The Knight Foundation’s release of a report examining the experience of the Fund for Our Economic Future cannot help but stimulate thinking about what works and what doesn’t work quite as well about foundation collaboratives. The Fund’s target from its beginning in 2004 was “to address the long-term economic trajectory of Northeast Ohio,” a region that a decade ago included some of the nation’s most troubled metropolitan centers—Cleveland, Akron, Canton, Elyria, Lorain, Warren, Youngstown. A few were on the same trajectory that nearby Detroit finds itself today. Now, even though these cities are hardly past the economic troubles that have affected the entire region, there’s little question that region is no longer gutted by the despair that affected many people in these cities back then.
Brookings Institution social scientists Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley have touted the Fund in their recent book, the Metropolitan Revolution, as the epitome of what they call the “post-hero” economic strategy. Rather than looking for the lone superhero who can (with his or her buddies) pull a depressed city out of the depths, Katz and Bradley think the Fund demonstrates the importance of an alternative approach: networks. In the days leading to the establishment of the Fund, a Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial debunked the fruitless search for economic superheroes and neatly explained the network concept:
“No mayor, however persuasive or dynamic, is unilaterally going transform the northeast corner of Ohio,” wrote the Plain Dealer, in a piece titled, “Who Will Lead the Region out of Its Crisis?” “No lone-eagle innovator, however ingenious, instantly will reverse decades of income stagnation and educational neglect. No single public project, however daring, will make this region a magnet for the smart, industrious people who are the raw material of the Information Age. Instead, lots of people, acting individually and collectively in different arenas and different niches, must step up and lead.”
The Knight study draws the findings of a strategic review of the Fund to explore what made the Fund work. It is hard to imagine anyone associated with the fund decla