Personal View: New Century, new challenges

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By Ronn Richard
President & CEO, Cleveland Foundation

As 2014 came to a close, the Cleveland Foundation completed a yearlong centennial observance that surpassed our dreams.

Thanks to dedicated donors, superb media partners like Crain’s, generous corporate sponsors, supportive grantee organizations and more than 185,000 area residents who turned out for our public events, we enjoyed a unique opportunity to celebrate the power of community.

Now, the world’s first community foundation embarks on its 101st year. One new year of change-making in Greater Cleveland. One new chapter in a story of unwavering commitment to place, people and purpose.

As I approach my 12th year leading the Cleveland Foundation, I realize that some of the most important and rewarding relationships cultivated during my tenure have been with members of Cleveland’s business community, from Fortune 500 CEOs to neighborhood entrepreneurs. These connections will be even more critical in the years to come as the community tackles its most pressing challenges, many of which demand the input and acumen of business professionals. For example:

  • The MyCom network comprises caring adults and nonprofit organizations committed to helping our youth mature as strong, stable citizens. From eight pilot neighborhoods, MyCom recently expanded to operate in 13 neighborhoods across Cuyahoga County. This timely initiative needs private-sector partners, who can choose among a range of entry points. Perhaps your company can employ one or more MyCom teens for the summer or your staff can mentor these young people. Visit www.mycom.net to learn more.
  • We owe our youth a coherent career pathway system to encourage them to explore their options long before graduation, as their counterparts do in European countries with well-developed apprentice programs. The foundation recently granted more than $1.4 million to launch a career technical education strategy that will link Cleveland students with the real-world work experiences they will need to fill jobs in high-growth sectors that pay family-sustaining wages. The preparation of our future workforce should be of vital interest to everyone, but especially to employers who struggle to find qualified candidates for high-skill, well-paying positions. The dialogue on this initiative has just begun, and the business community’s involvement will be integral to success.
  • I appeal to this region’s corporate leaders to join the foundation in supporting the emergence of an advanced energy economy that will help put our residents to work, clean up our polluted air, improve our health and preserve endangered Lake Erie. Many local companies walk the talk, practicing sustainability and opposing short-sighted moves like the Ohio General Assembly’s dismantling last year of our state’s clean energy standards. Change is coming nationally, with or without Ohio. We risk being left behind as other states and regions scramble to participate in the incipient advanced energy revolution.
  • Corporate partners have been essential allies of the foundation-convened consortium to develop Cleveland’s thriving Uptown District and create opportunities for residents of the adjacent low-income neighborhoods of Greater University Circle. I call on business leaders to work with us in extending this collaborative model to other core city neighborhoods desperate for reinvestment.
  • Finally, our entire city must come together to improve police-community relations, and the business sector can play an important role here. The “infrastructure” of excellent human relations is even more important than the wonderful physical infrastructure improvements made in our city over the course of the past several years.

As we all welcome a new year, my board, staff and I look forward to strengthening this business-philanthropic partnership that has served our community so well.

Please join the Cleveland Foundation in its second century as we define Cleveland’s future — together.