Price Center convenes global experts to ‘activate markets for social change’

April 26, 2016

From left: keynote speaker Michael McAfee of PolicyLink; Denise Fairchild of Emerald Cities Collaborative; Price Center Director Gary Painter; and USC Dornsife Professor Manuel Pastor (All photos by Tom Queally) More photos from the conference are available on Flickr »

By Matthew Kredell

The USC Price Center for Social Innovation (CSI) hosted a multidisciplinary and international group of scholars and practitioners April 14 and 15 for a comprehensive discussion on “Activating Markets for Social Change.”

The two-day conference at USC focused on innovating market-based and public-private solutions to reconnect networks of opportunity in communities that have experienced decades of disinvestment and concentrated poverty.

“This annual conference shines a light on the persistence of inequality and illuminates innovative and proven strategies,” said USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott in his welcome. “This commitment and approach make manifest the vision of the Price family and the mission of the Price School to improve the quality of life for people and their communities.”

Concerted effort to develop solutions

USC Provost Michael Quick

USC Provost Michael Quick

USC Provost Michael Quick added that USC has always stood side by side with its community, and now more than ever needs to be a partner with the community to “lift all boats.”

“I have challenged our entire community to think about the wicked problems, the hard but intractable problems of the day, because if a university with USC’s great resources isn’t contributing to the solutions of those intractable problems, we’re not stepping up,” Quick said. “I can’t think of any problem more intractable than the one you are going to be talking about around these areas of poverty.”

It was the third in a series of annual conferences held by the USC Price Center for Social Innovation, following conferences on ending urban poverty and prioritizing place.

“We have communities with high levels of concentrated poverty because disinvestment has not happened simply by accident,” said Gary Painter, director of social policy at Price CSI. “There were deliberate choices both in the policy arena and private sector; and we’re here today because we know that growing up in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty affects the trajectories of children.”

Michael McAfee from the Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink set the context with his keynote speech on seeking population-level change. He noted that 16.5 million children are living in poverty in America. McAfee urged attendees to think of strategies that will reach scale by serving at least 50 percent of the demand in their communities.

“We have a huge threat to our nation if we don’t get this right,” McAfee said. “We have an opportunity to do great work. We know what works in this community, and what works across the country. Now the question is: Can we put it together in the right community context with the right leaders staying focused for the long term?”

Improving land, adding public revenue

Price Professor Marlon Boarnet, right, with panelist Fred Silva of California Forward

USC Price Professor Marlon Boarnet moderated a panel on capturing the private value created by public investment. Local governments have an opportunity to mobilize their greatest resource – land – with financing tools to capture some of the windfall income that landowners gain from public investments in infrastructure, planning and land-use regulation, to use for the benefit of the community at large.

Martim Smolka from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy framed the topic with his paper on value capture’s successes in Latin America through charges for extraordinary building rights, land banking and land leasing, land readjustment, property tax, and transfer of development rights.

Panelists Robert Cervero, a professor at University of California, Berkeley, and Fred Silva of California Forward also shared their insights at the discussion. Cervero pointed out that Inglewood is in a prime spot to capture value from the economic activity that will be happening over the next four years with the NFL stadium and surrounding mixed-use development.

Silva noted how his research on ways to finance public transport and housing using value-capture principals revealed key prerequisites — an area of traffic congestion to increase benefits of living near transit and a strong real-estate market. He added that transit agencies in the U.S. need to be given the freedom to be more entrepreneurial like their counterparts in Hong Kong and Tokyo.

“This is an interesting panel because what we’re pointing out is that a lot of our concern about benefits and public resources not flowing into communities of need can be traced in part to the fact that we don’t have a financing instrument that builds a nexus between the value that’s accruing into land and the way we can fund programs,” Boarnet said.

Revitalizing urban communities

Robert Price, president of Price Philanthropies (center), with David Edwards of Purpose Built Communities (left) and Anthony Iton of the California Endowment

Robert Price, president of Price Philanthropies, which provided the naming gift for the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy and established the Sol Price Center for Social Innovation in 2011, participated in a panel on comprehensive community initiatives.

The Price family has worked in the San Diego community of City Heights for 20 years, collaborating with the City of San Diego and other partners to provide redevelopment, social services support and mentoring to the community, with a focus on youth.

“I think one of the things we’ve done best there is we’ve been a catalyst, because we invested first almost like a venture capitalist,” Price said. “We were prepared to put our money in the community, and what has happened since then is that many other investors have come into the community to provide very important services.”

Salin Geevarghese from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported that comprehensive community change in the United States has been mixed, with successes such as City Heights but also models ending up becoming more expensive with fewer efficiencies gained.

Research shows that most of the variation in upward mobility across areas is caused by differences in childhood environments. Anthony Iton of the California Endowment, a partner of Price Philanthropies in City Heights, noted that life expectancies in the state can differ from 25-30 years between neighborhoods in the same city.

