By: John Reed Issue: Resource Management Section: Community
Berkeley Information Center
As local governments continue tightening their belts in the face of economic realities, the prior funding to address community problems is becoming scarce. Communities are faced with finding new ways to finance solutions until the economy recovers. The Sullivan Chair for Free Enterprise at Regis University is advancing an idea for funding a variety of community projects: a Community Impact Investment. This idea attracts private funding resources from within the community and utilizes those funds within a business investment model, monetizing the solution and paying back the money. Successful execution of this approach may prove a renewable, repeatable way to answer the pervasive question of “Where’s the money?”
“We know that there are more than 535,000 locally owned businesses fueling our state's economy, and employing more than 1,632,000 Coloradoans. Local community investment is how we can leverage that investment and multiply it, creating a dramatic change in communities,” said Karl Dakin, executive director of the Sullivan Chair. “My backyard is becoming the center point for economic planning. And entrepreneurial approaches are needed. As the largest economic force within the Berkeley community, Regis University is making available the knowledge and creativity of its faculty and students to develop new economic models that are free enterprise approaches for communities,” he went on.
Work is currently underway on the pilot project Community Impact Investment—the Berkeley Information Center. The center is intended to provide a broad range of local information to the citizens of the Berkeley District of Denver, Colorado. At present, there is no single, central depository of information regarding the many recreational, professional, civic, and domestic activities needed in daily life by individuals, families and businesses within the community. The Berkeley District Merchants’ Association identified a lack of information as the major obstacle to economic development, and as a clear limitation on the district’s quality of life.
“The greatest challenge that we have as a business is getting our information out to our potential local customers. In this age of social media, the web, and other forms of information dissemination, there are too many outlets for information, all with varying degrees of credibility,” points out Dan Taylor, Merchants’ Association president. “Trying to use just a couple of these methods of communication is not only time consuming, but fails to reach a broad enough audience. What is really needed is a hub to allow access to local information and a central location to disseminate information.”
Community Impact Investment is a community development and revitalization activity that is conducted to address a community problem. Funding for the activity may be provided through a social investment model without government monies or charitable gifts. By looking to local money and providing a means for repayment, a community can achieve a level of self-determination.
The Berkeley project will use a two-stage process of planning and action. Regis University will lead the first stage supported by the Berkeley community. In the second stage, the Berkeley community will lead the start and growth of the information center, while Regis University provides support. “Working together we can build a more durable, healthy and connected local economy,” says Rebecca Saltman, project manager for the Berkeley Information Center. “The more we can do in our own backyard, the more stable our local economy will be.”
During the planning process, information will be gathered from citizens and businesses within Berkeley as to their common information needs. Information in this context could include anything from soccer game schedules and field usage, to merchant coupons, or police reports, government forms, real estate listings and virtual tours, community billboard postings, Regis University activities, and entrée to all forms of social media. After completing an inventory of all types of Berkeley community information, the citizens of Berkeley will be surveyed to determine what information is most important. Then, different delivery options will be considered based upon available technology. The Berkeley Information Center will make use of the latest Wi-Fi and smartphone systems for collection and distribution of information.
The Sullivan Chair will present the Berkeley Merchants’ Association with different funding options on January 5, 2012. The plans will provide for the operation of the center to generate revenue from which investors may be paid back. This monetization of the Berkeley Information Center may include advertising fees for banner ads, tag ads, and coupons, transactional fees on sales of products and services, subscription fees by members of the Berkeley community, and information distribution fees by government agencies. Total fees need to be sufficient to cover operational costs and recover investment dollars.
Regis University students will be integrally involved in both the planning and launch of the center so that they can learn entrepreneurship. The immersion-based educational approach allows students to learn entrepreneurship by engaging in entrepreneurial activities. “To best prepare students to enter the workforce, they must learn entrepreneurial practices for managing constant change,” stated Marilynn Force, an adjunct faculty member at Regis University and an educational consultant to the Sullivan Chair. She offered a quote by Chris Lowney from his book “Heroic Leadership,” “Only those with the deeply ingrained capacity for continuous learning and self-reflection stand a chance of surfing the waves of change successfully.” Regis University advocates this kind of surfing regularly by applying the principals of Jesuit education, inculcating the characteristics of a modern entrepreneur. The measure of their personal greatness is less what they found at journey’s end and more the depth of human character that carried them along the way: their imagination, will, perseverance, courage, resourcefulness and willingness to bear the risk of failure…”
Force goes on, “Regis University strives to instill in students the discipline of continuous self-reflection that the Ignatian process demands. For in that process one can define order to one’s life and know self-awareness as the foundation of leadership. Entrepreneurs, if not self-aware, are subject to a loss in understanding of their market place/demographic, community and self-actualization which connects them to their customer base.”
If the Center can meet the needs of the Berkeley community and achieve sustainable operations, the Sullivan Chair will package the Center's plan in a kit with lessons learned from the plan’s implementation. The kit will be offered for sale to other communities. In this manner, a single project may be widely replicated and locally funded across the nation.
John Reed is a volunteer at Regis University with an interest in rural economic development.