Surveying Our Starting Point

The Delaware Community Foundation (DCF), since its inception in 1986, has been dedicated to improving the lives of Delawareans.  Despite efforts to increase and strategically disburse funding to reduce inequities, the needle has not moved.  Delaware is marked by significant and troubling inequities.  They are evident across all measures:  education, employment, health, housing, safety, and justice.  The racial disparities are glaring.  Given this landscape, the DCF recharged its commitment and created the Community Equity Project fellowship.

Knowing that factors associated with inequities and the path forward varies greatly across the state, the DCF decided to pilot its Community Equity Project fellowship process in Wilmington, Delaware’s largest city, building on the recent work of Prosperity Now.  Prosperity Now, a national leader in addressing financial inequities, completed its Racial Wealth Divide in Wilmington publication in March 2019.  This is the landscape of the City of Wilmington where we started our focused, intentional journey toward equity.

Convening The Team

Knowing the terrain ahead was treacherous and the roadblocks deeply rooted, the DCF sought a partner to help design the journey, and collaborated with Social Contract, a local, trusted consulting group.  Social Contract was well known and had strong relationships with individuals and organizations working in the equity space.  Together, the DCF and Social Contract developed a process to engage equity leaders, sent out an invitation to apply, convened an interview team, conducted round robin interviews, and selected a cohort with a diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, and expertise related to equity.

The interview team included thought leaders, stakeholders, and change agents.

Social Contract helps local communities solve complex social problems.

We partner with philanthropic and government leaders invested in solving a specific social problem, in a specific community. By deploying local service providers, national allies, and expert facilitation strategies, we gain clarity on the problem, and help existing stakeholders catalyze their collective impact. In this way, Social Contract empowers communities to change the pace of change.

At Social Contract, we lead existing community stakeholders towards focus, consensus and ultimately progress on solving their community’s most challenging social challenge. We do this through three concrete approaches; and the result is high-functioning collaboratives prepared to forge a new, sustainable path forward.


Overview: Community Equity Project 

The Delaware Community Foundation (DCF), in partnership with Social Contract, is pleased to convene the Community Equity Project (CEP). The CEP will bring together a cohort of up to 10 leaders with experience addressing equity issues. This cohort will establish consensus with the community and each other on a shared vision and roadmap for increasing equity in Wilmington.  

A focus on equity is crucial to building opportunity for all. The promise of prosperity is at the core of the country’s founding and yet, there is much evidence showing us that for far too many people, the American Dream is just that — a dream. There is a growing opportunity gap – an ever-increasing imbalance in the opportunities people have to succeed. The reality is that many Delawareans start with so few opportunities and face so many challenges that they have little to no chance of achieving educational and economic success, no matter how hard they work. 

The DCF is addressing this social inequity by creating a new opportunity for community leaders who are passionate about the issue of equity.  The group will dialogue together and, building in insights from the broader community, the cohort will ultimately define a shared vision and set of priorities capable of moving the needle on equity in our community. 

What does our community mean when we say increase equity?  Where should funders focus their attention? What are the most promising equity strategies that will move the needle in Delaware? How can we collaborate to activate and scale these winning strategies?  

In 2019, rather than making modest grants to projects focused on equity, the DCF will direct a portion of its discretionary dollars to supporting this cohort who will come together and build shared answers to these questions.  Through this new approach, the DCF will look to the perspective and expertise of the community, rather than trying to define how to address equity on its own. The learnings from this project will inform the DCF’s overall strategy and future grantmaking to most meaningfully move the needle on equity. 

Through this experience, the cohort will learn each other’s perspective and history, listen and learn from lived experience and local voices, and ultimately define what we hope to be true here in Wilmington and best practices or innovative strategies that might get us there. 

“This is equity: just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. (The Equity Manifesto, PolicyLink) 

The Approach 

The CEP will offer a dynamic, collaborative learning experience for a small group of leaders focused on equity. The cohort will engage the community to establish a clear picture of what a more equitable Wilmington looks like, feels like, and will require of all of us.  

