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Foundation Chief: Community Development = Economic Development

Foundation Chief: Community Development = Economic Development

Source: Kevin Maloney, New Haven Independent

All economic development is community development, and all community development is economic development.

So said Jay Williams, president and CEO of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.

He joined the ​“Municipal Voice,” a co-production of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and WNHH 103.5 FM, to discuss his organization’s charitable work and the impact it has on the capitol region and beyond. 

Williams’ story starts in Youngstown, Ohio, where he was mayor for a time before moving to be the White House municipal liaison. 

These positions gave him the know-how and ​“battle scars” to work on the ground when he took the top job at the Hartford Foundation. 

One of the largest foundations of its kind in the country, the foundation serves over 750,000 people over 29 municipalities in the Hartford region and is about to hit its first centennial. 

Some of the key missions are basic human aid, a commitment to the arts, investments in education and civic engagement. 

Recently, the foundation has been in the news for backpack giveaways before the school year. Williams says it will get the kids off to a strong start.

In terms of civic engagement, the Hartford Foundation has made deep strides with grants for each of the 29 towns and cities they cover, while 6 organizations that are working specifically towards this goal got their own grants. 

“Civic engagement is not partisan politics, and people who are desirous of raising their voice and desirous of having an active hand in their community is essential for the well-being and function of society,” Williams said. 

Since its inception, the foundation has grown and evolved in its mission. Under Williams’ leadership, there has been a renewed focus on equity and inclusion. 

“It’s not just enough to say community or economic development,” he said, ​“you have to be very intentional about being inclusive and diverse.

If not, he cautions, we will get what we’ve seen in the past: Broad swaths of the community overlooked and underserved.

And from his time at the White House, one of the themes Williams noted was that communities that worked together, in towns and beyond borders, often succeeded together. 

“I want the sum of the parts to be greater than the individual components,” he said, wanting the Greater Hartford area to be a place where towns ​“embrace individuality, but still collaborate.” 

So as the Hartford Foundation looks to the future, they look for ways to break down barriers while helping everyone rise. Sometimes you do community development, sometimes you do economic development, but as Williams notes, ​“In the long run, you help the prosperity of the community.”

Click here to watch the full interview.