Polis often gets asked, “Does community transformation happen from the top down or the bottom up?” It might be surprising to hear that the answer is “yes.” It takes both, plus a concerted effort from the middle. This is what makes the Polis model distinct and effective. Bottom-up efforts tend to run into capacity issues while top-down efforts often struggle to sustain community engagement. Both bottom-up and top-down efforts often fail to yield an impact, particularly in chronically distressed neighborhoods. The key is in the middle. Polis focuses on directly connecting the interests of high capacity investors (top-down) with the interests of residents of distressed neighborhoods (bottom up). The result is transformation.
Polis has developed a proven methodology to make it work. It requires listening intently to the residents of a particular distressed neighborhood while simultaneously listening intently to caring people of substantial means who want their ideas, talents, and social connections as well as their charitable dollars to truly make a difference. These are often highly successful business people. Both of these groups have too often been ignored. The business people have been seen almost exclusively as funders for needs based services and poor residents have been seen almost exclusively as clients for needs based services. Polis works directly with both groups, maps assets at all levels, and creates opportunities for them to come together in ways that lead to measurable change.
Working in a small geographic area (less than a square mile) with a dedicated Investor Council of high capacity leaders, residents are recruited, trained, and employed to do the work of community building. In the process, they learn important workplace skills, build helpful community initiatives, and make some money. The initiatives that are built garner additional support as needed but maintain at least 50% involvement from residents at all levels (staff, volunteers, clients). The initiatives are aligned with goals from the Investor Council in order to make measurable improvements in key areas such as wellness, housing, education, and income.