The Client’s Challenge
In 2011, as part of the Foundation’s intention to spend down all of its resources by 2016, Atlantic Philanthropies (AP) invested in a multi-pronged technical assistance and evaluation process that would help to achieve its philanthropic goals of embedding a set of age-friendly principles into community development organizations, engaging grantees in a participatory way to help accomplish key objectives of its funded efforts. A key component of the initiative was to use evaluation as a resource, helping partnering organizations tell their stories, while also documenting AP’s contributions to establishing age-friendly communities.
As people are now living longer throughout the world, communities across the globe are considering how an aging population will impact the existing social and physical infrastructure. A global network of Age-Friendly Cities, housed at the World Health Organization (WHO), is taking an asset‐based approach to tackling the aging issue head‐on. Based on the idea that thriving communities not only support residents as they age, age‐friendly communities also value and leverage the incredible resources older people can offer.
As a leading supporter of aging initiatives in the United States and abroad, Atlantic Philanthropies launched the Age-Friendly Communities USA Project (AFC-USA Project), after recognizing alignment between the WHO approach and the ways in which community development corporations work comprehensively on the ground, often with underserved and underrepresented populations. This compatibility lies in the shared recognition that an aging population comes with an increasing abundance of elders who bring experience, knowledge and wisdom to tackling challenges within their own communities.
The AFC-USA Project, which began in early summer 2011 and ended in December 2014, aimed to strengthen the long-term ability of underserved communities to sustain an age-friendly agenda by providing direct grants to four community-based organizations:
- Brownsville Partnership/Community Solutions, New York, NY
- Chicanos Por La Causa, Phoenix, AZ
- East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, Oakland, CA
- The Resurrection Project, Chicago, IL
To help achieve its goal, and support the AFC efforts of its grantee organizations, Atlantic Philanthropies assembled a core network of partners, representing technical expertise in three areas – participatory evaluation provided by Success Measures, communications assistance, and global research. Through a series of biannual meetings, one hosted at each community-based group’s site, grantees’ could seek out the expertise and resources they required, depending on their specific needs and circumstances. A fourth component of the work focused on leveraging the practical expertise the grantees could offer one another in order to build a community of practice among peers. Via a series of conference calls and meetings, grantees shared their experiences implementing program strategies and learning emerging from the evaluation, throughout the embedding process.
Approach and Solutions
With the goal of positioning the community organizations to sustain their work over time, Success Measures used a case study evaluation design to assess the extent to which age-friendly principles and practices were becoming “embedded” within each organization’s agenda and strategic plans. This approach was intended to ensure that, even after the specific grant funding concluded, using a holistic approach to creating age-friendly communities would be fundamental to the manner in which the organizations approached their community development work moving forward. Additionally, a case study approach could better facilitate peer learning across sites and allow greater flexibility in developing an understanding of the variety of ways organizations went about embedding AFC practices in their organizations.
Tool development and data collection. Through dialogue with grantees about their local AFC agendas, Success Measures developed a custom capacity self-assessment tool that it used as part of site visits and interviews to gauge each organization’s progress in developing and integrating age-friendly practices across their organizations and community development programming. The evaluators also participated in monthly project calls and annual peer learning events held on site to highlight each organization’s age friendly strategies. Success Measures developed a survey and supported grantees in using it to assess the project’s engagement of and impact on seniors.
Annual Case Study Reports: For each of the three years of this project, Success Measures developed case studies that demonstrated the grantee organizations’ collective accomplishments and successes in embedding age friendly principles. These included:
- Empowering seniors to take on enhanced leadership roles;
- Linking an age-friendly lens to community development;
- Gaining international recognition among emerging age-friendly communities globally.
In addition to documenting grantees’ contributions to the field, the case studies’ usefulness extended beyond evaluation and telling the story of Atlantic Philanthropies’ role; it provided grantees with a useful tool for communicating their success, as they sought to secure additional funding opportunities. Furthermore, the reports revealed how seniors demonstrated their capacity to serve as strong leaders dedicated to improving their own lives and the lives of others, playing instrumental roles as agents of change in neighborhood initiatives and other programs. Across the AFC-USA project’s efforts, through their responses to baseline and follow-up surveys, seniors also reported improvements to their physical and mental well-being, and felt more respected and empowered as a result of their civic engagement. Most significantly, the project facilitated the strategic reevaluation of the community organizations’ programmatic approaches and informed future directions, consistently leading to more inclusive “all-age,” intergenerational approaches to community development that embrace the collective well-being of the communities they serve.
About the Tides Foundation
The AFC-USA Project was supported by a donor-advised fund of the Tides Foundation, established by Tides at the request of and with funding from Atlantic Philanthropies. For more than 30 years, The Atlantic Philanthropies have made grants that seek to advance opportunity and lasting change for those who are unfairly disadvantaged or vulnerable to life’s circumstances. At the heart of its work is the belief that all people have the right to opportunity, equity and dignity.