Five Questions with Casey: Scot Spencer Talks Community-Based Work and Baltimore’s Successes

Posted March 18, 2016
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog fivequestions scot spencer 2016

As asso­ciate direc­tor of advo­ca­cy and influ­ence, Scot Spencer works to advance strate­gies that cre­ate more oppor­tu­ni­ties for kids and fam­i­lies in low-income com­mu­ni­ties to suc­ceed. He also coor­di­nates pol­i­cy strat­e­gy to spur com­mu­ni­ty and eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment in the Foundation’s home­town of Baltimore.

From 2002 to 2012, Spencer man­aged the Foundation’s rela­tion­ships in Charm City and focused on the East Bal­ti­more Revi­tal­iza­tion Ini­tia­tive, a large-scale com­mu­ni­ty and eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment project in one of the city’s his­toric work­ing-class neigh­bor­hoods. Pri­or to join­ing Casey, Spencer worked as a trans­porta­tion spe­cial­ist for the Envi­ron­men­tal Defense Fund and a deputy direc­tor for the His­toric East Bal­ti­more Com­mu­ni­ty Action Coalition.

In this Five Ques­tions edi­tion, Spencer dis­cuss­es Casey’s com­mit­ment to advanc­ing com­mu­ni­ty change.  

Q1. What is the focus of your work?

I man­age two bod­ies of work. The first involves sup­port­ing efforts to advance child and fam­i­ly well-being, edu­ca­tion­al achieve­ment and neigh­bor­hood trans­for­ma­tion in our home­town of Bal­ti­more. The sec­ond involves draw­ing on lessons from Casey’s two-plus decades of com­mu­ni­ty change work to enhance placed-based poli­cies and prac­tices around the coun­try. When­ev­er we find effec­tive approach­es that advance our mis­sion, we work to spread them to oth­er places — even if they did not start out as Casey initiatives. 

Q2. Why is this work important?

Casey has a lega­cy of close­ly track­ing the lessons and results from our com­mu­ni­ty change work, from mul­ti­site ini­tia­tives such as New Futures and Mak­ing Con­nec­tions to our cur­rent Fam­i­ly-Cen­tered Com­mu­ni­ty Change strat­e­gy. We’ve con­tin­u­al­ly applied that knowl­edge to guide our own work, such as empha­siz­ing the val­ue of a two-gen­er­a­tion approach to break the cycle of pover­ty. As more pub­lic and non­prof­it play­ers embrace place-based approach­es, we’ve sought to add val­ue by help­ing to share our lessons with the broad­er field. Many pub­lic and non­prof­it part­ners lack the resources to repli­cate large-scale change efforts, so we focus on help­ing them apply key principles.

Q3. What is an exam­ple of success?

One great exam­ple: We’ve suc­cess­ful­ly pro­mot­ed eco­nom­ic inclu­sion in Bal­ti­more. This work cham­pi­ons local goods and ser­vices and con­tracts with minor­i­ty- and women-owned local busi­ness­es. In part­ner­ship with the East Bal­ti­more Revi­tal­iza­tion Ini­tia­tive, we helped the city obtain a Liv­ing Cities Inte­gra­tion Ini­tia­tive grant to expand eco­nom­ic inclu­sion. In Sep­tem­ber 2015, the Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­si­ty and Johns Hop­kins Health Sys­tem launched Hop­kins Local, an ini­tia­tive that sets spe­cif­ic goals for pro­mot­ing local eco­nom­ic and employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties. And we are draw­ing on lessons from Bal­ti­more to pro­mote eco­nom­ic inclu­sion efforts in sev­er­al South­ern cities, includ­ing Char­lotte, N.C.; Atlanta; Mem­phis, Tenn.; New Orleans; and Rich­mond, Va.

Q4. What are some oth­er issues we’re try­ing to influ­ence take-up on? 

As Hop­kins Local demon­strates, major insti­tu­tions like hos­pi­tals and uni­ver­si­ties can have an incred­i­ble impact on local oppor­tu­ni­ties and con­di­tions. Beyond help­ing these anchor insti­tu­tions rec­og­nize their trans­for­ma­tive pow­er, we’re encour­ag­ing them to set bench­marks and spur pos­i­tive change in their own back­yards. In study­ing anchor insti­tu­tions that are dri­ving devel­op­ment and com­mu­ni­ty change, we hope to learn how to best trans­fer these lessons to the pri­vate sector. 

Q5. What’s the end goal of all of these efforts?

We real­ize that some­times you have to work toward incre­men­tal wins. But we also know that sus­tain­able change doesn’t hap­pen until effec­tive prac­tices get put in the books as pol­i­cy. There is plen­ty of good work unfold­ing on a project-by-project basis. But when you cod­i­fy this, you gain a dif­fer­ent lev­el of influ­ence and can begin paving the way for wide­spread and endur­ing com­mu­ni­ty change.

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