History and Context

The Living Cities collaborative turns 30 years old in 2021. During its first 15 years, Living Cities’ direct investment of $1 billion in grants and loans was leveraged 16 times over. Our resources helped move neighborhood redevelopment efforts from isolated successes to greater scale, shape federal funding programs, and build homes, stores, schools, and community facilities. In 2006, given the strength of this movement and its national intermediaries, such as LISC and Enterprise Community Partners, the Living Cities Board committed to reimagining the collaborative’s role and heightening its influence. The board challenged itself to move beyond the built environment and to focus on long-broken systems that keep people from economic opportunity. In addition to adding staff capacity to meet the collaborative’s ambitions, the board also committed to deploying the collective knowledge and experience of staff in their own institutions.

Toward that end, the board established committees composed of more than 80 senior staff from member foundations and financial institutions. One committee was charged with harnessing the power of capital toward the new vision, led by two pioneers of the Program Related Investment (PRI) field—Ford Foundation’s Frank DeGiovanni and Annie E. Casey Foundation’s President & CEO Doug Nelson—with support from then-Living Cities staff member Robin Hacke. One year later, in August 2008, the Living Cities Catalyst Fund (LCCF) was born. LCCF was different by design. It was intended to attract new PRI investors to the field by making the cost to invest low and reducing the perceived risk with the ability to invest side-by-side with PRI stalwarts like Ford, MacArthur, and Casey Foundations. It would not chase a narrow, pre-defined universe of deals. Instead, it would be a flexible resource able to be deployed, at the collaborative’s discretion, to meet Living Cities’ emerging programmatic priorities. The LCCF would expand the collaborative’s influence and show the power of blending public, private and philanthropic capital to spread change. It would not choose deals based on the need to earn fees. Instead, Living Cities would use operating funds, as necessary, to support LCCF operations, just as it would for other programmatic efforts. In this way, programmatic interests always remained paramount.

This final report outlines the investments and lessons from the LCCF. Scaling impact with flexible capital through timely innovations, unlocking public and private capital, and real-time knowledge-sharing were hallmarks of LCCF. These elements were built into Living Cities’ second fund with similar, promising results to date, and will also help guide our Capital for the New Majority strategy. These principles remain at the heart of Living Cities’ belief that capital can and should be harnessed as a force multiplier for social justice.

Published: October 12, 2021