to date, the sustainability community tends to treat culture and arts as a “nice to have” rather than a necessity. Much of the work of our new Thriving Cultures Program – from looking at the role of artists in economic development to exploring community-driven design to investing in a better understanding of the role that art and culture have in shaping social change – is reflective of our belief that to achieve sustainability, culture must be valued as much as the economy and environment.

Over the past year, Surdna’s grantmaking prioritized the spirit of innovation and collaboration. This included identifying “connector issues” that unite different sectors to create greater social change. For example, our longstanding interest in how we build our transportation systems – both locally and nationally – is based on the fact that transportation decisions have a huge impact on many of the things we care about, including climate change and energy use, creation of more livable communities and access to economic opportunities. Focusing on connector issues helps us collaborate in a way that creates greater impact.

In addition, we worked in partnership with other foundations and nonprofits to better understand the impact influential institutions can have on the economic policies and well-being of their communities. In places like Cleveland, where we are working in partnership with the Cleveland Foundation to engage with universities and hospitals on their procurement policies, and in Baltimore, where we are inspired by the role that Johns Hopkins University has with its neighbors, we see much promise in engaging these institutions to benefit local communities. A shift in their purchasing can positively influence community-based businesses, producing an economic multiplier effect that results in more money staying in the community, more people employed and more businesses flourishing. Again, collaboration with the right partners helps us all do better work.

While collaboration was vital to our work in 2011, it was certainly not the norm in Congress. Despite this, we were encouraged by the collaboration at the federal, state and local levels on some of the issues most important to Surdna. Government agencies came together with philanthropies and NGOs, sharing funding streams and brainpower to stimulate new ideas for solving current problems. The engagement of the energetic staffs of several federal agencies that created the Sustainable Communities Partnership with Surdna and many other foundation partners has been heartening. This cooperation allowed foundations to share best practices and promote better public-private coordination to improve our troubled urban landscapes. We applaud these efforts and hope they can serve as a blueprint for future endeavors.

The new year brings new challenges and opportunities. We are proud to continue the legacy set forward by our founder, John Andrus, and take seriously our responsibility to act nimbly and respond swiftly to what we see around us. We look to our friends and partners and thank you for your support and collaboration. It is our shared strength that will keep us moving toward creating and securing the just and sustainable communities we all want to call home.

Phillip W. Henderson
Phillip W. Henderson,

Josephine B. Lowman
Josephine B. Lowman,