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‘Shared Value’ - Partnering with Anchor Institutions for Mutual Benefit

Tuesday Jan 20, 2015 - Comments: 0

Hospitals, universities, and similar mission-driven institutions often have storied ties to their campuses and communities that are built on history, architecture, and tradition.


Because of their deep connections, these place-based entities are often called ‘anchor institutions’ or ‘eds and meds,’ a reference to the fact that many of them focus on health or education.   


Anchors are the most significant employers in many major U.S. cities, and account for approximately 8 percent of national labor force employment.  Collectively, they own real estate portfolios worth $100 billion, hold endowments valued at five times that much, and have immense purchasing power amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars annually.  Moreover, the health and education sectors are forecasted to increase their share of national gross domestic product (GDP) over the coming years, making them even greater economic and community players, with the potential to make critical contributions to neighborhood growth.      


Because of the outsized impact they have, Stabilize is presenting some recent research, resources, and tips on how best to create and maintain healthy, mutually advantageous relationships between anchors and communities.


One resource is the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) – an organization dedicated to inner city competitiveness and growth.  In 2011, they published a report  – Anchor Institutions and Urban Economic Development:  from Community Benefit to Shared Value – where they champion the concept of ‘shared value,’ or how nurturing strong partnerships between anchors and the communities they call home have the capacity to benefit both, particularly when the parties involved deliberately put the ‘shared value’ goal front and center. 


They also outline seven core areas where anchors influence the economic and social vitality of their communities; these are as real estate developers, local employers and workforce creators, cluster anchors and infrastructure builders that boost the growth and capacity of neighboring businesses, purchasers of goods and services, and customizers of products to suit local needs.  The report delineates what benefits accrue to each side along these dimensions, and illustrate the interdependency and mutual benefits with real world examples. 


Anchor institutions are also an area of focus for the Democracy Collaborative, an organization committed to community wealth building.  Over the past few years, they have built up a storehouse of information on the importance of anchor institutions, how to work with them for maximum results, and how to measure impacts. Their resources include Achieving the Anchor Promise:  Improving Outcomes for Low-Income Children, Families and Communities, a 2013 report that includes interviews with anchors, non-profit development organizations, and other vested parties to determine how they are partnering with each other, what benefits they have or hope to achieve, and challenges along the way.   


Highlights from the report include:


  • Community involvement increases when anchors explicitly make neighborhood health part of their mission – Community development organizations should encourage anchors to make a formal commitment to neighborhood investment by adding community engagement to mission statements, and developing strategic plans that detail how these institutions will make good on their promises.  Establishing internal departments that focus on neighborhood development are also worthwhile. 


  • Incentives make a difference – Government grants (local, state, or federal) that are focused on community development activities can be highly impactful.  So are institutional incentives that reward development efforts, like mandating that a certain amount of purchasing be from local businesses, or making community engagement a part of obtaining tenure.   


  • Clear channels of engagement are important – Development organizations expressed the need for transparency and effective communication on the part of anchors, as well as concerns with institutional divisions, wherein university departments – whether due to competition or impaired communication channels – are unable to work together and outside entities are unsure of where to go to establish connections and move the partnership forward.    


  • Keeping residents actively engaged is crucial – It is vital to build trust with residents, and to make sure they are a significant part of long-term community stabilization planning.


When development organizations are building relationships with anchors, they should advocate for the adoption of these types of strategies to produce the most promising collaborations.    


A recent example of a successful alliance between anchors and communities is the merging of a mixed use development and workforce training project in the Uptown neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio. The University of Cincinnati is behind many of this neighborhood’s revitalization projects.  Their approach is a great example of the conscious development planning highlighted by the Anchor Promise report.  Situated in Uptown, the University decided it was important that the neighborhood they call home should be a healthy one, and created the Office of Community Development (OCD) and the Uptown Consortium.  The Office is a university department that helps local community development corporations (CDC’s) achieve their Uptown improvement objectives, and the Uptown Consortium is a coalition of several local anchor institutions that have agreed to pool their resources and know-how to invest in the future of Uptown, with particular focus on areas of high distress.


For additional resources on how best to partner with anchors, consider the following:


  • The Democracy Collaborative has published a number of detailed reports on anchor institution impact and engagement, including Achieving the Anchor Promise.  Click here to access them!




If community development organizations take the time to cultivate and strengthen relationships with their neighborhood anchors in efficient and impactful ways, much good can result, for both the communities and their anchors.    


How important are anchor institutions to your communities?  What do you think are the best ways to establish and nurture partnerships with them?


All Statistics mentioned in this blog are from the Institute for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC), the Democracy Collaborative, and the Center for American Progress (CAP)


Photo Courtesy of MCH Strategic Data


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