Let’s ask ourselves: what could the 43 million Americans living in poverty accomplish if they had a plausible path to the middle class? How much more competitive would our country be if we unleashed the full economic potential of every neighborhood and community.
During my first few weeks as LISC CEO, I have had the privilege of seeing my team working with organizations and individuals across the country in pursuit of these goals. From Philadelphia to Richmond; from Chicago to Peoria ... big cities, small cities, rural communities, north and south.
What I saw was remarkable. It was comprehensive community transformation at work. Preservation of affordable housing; equipping our neighbors to secure good paying jobs; financing the construction of quality affordable childcare; and rehabbing recreational and sports fields were among the efforts underway in these neighborhoods.
None of this work is quick. None of it is easy. But the progress is clear.
For the last several years, I served the Commonwealth of Virginia, leading efforts to attract businesses and jobs that bolstered the state’s economy. We were pleased with our results. But most gains went to more affluent parts of the state. We struggled to bring commercial investment to coal country, to farming communities and to inner-city neighborhoods.
That’s what LISC does. We fill those gaps in ways that other approaches can’t. A quick scan of last week’s news proves the point.
I’m energized by a new study that shows how our network of 80 Financial Opportunity Centers helps people build skills and credit, find jobs and save for the future.
I’m excited about our new ‘AA’ credit rating from S&P Global and its acknowledgement of LISC’s strong lending portfolio, growing assets and sustained community impact. The rating will help us attract even more capital to places long overlooked by the private market.
And I’m humbled by the fierce conviction of our extraordinary staff that, with the right partners, programs and capital, we can help communities become high-opportunity places where people flourish.
LISC doesn’t do any of this alone, of course. Community-based organizations, municipal agencies, anchor institutions, investors and funders are all critical to the equation. Their support—your support—is invaluable.
Which leads me to my request of you: please bring me your ideas and advice.
If you have innovative plans on the drawing board, I want to hear about them. If we are missing opportunities or clinging to programs that don’t work, tell me.
Together, we must fuel real change that’s relevant for the 21st century. Community development has to do more; LISC must raise the bar, right now and into the future.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maurice A. Jones, President & CEO, LISC
Prior to joining LISC, Maurice was the Secretary of Commerce for the Commonwealth of Virginia, where he managed 13 state agencies focused on the economic needs in his native state. Before that, he was second in command at the U.S. Dept. of HUD, serving as deputy secretary in charge of operations. He has also been Commissioner of Virginia’s Dept. of Social Services and Deputy Chief of Staff to then-Gov. Mark Warner. At the U.S. Treasury Dept. during the Clinton Administration, he managed the CDFI fund. His private sector experience includes top positions at the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, a Richmond law firm and a private philanthropy investing in community-based efforts to benefit children in Washington, D.C.