To address such a challenge, David Edwards of Purpose Built Communities sees the best approach as having public and private partners entering a neighborhood with a single vision and working together.

“I think the good news is that this transformative work can be done without budgeting money,” Edwards said. “It’s really about taking existing funds and spending it together in a concentrated way where the investments are complementing each other rather than working independently.”

City Heights has a population of about 70,000, primarily immigrants. Price sees a parallel with his own grandparents coming to this country as immigrants, uneducated and without money, but finding opportunity for their children.

“The reason I’m an optimist is because of the people I’ve met in City Heights, especially the young people who are doing amazing things — mostly because of themselves,” Price said. “It’s not necessarily because of what we and other not-for-profits have done, but because the resilience of these young people when they’re given half a chance is remarkable.”

Exploring new approaches

Greta Hansen, who oversees the Impact Litigation and Social Justice Section of the Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office, and Chris Fox of Manchester Metropolitan University

A panel focusing on how state and regional tax approaches can be used to ensure a more equitable sharing of resources featured moderator Jennifer Ito from the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, University of Minnesota Professor Myron Orfield as discussant, and panelists Conway Collis of Grace and Simon Levy Dabbah from the Mexico City government.

Social Impact Bonds are a promising new approach to government financing of social service programs in the face of declining public resources. Presenting on how “pay-for-success” contracts have the potential to overcome barriers to social innovation was Manchester Metropolitan University Professor Chris Fox, who joined Greta Hansen from the County of Santa Clara and Jeff Shumway of Social Finance for a panel moderated by Jessica LaBarbera of Nonprofit Finance Fund.

USC Dornsife Professor Manuel Pastor led a discussion on connecting residents of communities hardest hit by unemployment to job training and career ladders. He was joined by Jay Banfield of San Francisco Bay Area Year Up, Denise Fairchild of Emerald Cities Collaborative and Michael Peck of

Potential of Promise Zones

Alison Becker, director of the LA Promise Zone, with Dixon Slingerland, executive director of the Youth Policy Institute

Alison Becker, director of the LA Promise Zone, with Dixon Slingerland, executive director of the Youth Policy Institute

One example of comprehensive community effort includes federal involvement in Promise Zones, a White House signature initiative. Erich Yost from the U.S. HUD Office of Field Policy and Management opened the second day of the conference with a discussion that included Ray Brewer of HUD Los Angeles, Alison Becker, director of the City of Los Angeles Promise Zone, and Dixon Slingerland of the Youth Policy Institute.

Yost explained that Promise Zones are a 10-year initiative for up to 20 communities nationwide to push for place-based solutions while leveraging federal resources in a coordinated effort. Promise Zone communities receive an opportunity to engage five AmeriCorps VISTA members, a federal liaison to help navigate federal programs, tax incentives and preferences for certain federal grant programs and agencies.

Los Angeles has one of the 13 communities awarded Promise Zone designation. The area that covers the parts of Hollywood, East Hollywood, the Wilshire Corridor, Westlake and Pico-Union has 165,000 people, of which 35 percent live in poverty. In 2014, Price CSI was selected as a partner institution to help evaluate the effectiveness of spending in the Promise Zone.

“In a big city like this, we have more than 50 organizations that are actively participating in this work,” Becker said. “This notion of aligning and raising awareness and fostering environment for participation is really our main principle.”

Following the Promise Zones panel, USC Marshall Professor Adlai Wertman moderated a discussion on how social entrepreneurship can be a catalyst for social change. City University of New York Professor Thomas Lyons served as the framing paper presenter. He was joined by Rick Aubry of New Foundry Ventures and Carla Javits of REDF.

Key lessons

Esther Wee of Cathay Bank (center), with Terri Ludwig of Enterprise Community Partners (left) and Gary Painter

Painter participated in a closing panel on bringing together the themes and ideas of the conference. The panel was moderated by Price Professor Raphael Bostic and also featured Ernesto Cortes of the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation, Terri Ludwig of Enterprise Community Partners and Esther Wee of Cathay Bank.

Painter suggested allowing members of communities to envision for themselves what are the appropriate metrics of success to illustrate that networks of opportunity were reestablished. Painter also cautioned that implementation challenges need to be anticipated in collective-impact initiatives; and he encouraged organizations to have a long-range implementation plan to ensure that when prices go up faster than community benefits to local residents, it doesn’t lead to gentrification.

When asked to identify the one big idea each panelist took away from the conference, Painter pointed to the need to reboot tax sharing in California; Cortes mentioned developing people’s capacity to act on their own behalf; Wee spoke of connecting with other sectors interested in helping the community; and Ludwig suggested that she will be thinking about things such as technology that are radically changing markets for place-based work.

“I think the real celebration is in taking these ideas and themes back to our communities,” Painter said.
We have seen many actionable ideas for activating markets for social change. Let’s run with those that resonate and together take population-level responsibility for creating opportunity in our low-income, urban neighborhoods that will allow every child to realize their full potential.

Links to each panel’s framing and discussant papers are available at the Price CSI website at: