Greenville, South Carolina sits in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, close to the North Carolina border. Whereas a little over a decade ago, the city was trying unsuccessfully to attract new residents after decades of population decline, Greenville’s population has been steadily climbing since 2005. The US Census Bureau named it the fourth fastest growing city in 2016 — a testament to local infrastructure investments, and commitment to downtown revitalization, and resulting job market strength.
Although Greenville’s population grew quickly after 2005, the community faced health challenges. Specifically, the county’s obesity rates were some of the highest in the U.S. As awareness grew throughout the nation around the serious negative health effects of obesity, prevention efforts gained momentum and funding opportunities arose. With its high adult and childhood obesity rates, Greenville was a prime funding candidate.
LiveWell Greenville was launched in 2011, with initial funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and became the community’s primary network of organizations partnering to ensure access to healthy eating and active living. The network implemented a collaborative, common-agenda approach before the notion of “collective impact” was commonplace. LiveWell Greenville introduced a new way of thinking about community change that is intended to be lasting and intergenerational. They focus on enhancing each other’s capacity to share resources for common goals. Their work stems across policy, environmental, and attitudinal changes. It isn’t prescriptive; it’s responsive to community needs, which leads to community trust and allows the work to snowball.
THE BRIGHT SPOT
As LiveWell Greenville’s work progressed, other community efforts evolved to address other health issues, recognizing the many conditions contributing to community wellbeing. Greenville implemented a job training and matching program, focused on matching people with jobs that result in wages that support upward economic mobility. The Greenville Homeless Alliance strengthens collaboration in the delivery of services to prevent and address homelessness. Livewell Greenville staff engaged in these efforts to encourage leveraging contributions to enable partnerships with local government and private businesses, and it’s working. One such indicator is the shift of the philanthropic sector engagement in advocacy and supporting functions that were traditionally left to local government. The City of Greenville recently partnered with two local philanthropic foundations to fund an affordable housing study and corresponding development of a strategic plan to address identified issues. Community stakeholders were engaged to develop recommendations, and the result was starting a housing trust fund. For the first time, the City setting aside $2 million in surplus funding to seed the trust, which was leveraged with additional philanthropic and corporate funding.
Perhaps most notable, Greenville’s non-profit community has refined their approach to community work, including identifying levers for attitudinal change and focusing efforts towards gatekeepers and those with much community influence. An example of this is how they’ve engaged the Greenville business community in efforts to improve city transportation. Hospitality is a growing part of Greenville’s economic health, but some business owners cannot afford to stay open within city limits due to lack of employees who can afford to commute downtown (from their more-affordable homes in the outskirts of the city.). Greenville efforts are using news and social media to frame public investment in transportation as imperative to local business and economic growth. The strategists of this endeavor hope this approach leads not only to attitude change and improved public policy, but also to long-term improvements and solidification of wellbeing as a common community priority in Greenville.
LiveWell Greenville is hopeful regarding continued community commitment to a common agenda and aligned momentum going forward. Acknowledging that the conditions contributing to wellbeing are interconnected, The Graham Foundation, one of LiveWell Greenville’s partners, recently established a learning community network to facilitate collaboration, learning and support among strategists and those “leading the charge” in community improvement efforts. Each of these strategists and change agents have worked hard to build a collaborative base; the opportunity is ripe to focus on the big picture, mobilize collective voices, and intergenerational impact that comes with attitude, systems, and policy change.