Open Society Foundations Launches Open Places Initiative

Five Louisville nonprofits were collectively awarded $100,000 from the Open Society Foundations to jointly design a plan to build Louisville’s civic capacity by developing community leaders to engage city residents through voting, developing solutions to community problems, and holding elected officials accountable. The planning grant is part of the foundation’s new Open Places Initiative, which aims to increase the capacity of local nonprofits and communities to bring about lasting systemic change relating to equity, justice, and democratic practice.

The Louisville team consists of the ACLU of Kentucky, the Fairness Campaign, the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, and Network Center for Community Change.

Nonprofits in seven other regions across the country also won planning grants. Each site will determine the priorities it will address and propose a multi-issue, multi-faceted plan for building the region’s capacity to bring about long-term change. In late 2013, the foundation will award implementation grants to three to five sites with funding of up to $1 million per year for a minimum of three years and potentially, a full decade.

“To us civic capacity means the direct involvement of more individuals shaping our city. We want to engage folks in the process and develop their leadership skills so they are creating the change they want to see in Louisville,” said ACLU of Kentucky executive director Michael Aldridge. “With this grant, five Kentucky organizations with deep local knowledge and expertise can work together in new ways to make Louisville a better place.”

The planning grant will be used to map out an action plan to create a Louisville where good jobs exist that don’t harm communities; where transportation and infrastructure supports all residents; where schools work for all children; where everyone enjoys a healthy quality of life; where all voices are valued and included in defining the community in which we live; and where leadership development occurs in every neighborhood.

In addition to the five Louisville nonprofits, planning grants went to collaborations of organizations in; Buffalo, New York; Denver, Colorado; Jackson, Mississippi; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; San Diego, California; and Puerto Rico.

“There are fundamental changes occurring in local communities across the country—budgetary, demographic, technological, and otherwise. Local leadership and knowledge are the starting points in developing the necessary tools and capacities to manage these changes in ways that further local equity and justice interests,” said Ken Zimmerman, director of U.S. Programs at the Open Society Foundations. “We congratulate the groups that won planning grants. They have great potential to chart a new course.”

By gaining new skills, increasing civic capacity, and expanding local and national relationships, the Open Society Foundations expects the final Open Places sites to develop more innovative and coordinated approaches to address local challenges for the long-term. The Open Places sites’ successes and failures will provide lessons for replication in other cities, regions, and states.