Repair and Beyond in America’s Cities

Rip Rapson
President & CEO, The Kresge Foundation

If 2020 was the year that cities were tried and tested – as racial and economic inequities were laid bare by the pandemic and an ever-deepening racial justice movement – then 2021 was the year when repair, and possibly something larger and more powerful, began. It was a year when Kresge’s long-term investment in civic renewal in America’s cities met a once-in-a-lifetime injection of cash from the federal government into local communities – creating hope for rebound and building afresh in an equitable manner.

We at the Kresge Foundation were prepared for this shift. We have invested deeply in civic reimagination, renewal, and repair, not just in 2021 but through local and national crisis and recovery cycles that go back more than a decade. We have long sought to construct solution sets that benefit exactly the kind of communities and populations with low wealth that the federal government’s recent spending initiatives have prioritized. We have explored ways to set the terms of engagement for the public, private, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors to work in collective effort.

“There needs to be a fundamental shift in how decisions are made about where the [public] funds go and how complex processes of implementation can be designed to ensure the funds reach those who most need and benefit from them.”

Some of the lessons we’ve learned through these efforts are reflected in this 2021 Kresge Annual Report.

First, federal funds, by themselves, are not transformative. The simplest way to spend federal funds, whether one-time infusions like ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) or infrastructure monies or ongoing flows like Community Development Block Grants, is through streams and systems that result in more of the same, just bigger, or faster. To change that calculus, there needs to be a fundamental shift in how decisions are made about where the funds go and how complex processes of implementation can be designed to ensure the funds reach those who most need and benefit from them. Kresge has, accordingly, worked with local partners to enhance the capacity of communities to act, speak up, organize, and implement.

Second, federal funds work best when they are braided with multiple forms of capital into a financial solution that outlasts the duration of any particular spending bill or the priorities of any particular administration. Again, this requires a much broader and deeper understanding of community goals and systems of accountability to make sure that the benefits of these blended capital stacks are pulled down fully to the neighborhood and community level.

Although the upheavals, crises, and opportunities of the past years couldn’t have been predicted, the need for civic resilience could. A resilience that eschews fixed and impermeable public sector policies and practices in favor of approaches that permit a community to absorb shocks and dislocations, to re-tool implementation mechanisms, and to identify adaptive pathways forward.

The opportunity in front of us is to build on that kind of re-imagination to move beyond “repair.” Not, to be sure, “beyond repair” in the sense of something being past salvaging, fit only to be discarded. But instead in the sense of crossing the frontier of restoration and repair to build what we have long needed but have yet to achieve.

Kresge believes, now more than ever, that we must dedicate ourselves to fortifying a sustained racial justice movement; building new capital structures for community wealth building and finance; investing in anchors of complete neighborhoods; supporting the arts and culture sector as the glue of social cohesion in cities; re-imagining the public health system amid an ongoing pandemic; and helping to integrate equity into the very fabric of local government policy and practice with local-born solutions that appear to be working their way up to the federal government. This is all beyond “repair” – it is regeneration – creating new relationships, partnerships, and systems to deliver qualitatively different outcomes. It will take time, we know. We’ve invested time, energy, and capital to arrive at this moment and we will continue to do so. I hope you will join us.

In June 2022, the foundation bid farewell to four exceptional leaders who are retiring – Vice President and Chief Investment Officer Rob Manilla, Board Chair Elaine Rosen, and Trustees Paul Hillegonds and Nancy Schlichting. Individually and together, these leaders drove the foundation’s own form of regeneration – helping us to embed equity into everything we do while adapting and growing to meet the complex challenges that cities and communities face every day.

“Individually and together, these leaders drove the foundation’s own form of regeneration – helping us to embed equity into everything we do while adapting and growing to meet the complex challenges that cities and communities face every day.”

Rob Manilla

Under Rob’s stewardship since 2008, Kresge’s endowment has produced gains exceeding $3.7 billion, providing the capital necessary to pursue the grantmaking, social investing, and other activities that have defined the Foundation for the last fifteen years. Rob has stepped well beyond the role of investor, moreover. He has championed efforts to expand diversity, equity and inclusion of women and people of color, both within the Kresge investment office and among the investing industry. He has built a staff who are not only world-class investors, but are also engaged in the full spectrum of the Foundation’s administration and day-to-day activities. He has consistently demonstrated principled and far-sighted leadership as part of the foundation’s executive team. Although we can’t imagine the foundation without Rob, we are reassured that John A. Barker, a Kresge director since 2007, will succeed Rob in the vice president and CIO position.

Elaine Rosen

Under her exceptional leadership over 18 years of service, Elaine oversaw the foundation change its fundamental approach to philanthropy from funding bricks and mortar projects to engaging multiple sources of capital to support arts and culture, community development, education, environment, health, and human services around the country and in our hometown of Detroit. She has led with grace and intelligence, humor and insight, clarity, and passion. She leaves an indelible mark on every aspect of the organization’s character and work. She has become an ardent champion of the revitalization of Detroit while embracing the importance of all our programmatic work. She has shaped a Board culture that extracts the very best qualities of each and every Trustee. She has overseen the introduction of best practices in governance and organizational administration. She has continually elevated the primacy of service – to one another, to the communities we serve, to the issues we pursue. It is impossible for me to overstate how much her friendship, mentorship, and generosity of spirit have meant to me.

Paul Hillegonds

Paul Hillegonds joined the Kresge board in 2004 after an esteemed career in public affairs, the private sector, and Michigan state politics. His nuanced and profound understanding of the possibilities and potential pitfalls of partnering with both the public and private sectors has powerfully shaped Kresge’s embrace of cross-sectoral, cross-disciplinary action. His experiences in public transit and community health have been indispensable guides in Kresge’s efforts to promote regional transit and improved systems of public health. His kindness, thoughtfulness, and deep integrity have profoundly shaped the culture not only of our Board, but of our entire staff as well.

Nancy Schlichting

Nancy also joined Kresge’s Board in 2004. She has brought to the foundation the unwavering clarity and wisdom of a pathbreaker in the field of healthcare administration. As the former chief executive officer of Henry Ford Health System, she consistently urged the foundation to place the attraction, retention, and growth of talent at the heart of our work, to never compromise the imperatives of innovation and excellence, and to continuously self-examine our operations through the lens of long-term stewardship. She has been a tireless contributor to the restructuring of our compensation and total rewards systems.

She has been a powerful role model and mentor for countless members of our staff, particularly to women who are finding their unique leadership pathway. Her deep wisdom, expansive experiences, good judgment, and generosity of spirit have been transformative to the organization.