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Anchoring the academy to enhance community wellbeing

by Lars Boggild Vice President, Finance for Good

“Canadian universities and colleges annually
spent $37 billion dollars.”

Post secondary institutions often speak to their deep roots, take pride in their founding history and believe strongly in the culture of tenure. This highlights an important feature, that universities last, anchoring a huge variety of resources in the communities that surround them. For example, in 2009, the last year for which there’s data available, Canadian universities and colleges annually spent $37 billion dollars. Scholars and students create an unusual pool of talent. As procurers, investors, employers, and educators, post secondary institutions bring great resources to offer their communities. We should seriously look at how that permanence and remarkable collection of financial and human capital could be better deployed locally, to make whole Canadian communities greater than the sum of their parts. This is referred to as the “anchor mission” of institutions.

“What would opportunities that allow universities to further their academic missions while contributing to community wealth look like?”

There is a strong case for universities to better deliver on an anchor mission for their home communities. Between globalization, inequality, and the growth of the service sector (e.g. food services), more economic activity and opportunities for community wealth building have become fundamentally local. Meanwhile, considering the significant public transfers universities receive, which were 55% of their revenue in 2009, we should consider whether we’re achieving the greatest value-for-money for those resources. What would opportunities that allow universities to further their academic missions while contributing to community wealth look like?
One frequently used example is that of Evergreen Cooperatives. This Cleveland based initiative is an innovative collaboration between the Cleveland Foundation, the municipality, and anchor institutions, such as Case Western University, to leverage $3 Billion of annual purchasing to create stable employment in large-scale worker-owned cooperatives. What would it look like for your local university to collaborate with local philanthropists to make markets for community-based enterprises?
Moving beyond just financial capital, more institutions are looking to create channels for community-based research. The Research Shop at Guelph University provides a venue through which graduate student interns help to mobilize knowledge and contribute to frontline service change in a “rapid response” format. This actually starts to enable scholarly insight to support decision-making by meeting the community where it is at, and the growing capacity for community-based research is a promising trend in this direction.

In my own field of impact investing, we’re increasingly seeing academic centres of excellence serve to create the institutional capacity for innovation by locally embedding student fellows. The Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center is acting as a key hub for local impact investing activity in Salt Lake County through student fellowships. Equally, the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Data Science Fellowships at the University of Chicago are allowing cutting edge data science to be deployed for the public good in a way unlikely without this high-quality, temporary human capacity. While often focused on “big data” challenges, what would it look like if we used the tremendous talent of universities to bring insight to the “small data” throughout our communities?
There’s tremendous possibility for Canadian universities to leverage their long-term, place-based resources to effect transformative change within their local communities—and RECODE could be a catalyst. If you’re looking for a place to get started that builds from the best, check out the Anchor Dashboard to assess how well your institution is holistically delivering on an anchor mission.

Lars Boggild is a VP for Finance for Good in Toronto, one of Canada’s leading voices on Social Impact Bonds, Outcomes-based contracting, and Social Finance. He’s a frequent advisor on social finance topics across sectors, and has been invited to present as an expert practitioner to organizations such as the Province of Ontario, the House of Commons, and the Institute for Public Administration of Canada.

Connect with him on Twitter @FinanceforGood / @lboggild and on LinkedIn.

Jan 14, 2016 | Tags: ,