Neighborhood leaders and grassroots groups in Cleveland now have a new tool for making positive change on the local level. Last week saw the launch of ioby Cleveland, the Buckeye-based local headquarters of our national nonprofit crowd-resourcing platform. ioby, which stands for “in our backyards,” works to connect local leaders with resources like cash, volunteer power, and social capital in order to make neighborhoods safer, greener, more livable, and more fun.
Using ioby, citizen leaders across the country have already raised more than $2.3 million in citizen philanthropy for projects that range from community compost programs to pop-up bike lanes, from playground improvements to public murals. Although our platform is open to anyone in the US with a good idea for their neighborhood, our mission is to focus specifically on communities that historically lack access to certain resources.
We believe that neighborhoods should be shaped by the powerful good ideas of people living in them, and that leading or participating in a project in your own backyard can be a transformative experience. According to ioby’s new Cleveland-based Action Strategist Indigo Bishop, a native Clevelander, that shift in thinking is key: “The stories people hear about Cleveland are often not too good, so I’m excited to start using ioby’s national platform to tell the stories of our amazing leaders and projects. I want people to see Cleveland in a different way—including some Clevelanders!”
ioby now has offices in Brooklyn, Memphis, Detroit, and Cleveland, with plans to expand to Pittsburgh and Washington, DC later this year. So how do we decide which communities to focus on?
The launch of ioby Cleveland follows nearly a year of research we call “Phase 0.” We believe there is no off-the-shelf solution for building neighbor-led change in a given community; each city and neighborhood has its own unique history, opportunities, challenges, and civic landscape. Through deep research and dozens of conversations with community residents and leaders across sectors, we can better understand how our platform and services can contribute to the citizen-led work already taking place. That way we can make sure we are adding to, rather than duplicating or competing with local groups.
First, we look for a set of basic criteria. We want to work in places where there has been a history of disinvestment and where people of color make up a high portion of the population. We also look closely at the civic sector, seeking out places in which civic leaders are interested in taking an innovative approach to supporting community-led projects; value authentic civic engagement and are interested in building leadership capacity within communities; and want to achieve and measure social, economic and public health outcomes as components of a long-term vision for sustainability.
Beyond these criteria, we look at a few additional factors to help us understand the opportunities and challenges in a neighborhood. This understanding lends us a more nuanced sense of the civic landscape and helps us refine our approach and identify potential partners. We ask:
- Is there a strong attachment to place among residents? Do residents demonstrate a sense of ownership of and belonging to their city, including knowledge of history and services; social ties; and a sense of security, hope and pride?
- Is there a cooperative environment that encourages collaboration among organizations, where collaboration is born out of a mutually enforced creative or strategic ethos rather than from an external force like a funder?
- Does the local government have strong ties to the social sector, either through interpersonal relationships or formal partnerships?
- Is there a high demand for services, including unincorporated or informal networks of leaders who could benefit from ioby’s fiscal sponsorship and capacity-building support?
- Is there project area alignment, meaning leaders in the social sector who are engaging in areas of work that ioby supports (e.g. placemaking, tactical urbanism, food, safer streets, etc.)?
- Are there strong community development organizations that act as intermediaries for directing funds from city government to the neighborhoods?
- Is there a higher than average participation in charitable giving?
- Is there a citywide sustainability plan with which ioby can help align citizen-led projects?
While we don’t require a strong “Yes!” in every category, in general the more positive the findings, the more likely our platform and services will be seen as a valuable asset to citizen leaders. In Cleveland, we took a close look at the Greater Buckeye neighborhoods as well as the city as a whole, and found many of these characteristics were strong, particularly in project area alignment and charitable giving.
With this research, and with the guidance of invaluable partners such as the Saint Luke’s Foundation, Neighborhood Partners, and Neighborhood Connections, we are excited to work in tandem with, and support, ongoing citizen leadership in Cleveland.
If you’re a Clevelander with a good idea for your neighborhood, please tell us about it at ioby.org/idea. Or you can contact Indigo Bishop of ioby Cleveland at 216-930-4030 or firstname.lastname@example.org.