Friday, January 17, 2014

Open Society Fondations award $1.9 million to the Center for a New Economy

Buffalo, San Diego, and Puerto Rico will receive $1.9 million each over two years from the Open Society Foundations. The sites are part of the new Open Places Initiative, which aims to increase the ability of communities to work together to "secure greater justice and opportunity for their residents." The foundation anticipates funding the sites for at least three years and, in some sites, as long as ten years.

“The Open Society Foundations have a long-term interest in addressing equality, justice, and democratic practice at the local level, said Ken Zimmerman, director of U.S. Programs at the Open Society Foundations. “As part of our core belief in the importance of a robust and capable civic sector, we are excited to be helping these local communities develop their capacity to promote civic, political, and economic opportunity for all their residents. By investing in collaborations between nonprofit organizations, and supporting them in their partnerships with government, business, and community, we aim to expand their potential to pursue effective responses to the profound demographic, economic, and technological changes that are taking place throughout the country.”  

The participating groups in each Open Places site determined their own priorities and plans to catalyze local systemic change over the long term, responding to the most pressing needs of their communities.


The Buffalo group plans to engage the community in the creation of a high-road economic development strategy that will provide quality jobs for marginalized communities. It will work to reduce the flow of students into the criminal justice system through sound policy reform as well as create an arts network to engage residents and artists to advocate for a more open and inclusive Buffalo.

San Diego

In a region that is reliant on the military as a primary economic driver, this team will work to advance policies that promote social and economic stability for the region’s most vulnerable residents, specifically immigrants and people involved in the criminal justice system. It will focus on improving access to middle income jobs, advancing policies that strengthen workers’ rights, and engaging the social service sector to improve the quality of service provision by local government.

Puerto Rico

According to Open Society Foundations, as Puerto Rico is "facing very difficult social and economic situations, high unemployment, and very low labor participation rates, there is an urgent need to strengthen the civic sector." The Puerto Rico team will seek to increase equity and improve democratic practice for the most marginalized while building its capacity to advance long-term change. Its initial work will focus on increasing government transparency, creating new models to facilitate access to legal representation in civil cases, and launching initiatives to create income supports and encourage savings for low-income residents.

The Center for a New Economy currently guides the work in Puerto Rico. Its primary partners include the ACLU of Puerto Rico, the University of Puerto Rico Law Clinic, the Center for Investigative Journalism, Angel Ramos Foundation, Banco Popular Foundation, and Flamboyán Foundation.

The Open Society Foundations have long recognized that local communities have deep knowledge of the barriers and opportunities in their own region. It founded the social justice laboratory OSI-Baltimore in the late 1990s and has invested in other place-based initiatives such as the Young Men’s Initiative, addressing broad disparities facing black and Latino boys in New York, and efforts to create an open city government and engaged citizenry in New Orleans. The Foundations seek to glean lessons from the Open Places sites and incorporate these into future work in other cities, regions, and states.

“Buffalo, San Diego, and Puerto Rico have exciting plans that extend beyond their current capacities and agendas to manage both challenges and opportunities in ways that further local equity and justice,” said Diana Morris, Director of OSI-Baltimore, the field office for U.S. Programs, who is spearheading the initiative at the Foundations. “We’re proud to be working with them.”

The three Open Places sites were awarded the grants after a rigorous and competitive selection process. They, along with five other sites from around the country—including Albuquerque, New Mexico; Denver, Colorado; Jackson, Mississippi; Louisville, Kentucky; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin—were awarded planning grants in April 2013.


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