July 26, 2018

Investing in place by investing in people

In Cincinnati, People’s Liberty is re-imagining what it means to invest in community

The team at People's Liberty help find and support emerging innovators in Cincinnati. Photo courtesy of People's Liberty.

It was 2013 and the team at The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation began to ask some questions: How could we change our philanthropic work to impact the people in our city directly? How could we uncover and equip the next generation of leaders in our community? How might a physical, ground-floor presence impact the way we think about neighborhood investments? From these seeds of curiosity grew People’s Liberty, a philanthropic lab that invests directly in people with bold ideas to impact our region. From our 8,000-square-foot outpost in a historic neighborhood in Cincinnati, People’s Liberty offers innovators three distinct grant opportunities ranging from six-month $10,000 project grants to full-year $100,000 fellowships, as well as a three-month residency program for early-career designers and social media mavens.

Today we are four years into this five-year philanthropic experiment. People’s Liberty has awarded grants to 72 Cincinnatians, hired 31 residents, hosted 21,000 people for 315 unique events, and connected with 56 peer organizations to compare notes and share our model. It’s been quite the adventure.

As we reflect back upon this work to date, it’s clear that our job is simple: help good people bring good ideas to life. Lisa, a dietician, wanted to figure out how to feed our city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods, so we unlocked resources so Lisa could find a way to do that. Nina wanted to use her gifts as a photographer to help ensure black men see their value, so we supported Nina as she accomplished that goal. April, a veteran, knew that many returning vets struggle to regain and maintain their self-worth outside the military, so we lifted up April as she lifted up others. Kick, a music producer, wanted to give local talent a platform to expand their skills and monetize their art, so we helped Kick reach that goal and maintain momentum.

We’ve built People’s Liberty from the belief that every human being has the creative capacity to make a significant impact in the world.

We’ve built People’s Liberty from the belief that every human being has the creative capacity to make a significant impact in the world. We feel honored to walk alongside folks as they uncover their passions and put their skills to work in service to others. Far too many people are unclear about how their hard work benefits the world. We try to remind them.

From this ground-floor vantage point, here are a few things we’re learning:

  • People attract people. Humans gravitate towards places where the likelihood of connection is high. Space matters. Creating an environment where people from diverse backgrounds and a broad range of disciplines can convene and connect is the first step to building authentic community

  • Tell good stories. Data doesn’t compel, inspire, or energize. Narrative matters. Making good design and storytelling a priority broadens audience reach while heightening the imaginations of folks who might otherwise not see themselves in the story.

  • Risk being in relationship. Ground-floor philanthropy is more than a desk job. Real relationships matter. Creating a platform that challenges the traditional funder/fundee power dynamic involves risk and vulnerability but often yields a more joyful return on investment.

Equipped with these and many more practical lessons, our little team has begun the process of imagining what’s next for People’s Liberty and how this experiment will “trickle up” to impact the Haile Foundation investment strategies more broadly. Like before, new questions have emerged: How might we put the People’s Liberty “cadre of doers” to work on our region’s most pressing challenges? How do we continue to leverage our convening and connecting abilities in service to public advocacy and education? How does our physical “hub” space continue to unite people across difference? What role can a foundation play in restoring the common good among citizens?

As we explore answers to these questions, one thing remains certain and that’s our desire to direct resources towards initiatives aimed at creating a region that is more connected, resilient, welcoming and playful. People shape places. But supported, connected, emboldened people make even better places. The doors are open in Cincinnati. We believe in you.

Megan Trischler

People's Liberty

As program director, Megan Trischler oversees the People's Liberty residency program while keeping a keen eye on all of the organization's design and storytelling. Megan’s past work includes the development of PieLab, a pie shop, job-training center and cultural hub in Greensboro, Alabama; and the design and development of CoSign, an initiative that paired small business owners with local artists and professional sign fabricators to install storefront signage in Cincinnati.