Throughout the experience, the leaders will build a shared vision of what is possible, then in partnership with the community they will design actionable strategies related to that vision. They will develop an implementation plan and budget for how to make their vision a reality.  Ultimately, our hope is this cohort will serve as the catalyst for ongoing, sustainable change in Wilmington, and this work will help inform DCF’s longer-term strategy related to building equitable communities.  

  • Community Support: In recognition of the time and commitment of each participant, small grants in the amount of $2,500 will be made to organizations addressing equity issues in Wilmington. Each participant will have the opportunity to recommend a grantee organization. 
  • Collaboration: Cohort will engage in facilitated sessions over five months, working to form a collective vision and strategy around what change will look like. 
  • Leadership: Participants will have access to local and national leaders at the forefront of their area of expertise to learn from strategies proven to drive lasting change. 
  • Funding Opportunities: Leaders will have the opportunity to share their collective solutions with potential funders at the end of the project. 
Who Should Apply? 

The Community Equity Project is designed for established or emerging leaders that are actively addressing issues of equity in Wilmington. The experience is best suited for stakeholders with expertise in tackling social inequity, and hungry for deeper collaboration to maximize our collective ability to drive progress in this area.  We will seek a balance across different approaches to addressing equity, and will consider the depth and complexity of experiences and perspectives applicants bring to the mix.  

A committee of Delaware leaders with relevant expertise will review applications, participate in candidate interviews, and provide recommendations to the DCF using an agreed upon criteria for judging the merits of each candidate. The review committee includes: 

  • Cerron Cade, Secretary, Delaware Department of Labor 
  • Paul Herdman, President & CEO, Rodel 
  • Margie Lopez-Waite, Head of School, Las Américas ASPIRA Academy 
  • Tamara Smith, Executive Director, Teach for America Delaware 
  • Kara Walker, Secretary, Delaware Department of Health and Social Services 
March Applications due March 22   
April Interviews held April 11 or 12 (Applicants are asked to let us know as soon as possible if they will not be available either of these dates.)    Participants Announced by April 19   
May – June 
Discovery Phase (Commitment: 7.5 hours)
  Leaders will attend three 2.5 hour-long sessions, and commit to up to 5 hours of additional time engaged in community interviews and focus groups. 
  Session 1 – Discovery: May 2, 8:30 AM – 11:00 AM 
Session 2 – Vision: May 16, 8:30 AM – 11:00 AM 
Session 3 – Priorities: June 6, 8:30 AM – 11:00 AM 
Make-up Scoping Session: June 28, 8:30 AM – 11:00 AM           
(Participants also must be available June 28 as a makeup date in case a scheduled session has to be rescheduled.)   
July – August Defining Shared Strategies for Impact (Commitment: 20 hours)  Day long “design sprints” that will establish group clarity on its most promising “breakthrough solutions.” We will engage national and local voices in these design sprints to help define clear, viable pathways to impact. 
First Full Day Retreat: July 18  
Second Full Day Retreat: August 8  
Leaders can expect up to 4 hours of cohort check-ins during this window to begin synthesizing and prioritizing information derived from each sprint. 
September  Synthesis Phase (Commitment: 6 hours)  The final product generated from the work of this group will be a presentation for funders. This could entail up to 6 hours of preparation with expected additional time for presentation.    
October – December 
Sharing, Funding & Implementation  As appropriate, leaders will have opportunities to share their proposal with funders and the broader community, and will ideally begin implementation.    

