The Importance of Context in the Social Sector

I spend a great deal of time traveling to communities throughout Northeast Ohio and more broadly the state. At each stop along the way I engage in conversations with nonprofit and philanthropic leaders who are both deeply passionate and deeply concerned about how to best improve their communities through individual and collective effort. As each conversation unfolds, I hear of unique and powerful stories of how a foundations have jointly funded a successful social enterprise start-up or how nonprofits have partnered to create efficiencies by sharing back door services. 

While sector professionals throughout the state are all seeking to address similar issues, such as education, employment, heath, etc., the way in which they fund, and speak about these topics is quite different and is closely linked to their local context. In Columbus for example, understanding the powerful role of corporate philanthropies in shaping funding priorities is essential in that context. Whereas in Cleveland the evolving definition of economic development is impacting funding for community development.   Deeply understanding local context allows sector professionals to develop programs, services and funding streams in a targeted way. But it also serves another purpose; it enables them to appropriately assess how best practice models and more generalized research from outside the local community might be applied to the issues that they are seeking to address.

In all of this local communities are desperately in need to data.  Additionally, uncovering its impact on their communities can serve as a powerful decision making and investment tool. As Foundation Center deepens its regional efforts, helping to provide this data and facilitating sector conversations about it will be a primary focus.  In doing so, we can sector professionals bridge the gap between their local context and the resources needed to address pressing social needs.

As always, be focused on knowledge, innovation and impact!


John Patrick Bailey, Ph.D.