5 Ways Schools Can Build Community Wealth
B.J. Mandelstam
B.J. Mandelstam
Vice President, Business Development for Schools EPA-trained Master of Indoor Air Quality Sodexo

How can your school become an anchor institution to help build wealth in your community? What does an anchor institution look like? An anchor institution helps build wealth by driving economic activity, local development and revitalization efforts for their communities. Cultivating wealth takes different forms, from providing jobs and training opportunities for residents, to investing financial resources to serve the needs of the community. Universities, religious institutions and hospitals are typical anchor institutions that are strategically positioned and suited to make a difference in the civic life of their local districts.

Schools are inherently positioned to act as anchor institutions building local wealth because of the symbiotic relationship that lies in the success of a school and its surrounding community. Why? Schools reflect the cultural and socio-economic state of their local district. Students, families, teachers, administrators and staff represent their community, contributing to the output of their schools. Effective schools seen as developers of talent, conduits of societal growth, breed interest and investment to their communities. For these reasons, schools have a unique opportunity to serve as an anchor institution and catalysts for change in their local districts. Here are five ways schools can become anchor institutions:

  1. Direct a greater percentage of purchasing power toward local community-based vendors. Two notable examples for keeping money in the community include purchasing from minority-owned businesses e.g. implementing the USDA’s Farm to School program. One of the components of this USDA program is focused on local purchasing. When a school participates in the Farm to School program, it links community stakeholders with nearby small and mid-sized farms that produce fresh, healthy and minimally-processed foods.
  2. Hire a greater percentage of your workforce from the community. Hiring from your local talent pool signals to the area that you are invested in its growth, the well-being of its citizens and the health of the local economy. For many organizations, hiring local builds a good referral program where employees bring their trusted and reliable friends into the fold.
  3. Provide workforce training (Develop People). The costs of employee turnover are high, as much as 1.5 to 2 times an employee’s salary. There are also other soft costs, such as lowered productivity and a decrease in employee morale. Training is a key retention tool. In some cases, its considered to be part of the employee’s psychological contract of employment – ensuring that they get the opportunity to develop and improve their skills.
  4. Serve as an advisor or network builder. Anchor institutions are not expected to be equipped with unlimited resources. Diverse partnerships are essential in expanding reach. For example, Sodexo, a food and facilities solutions provider frequently partners with nonprofit organizations like Share Our Strength to expand child nutrition programs. Share Our Strength helps schools act as anchor ‘nutrition hubs’, serving the nutritional needs of students with wholesome breakfast, lunch and afterschool meals.
  5. Incubate the development of new businesses, including social enterprises among nonprofits, for example nurturing local partnerships with minority and women-owned business entities.

The process of a school becoming and sustaining itself as an anchor institution is most effective when schools have partners committed to its success.  A solid anchor school creates a more robust neighborhood, leading to greater equity in education for every student and ultimately promoting a better quality of life for students – the biggest indicator of community wealth.

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