Social Contract facilitated a process of team building, discovery, and design.  Over five months, the Community Equity Fellows, as they became known, shared insights, challenged assumptions, and examined data.  They engaged in conversation with local and national experts as well as tested ideas and sought input from their networks.  They entered the fellowship with diverse lived experiences and extensive knowledge from various disciplines and expertise.  Yet, they shared a common starting point:  equity cannot be pursued through the current structure and processes.  The Community Equity Fellows acknowledged that inequity is the result of and perpetuated across four primary levels:  policy, organizational, community, and individual.  The fellows worked in smaller groups, or discovery teams, to examine issues of inequity and to explore critical elements and effective examples of efforts to move toward equity at each level. 

The work of the fellows is summarized in four additional briefs.

  1. Developing an Equity Lens describes the fellows’ work to define equity, and to understand and adopt an equity perspective.
  2. Empowering Communities provides an overview of the centrality of communities in the journey toward equity and offers recommendations for placing communities and their work at the forefront of the equity journey. 
  3. Restructuring for Impact focuses on the organizational changes necessary to transform structures and processes to support and ensure equity.
  4. Institutionalizing Equity addresses the changes necessary in public awareness and education as well as in policies and law to shift toward equity.

Although the Community Equity Project fellowship has ended, the fellows continue to work toward equity in a variety of ways.  They reconvene to check in, share ideas, discuss current issues, and brainstorm on ways to continue to promote and work toward equity.  The DCF continues to rely on the fellows for guidance in its equity work.  Social Contract conducted feedback interviews with the fellows and clearly the experience was satisfying.  The report summarizes the feedback in a list of key takeaways:

  1. Highest value for fellows and the DCF were relationships made, growth in personal and professional networks, and self-realization about how to move the needle on equity.
  2. Facilitation was effective and strong.
  3. Greater clarity was needed in several areas to support the process. Who is the audience? What is our specific charge? What is the actual timeline/end date? What are the funders’ goals? What will they do with our recommendations?
  4. At the point when implementation planning began, initial commitment from the fellows was met and they should have been given a clear option to assist with implementation or not.
  5. As a next step, the DCF needs to open this agenda up to a broader audience of funders to foster a deeper commitment to the recommendations.
  6. Provide more and ongoing opportunities to interact with stakeholders and key decision makers (DCF board, other funders, advisors, corporate leaders, leaders from local government.).
  7. Provide more training around next steps/implementation: “Where do we go from here?” We need to enable fellows and funders to present the recommendations within the community.
  8. A majority of fellows felt that they should have been paid rather than their organizations
  9. Consider narrowing the topic. Equity is very large, we should have pared down to “racial wealth equity” sooner.
  10. Several fellows expressed some frustration about the lack of clarity around next steps. However, they remain committed to taking the work forward themselves and as a group.

The fellows would recommend that their colleagues participate in a similar fellowship and that other foundations offer a community equity fellowship.  And, in their own words, the fellows benefitted from the experience. 

We had a great group who were willing to challenge typical ideas about how to reach equity in a city. It was fun challenging my own ideas and those of others. There was a diversity of thought which was intellectually stimulating. I came in with low expectations about the process but I found myself looking forward to meetings. We had open conversations. While we weren’t always in consensus, we questioned processes and approaches to ultimately achieve what we wanted to achieve.

This experience gave me the chance to think about really moving the needle on equity. It gave us the space to step back from our everyday work, think about that, and make concrete recommendations.

The Fellowship offered me a rare opportunity to think big picture about how to make our community more equitable. It also moved me outside of my comfort zone and I met people from different walks of life.

The Fellowship gave me the opportunity to go deeper into my thinking about racial equity in broad terms. I was able to understand others’ mindsets behind the many approaches to equity, and gain an inside look into how people come up with their ideas about it and how to achieve it. I learned that people’s backgrounds have a huge impact on their approach to shaping solutions. This work really drove that point home.

One of the most exciting aspects of this Fellowship was the idea that equity could become a central lens for organizing change. You don’t have to be a genius to understand that the equity inequalities in Wilmington are a source of personal difficulty and challenges and barriers, but also undermine the long time viability and sustainability of the city as a whole. So looking at this and addressing equity seems like a great goal to me.

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