Capacity building! Most of us know the general meaning even if its nuances have yet to completely crystallize in our minds. In broad terms, it means enabling an entity to help itself. In the nonprofit arena, it is related to organizational effectiveness and has become an increasingly popular area for funding. There is also a federal program dedicated specifically to local communities. The Building Neighborhood Capacity Program (BNCP) is dedicated to providing the combination of knowledge, skills, relationships, processes and resources that residents, local organizations and cross-sector partners need to work together to achieve their goals.
The Building Neighborhood Capacity Program
A key component of the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative (NRI), The Building Neighborhood Capacity Program chose eight neighborhoods in four cities—Milwaukee, Fresno, Flint, and Memphis—as models to receive resources and technical assistance. The goal is to enable them become systemically stronger in order to meet the challenges they face. Taking the holistic approach, multiple federal agencies assisted in helping them address crime, educational achievement, affordable housing, health care and economic opportunity. BNCP also intersects with Promise Zones and Choice Neighborhoods. A major premise is that they are nine key elements necessary to build a framework of capacities necessary for effective change. These nine elements are:
- A community process to achieve results
- Resident engagement
- Accountable partnerships
- Usable data
- Effective solutions
- Organizational and leadership capacity
- Policy Influence
Selected Examples of Activities and Results from BNCP
The Building Neighborhood Capacity Program assisted participants every step of the way from identifying community concerns to implementing effective solutions. Below are selected snippets from some of the programs:
- In Memphis' Heights neighborhood, information was collected to identify which problems were most critical via 10,000 "Cards for Community." Finally realizing their concerns were being taken seriously, many residents volunteered for a database to be involved in future projects.
- In Memphis' Frayser neighborhood, a the new Frayser Neighborhood Council was born, comprised of a cross section of community members, business and organizational leaders. Plans include turning an abandoned strip mall into a town center. Other achievements include park and sidewalk improvements, and partnering with a nonprofit to secure an educational grant in which members provide feedback on the type of services that are offered.
- In Fresno, members of the Kirk neighborhood identified an unkempt physical environment as one of their biggest obstacles to safety. Clean-up days and street light initiatives were small but vital steps that contributed to a greater sense of security.
- In El Dorado Park, also in Fresno, hot dog barbecues became the catalyst for community organizing. Resident involvement deepened to the degree that community members took over the BNCP team's tasks of running neighborhood cleanups and maintenance campaigns. They even helped establish and run a small local community resource center.
- In Milwaukee, the Dominican Center, the Milwaukee PD, and resident-led Amani United (see photo) hold vacant lot parties, peace vigils, voting tailgates, block clean-ups, resource fairs, park reconstruction and plant sales.
Beyond BNCP Neighborhoods
The point of BNCP is not just to help the selected cities, but to provide resources for all municipalities who wish to use capacity building techniques to create stronger communities. The tools and templates page provides detailed and specific information on how each of the nine elements can be practically implemented. Toolkits include:
- Suggestions for identifying the most pressing community needs
- How to form base assessments and measure progress on specific issues
- How to evaluate data
- How to engage and empower residents
- How to find community partners
- How to select appropriate solutions
- How to develop a financing plan to implement and sustain your results
- Links to external resources from other capacity building organizations
- Progress reports and updates from the participating neighborhoods
Whether the desire is broad transformation, or simply to test out a few techniques at a time, the Building Neighborhood Capacity Program's website is worth exploring. Capacity building goes beyond solving a specific problem to enhancing a community's problem solving abilities for present and future situations. Perhaps that is why so many community capacity builders evoke the Maimonides' proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.