City Fails to Net Rockefeller Grant
Most associate the Biblical character Job with suffering. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,” is a quote from the Book of Job familiar to most people. The city of Alameda recently suffered a loss of some $1 million when it learned that the Rockefeller Foundation giveth and the Rockefeller Foundation taketh away.
The April 1 announcement that the foundation had dropped Alameda from its list of 33 resilient cities surprised some city-hall watchers and Alameda political pundits so much so that folks thought it was an April Fools’ Day joke. The foundation approved this grant last December. But, as is the case with all 33 cities that got this grant, Alameda needed to show that it deserved the money. The city had to appoint a resilience officer and present its ideas to the foundation.
Reporter Rick Cohen covered Alameda’s loss in his lead story in the Non Profit Quarterly, a publication widely read and highly respected by professionals in the nonprofit sector. “Whatever (a resilient city) might be, in the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program, it no longer includes Alameda, California,” Cohen stated.
Cohen thinks that a disagreement over the concept and power of Alameda’s chief resilient officer likely instigated the Rockefeller reversal. Last month the four Bay Area grant winners met at the Presidio in San Francisco.
Cohen pointed out that The Guardian “published a piece about the activities of the four Bay Area winners of the Resilient Cities grants, including a two-day seminar involving all four at the Presidio on topics such as a rising sea level, seismic events, and wildfires.”
Cohen stated that The Guardian’s story about the confab addressed the programs and initiatives in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco. The story practically omitted Alameda, referring to the Island City as “quaint and low-profile,” with no reference to any of the Island City’s resilience strategies. The Guardian’s story left the impression that Alameda attended the meeting as an observer, rather than a participant.
Among the qualities that the Rockefeller Foundation is seeking for the chief resilience officer is that person’s ability to engage both on the local and global scale. The foundation pointed out that the resilience officer must understand his or her community and local setting and be able to establish and maintain strong engagement from municipal leaders, city residents and key stakeholders.
In rescinding the grant, the Rockefeller Foundation told Alameda that it did not like the strategy it had submitted, calling that strategy “incompatible” with the foundation’s vision. The foundation said that talks over the role Alameda’s resilience officer would play “broke down.”
The foundation pointed out to the city that it specifically designed the grants to ensure cities it chooses take a broad definition of resilience. This includes the ability to respond to a wide array of shocks and stresses from violent crime to health pandemics to persistent poverty and that the officer, who would coordinate across city departments as well as with the public and private sectors, is “crucial” for achieving that goal.
Questions arise when one takes the foundation’s remarks apart and carefully studies them:
n How did the city define resilience to the foundation?
n Why did the foundation have to point out that it needed a broad definition of the concept?
n Did the city of Alameda address violent crime at all in its interactions with the foundation?
n Did the city’s discussions include persistent poverty?
n Did the city address any possible health pandemic that might arise from a disaster?
n Did the city share the identity of its candidate for the resilience officer and was that person qualified for the job?
The bottom line seems simple. The city of Alameda and the way it presented itself did not make a very good impression at the Rockefeller Foundation.
Contact Dennis Evanosky at firstname.lastname@example.org.