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Anchor Institutions’ Contributions to Building Inclusive Small Business Ecosystems

Anchor Institutions' Contributions to Building Inclusive Small Business Ecosystems was jointly developed by LISC and Forward Cities with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. 

For the past few years, LISC has been working with and studying examples of Anchors catalyzing small and minority business development in communities across the country. In partnership with Forward Cities, a capacity-building organization committed to building equitable entrepreneurial ecosystems across the country, and with the support of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, this report was developed to explore how different types of Anchor Institutions are leveraging their unique assets and place in their communities to foster an environment in which small businesses, especially woman and minority-owned businesses can grow and thrive.

The report, primarily written for Anchors interested in expanding their contributions to their local small business ecosystems and community stakeholders eager to engage in this conversation, spotlights different Anchor initiatives across the country, with a focus on partnerships between Anchors and traditionally under-invested communities. Intermediary organizations working at the local and national level play essential roles in convening and operationalizing these partnerships. They understand that such partnership development requires patience and an ability to discern what will motivate partners and where the contours of a shared value foundation lie.

Four primary roles of Anchors have been identified from a scan across these initiatives – investor, buyer, capacity builder, and knowledge sharer. The report contains case studies related to each role that spark conversations about lessons learned. One lesson that emerges from the case studies is the imperative to more rigorously evaluate the impacts of Anchor strategies. The report concludes with a high-level roadmap that Anchors can follow to deepen their contributions to build a more inclusive, small business ecosystem.

A Roadmap to Building Anchor Strategies

Research & Map: The first step for Anchors is to do a self-inventory of who among their organization already holds significant social capital outside its four walls that could be used to bring community stakeholders to the table. It is important for all Anchor representatives to have a thorough understanding of successful (and less successful) past collaboration projects with the community because they provide a frame of reference for future collaboration. Community stakeholders are advised to prepare for the initial meetings by researching areas in which the Anchors have demonstrated interest in the community. They should be prepared to cite basic data about local economic conditions and how negative outcomes are disproportionally borne by certain segments of the population.

Listen & Define Shared Value: The next critical step is to clearly define a shared value proposition – a statement that shows the overlap between the interests and ambitions of the community and the Anchor. This statement lays out the benefit to each party of working together on advancing their visions. Large-scale trust building is critical to establish the foundation for future work. Make sure to specify the desired return on investment to both the Anchor and the community.

Develop A Strategy: In the third phase, consider what resources and partners will be needed to bring the strategy to fruition, where to find them, and if they have the capacity and interest to work together. Outline each partner’s specific roles and responsibilities. Look at other plans and partnerships that exist to see where there is alignment, or potential competition. Create a shared value framework to present to Anchor and community leadership that identifies implementation actions for each goal, who will carry it out, and a timeline for completion.

Implement, Evaluate, & Recalibrate: Identify one (unaffected) community organization or intermediary responsible for keeping all of the organizations involved in the Anchor partnership focused on achieving their particular tasks and coordinating any adjustments that need to be made over time to the strategy. Evaluators should be appropriately resourced and given permission to share all of their findings with community members in order to cement the trust relationship that has emerged. If shared openly, the evaluation results can give rise to a constructive dialogue with the community in which programs can be re-calibrated to enhance the chances of success.

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