September 7, 2011; Source: Tucson Citizen | Grants of any kind are always appreciated by the organizations that receive them. What makes the grants awarded to ten initiatives through Arizona’s “Five Communities Project” different is their emphasis on improving Arizona through more public participation in the areas of education, economic development, the environment, and civic engagement.

Developed by the Center for the Future of Arizona, a nonprofit that combines public-policy research with collaborative partnerships and initiatives, the project was created to find the best ideas for strengthening Arizona at the local level. Communities of all kinds were invited to submit their “big ideas” for moving Arizona forward on one or more of the eight citizen goals identified by a recent Gallup poll, which captured citizens’ thinking about important issues and found “surprising” consensus among them. That led to the center building a citizens’ agenda for the state—The Arizona We Want—one of the first of its kind in the nation. Finding ways to involve “real people”—not just experts—in both planning and implementation of the proposed initiatives was a key part of the selection criteria.

The 10 finalists, representing communities from all across Arizona, were chosen from a diverse group of 31 semifinalists by a national selection panel. Before the end of the year, five communities will be chosen to create action plans and jointly apply with the center for national funding to implement their plans over a three-year period. Each of the 10 finalists will receive $5,000 to help offset the costs of developing a detailed final proposal for additional funding from national foundations. “Our intent is to connect them with the larger philanthropic world,” the center’s CEO and Chairman Lattie Coor told the Tucson Citizen. “Arizona has not been on their radar screen.” The ten finalists will be profiled at the at the 66th National Conference on Citizenship, which will take place in Arizona on September 22 and 23.—CMG