A pathway to breaking the seemingly inextricable link between ZIP code and life chances
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to combating the reasons people remain in poverty in the US. This is because of the complexity stemming from the correlation between life chances and where someone is born and raised. Research shows that the socioeconomic circumstances of an individual’s birthplace and upbringing determine their access to resources and opportunities and, ultimately, their outcomes in adulthood. In short, too often, geography determines destiny. This pattern plays out at the regional level – for instance, the rural South contains the majority of US counties with child poverty rates above 40% – and also holds true for neighborhoods, where generations of systemic racism have deepened inequities and prevented countless people of color from achieving their full potential.
We recognize this seemingly inextricable relationship between ZIP codes and socioeconomic mobility and the important role of place in propelling an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, Blue Meridian’s Place Matters portfolio invests in comprehensive opportunity pathways informed by evidence-based strategies. These local efforts are implemented and achieved through collective action, most often in the form of place-based partnerships. Place-based partnerships are community-driven, outcomes-focused initiatives that create cradle-to-career opportunities and serve as the first cornerstone of our Place Matters investing strategy.
We aim to accelerate the success of place-based partnerships through what we call Catalytic Supports, a comprehensive ecosystem of key tools and resources, such as planning, technology, and data collection and analysis. Leaders on the ground can access these resources to improve results and hone their efforts over time. These investments also help lay the groundwork for connecting future capital with the promising work happening in communities across the nation. However, significant public and private investment is still needed to hasten an equitable recovery, achieve sustained results, and improve life trajectories. At Blue Meridian Partners, we are eager to aggregate upfront national investment with regional and local dollars and then leverage that to unlock the sustained public and private funding required to achieve impact at scale in these communities.
Our Place Matters strategy builds on our multi-year experience investing in and learning from place-based efforts in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Guilford County, North Carolina. Our regional Partner, George Kaiser Family Foundation, has spearheaded the Birth through Eight Strategy for Tulsa, which provides a continuum of care for families and children from pre-conception to age eight in Tulsa County. Meanwhile, in Guilford County, we have partnered with The Duke Endowment to support the Get Ready Guilford Initiative, which accelerates existing local efforts to improve early childhood outcomes like healthy births, infant/toddler development, and school readiness.
Since the fall of 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve taken early learnings from these two partnerships, combined with our team’s deep collective experience in the place-based field, and invested in a dozen place-based partnerships. These regionally-focused partnerships span from California to the Carolinas and position place as the nexus of progress, designing and implementing solutions that are tailored to a particular community’s assets and needs. We chose place-based partnerships because all the community partners focus their individual work on shared goals and identify ways to achieve greater impact together through programs and policies. For example, we’re supporting UP Partnership in San Antonio to help realize their plan to increase postsecondary enrollment of Bexar County high school graduates in a degree or credential program to 70% by 2030. We have also invested in Seeding Success in Memphis as they work to design, build, and sustain cradle-to-career systems that improve economic and social mobility for every child in Shelby County. And in Oakland, we have partnered with three organizations – Oakland Promise, Oakland Thrives, and UpTogether – to invest in young people and families through capital, education, and policy reform. More recently, we expanded to include investments in neighborhood-focused place-based partnerships, such as REACH Riverside in Wilmington, Delaware. All of these partnerships, whether regional or neighborhood, are led by exemplary leaders who determine what resources their communities need and craft their own visions while holding themselves accountable to achieve transformational and sustained outcomes.
Now, two years in, we have committed over $200 million across the entire Place Matters portfolio. This funding draws upon capital pooled by all our Partners as well as anchor funding from General Partner Ballmer Group. Together, Blue Meridian and Ballmer Group seek to leverage the power of place to increase access to opportunity and improve economic and social mobility for children and families nationwide. But national change requires local action – which is why we consider the Place Matters portfolio central to our overall investing strategy. As we look towards the future, we are excited to continue partnering with other philanthropists and local foundations to aggregate capital for place-based partnerships and their supporting ecosystem.
Place-based work offers a powerful and underutilized avenue to improve the life trajectories of young people and families in poverty, especially when we amplify the evidence-based solutions that local leaders can adapt to achieve lasting, community-wide impact.
Spotlight on Recent Events
Events hosted recently by two Catalytic Supports organizations in the Place Matters portfolio helped to build relationships and foster shared learning for the place-based field.
William Julius Wilson Institute
William Julius Wilson Institute hosted “Power of Place: A Gathering of Leaders” in Washington, DC, in July – this gathering brought together hundreds of cross-sector leaders, practitioners, and policymakers working to drive social and economic mobility through a place-based lens for our country’s most vulnerable children and families.
“This is not the end, it’s not even the beginning of the end – this is the end of the beginning. We’re now poised to do something that’s going to revolutionize what’s happening in this country.”
– Geoffrey Canada, Founder
StriveTogether hosted “What Unites Us: Their Future. Our Work.” in Chicago, IL in September – a cradle-to-career network convening for local and national leaders breaking down barriers and changing systems for more than 14 million youth, including more than 8 million children of color.
“Our systems are only as good as the outcomes that they produce – so we will always measure and seek to improve outcomes for children and families. If they are not better off, we are not succeeding.”
– Jennifer Blatz, President & CEO