With Support from Bank of America, a City Takes on Inequality

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

With Support from Bank of America, a City Takes on Inequality

When it comes to reducing inequality, philanthropy’s track record is spotty at best. Left-leaning funders can back all the studies and pilot programs they want, but what if public officials and the general public simply refuse to pay attention—or get behind policies that actually make inequality worse?

Maybe that’s why so many funders are looking for ways to support grassroots movement building, especially this year. Still, some wonky policy studies do make a splash. 

Take the case of Charlotte, North Carolina. In an important 2013 study conducted by Raj Chetty’s Equality of Opportunity Project, Charlotte ranked dead last out of 50 American cities for upward mobility among children born into the lowest income quintile. That dismal result drew the attention of local civic, corporate and religious leaders, who banded together to form the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force. Their task: Figure out how to close the gap between Charlotte’s affluent residents and those who struggle to get by.

Earlier this year, the task force—composed of 20 volunteers representing a variety of sectors—released a detailed report identifying challenges and proposing ways to correct them. The report is one city’s take on deep racial segregation and the economic tyranny of the zip code, problems with parallels across the country. Philanthropy played a role in supporting the task force, with sponsors including the Foundation for the Carolinas, the Knight Foundation, the John M. Belk Endowment, and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. 

But a corporate funder, and one of the biggest, is picking up the bill as Leading on Opportunity, as the endeavor is called, enters its next phase. This month, Bank of America pledged $1.5 million over three years to the Leading on Opportunity Council, a successor group to the task force composed of mostly different people. 

The Leading on Opportunity Council (LOOC) is “a representative group of 19 Charlotte-Mecklenburg leaders spanning a range of disciplines and backgrounds—grassroots, nonprofit, government, philanthropy, business, neighborhood and faith,” according to a press release. Charged with implementing the task force report’s recommendations, LOOC is currently identifying a permanent executive director. Bank of America’s pledge covers initial staffing and infrastructure.

Looking at the report, it’s not too surprising to see a big bank take the lead, here. The task force identifies three areas of focus: early care and education, college and career readiness, and child and family stability. Those priorities jibe well with finance philanthropy’s recent trend toward urban poverty alleviation, and we’ve watched a great deal of money go out to workforce and youth development, asset building, and even affordable housing. 

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