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No One Size Fits All: Organizing Around Equitable Development

Equitable development takes on many forms in communities and organizations across the country. Many are just starting out this work, building a framework that aligns with their area’s values and priorities (here’s our framework for how cities are approaching the equity imperative) while others are further along, tapping into national partners for data and implementation needs (here’s our list of who’s who in support for equitable development planning).

Across the spectrum, no one size fits all. The approach one takes to accomplishing equitable development work depends solely on the nature of the community. How broad and how impactful your equity efforts will be dependent on the existing capacity of your community, be it financial resources or political will. A community that encourages collaboration will seek a cross-sector approach that includes a diverse perspectives in decision-making. In other communities, pressing issues around transportation or small business warrant a more issue-specific approach that prioritizes seeing the issue through an equity lens.

Whether large or small, rural or urban, here are a few models found in our research to consider:

City Level Approaches Equitable development at the city level is anchored most often by a government agency and led by progressive mayoral and city leadership. These “City Equity Offices” are creating strategic plans to help departments become more intentional about distributing government resources to support community organizations focused on addressing structural barriers. Austin, Texas’ Equity Office is one example of an office emphasizing internal cultural shifts to address implicit bias in local governance and build capacity for local equity collaborations. County and Regional Levels

Equitable development takes on an entirely different form when approached at a county, regional (and even state) level. At the core of this approach is cross-sector partnership. For example, regional and state entities can leverage relationships with the private sector to support local equity goals. Organizations like Wake County Economic Development in Raleigh, North Carolina are engaging with business leaders to better understand how to support and promote economic mobility for targeted growth areas and vulnerable communities.

Foundations as Catalysts

Foundations within communities are shifting focus, moving beyond being just fiscal agents. More and more often, they are also serving as communicators, conveners and catalysts for equity work. The Seattle Foundation is aligning with Seattle’s Equity Plan and creating programs like the Civic Leadership Fund, Center for Community Partnerships, and the Healthy Communities Fund. These programs make investments in collective-impact and neighborhood initiative incubation models that drive action and lead to systems change.

Issue-specific and Organization-Led

Nonprofit and mission-driven organizations are always important allies in advancing equity work, as they work on the ground in the community, and can be pivotal allies to local governments. CO+HOOTS, a co-working community in Phoenix, Arizona, is an example of an organization responding to the disparities that exists as the City increases its innovation and tech capacity. The inclusion initiative seeks to increase ethnically diverse companies by partnering with local nonprofits serving disadvantaged populations and providing scholarships to entrepreneurs in these communities as well as discounted membership and free co-working spaces.


Central to equity work are local residents and communities, particularly those most impacted by unfair policies, programs and practices. OneDC (Organizing Neighborhood Equity), a grassroots organization serving Shaw and the District in Washington, DC, provides a unique model for equity work - one that puts power in the hands of local residents. OneDC’s resident-led efforts are centered around a shared leadership and non-hierarchical governance system that encourages consensus building, transparency and participatory democracy. This approach has led to successful advocacy and community organizing campaigns, a resident-led workforce and job center in an underserved community and many negotiated community benefit agreements.

Assessing which approach fits your equitable development planning is not an easy task. Yet, with the right help, you can find the right process and discover new ways of collaborating,

What is working for you in your community? Let us know!


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