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Opinion: Philanthropy can help spotlight needs still before us

The Atlanta region is a study in contrasts. Our position as a global business hub, with the world’s busiest airport as an economic driver, is contrasted with vast disparities and inequity in many areas including education, health outcomes and income. Talent is everywhere, opportunity is not.

It’s time to face a harsh reality – Atlanta has a crisis of opportunity. According to the Brookings Institution, the city of Atlanta is #1 in the U.S. for income inequality.

We’re a city where 95 of every 100 children born poor will be unable to climb the economic ladder no matter how hard they work or how much they desire to get ahead. Our metro region has among the fastest-growing suburban poverty trends in the nation. Even our life expectancy is determined by the census tract in which we’re born, and in the ATL there’s a gap of more than 20 years, within just a few miles.

This is the most pressing issue of our time, and our failure to act will affect us all. There are dire economic consequences if we don’t address this opportunity gap. Our competitiveness with other cities and regions is at risk and the bedrock for our continued vitality is an educated and prepared workforce that is essential to our region’s future economic prosperity.

The case is clear - when communities offer consistent opportunities for growth, such as quality education, healthy food, caring neighbors, employment and business options, the children and families who reside there thrive. Our region thrives. But not everyone in Atlanta has the same opportunity, it’s a story born out in data point after data point, study after study.

How to we change this reality? We have to rethink the partnerships, policies and programs that are most effective in helping to lift up our region. It takes so much more than writing a check to a worthy organization. We can all do more to advocate and be more thoughtful and deliberate in the ways we support the nonprofit sector.

The Community Foundation is focused on inspiring philanthropy in support of programs and policies that ensure consistent pathways to opportunity in all communities across our region. For example, this means providing more consistent access to arts programs to spark the creativity of the next entrepreneur, or ensuring the availability of housing that’s affordable and provides access to good jobs and good schools. But philanthropy alone cannot solve the problems we now face.

We have an imperative to join forces with diverse community stakeholders to eliminate the barriers that keep too many residents from reaching their full potential. Working together, we can ensure that a child’s zip code does not predetermine their life prospects.

As a first step, we need to reach out and listen to the voices of those on the front lines of our challenges. Let’s consider who we can join forces with to make greater impact and look to both existing and new leaders who have unique perspective and power, and who may have a much deeper, personal understanding of the issues.

News-making, high-dollar gifts and milestone fundraising achievements are laudable. They make us all feel really good. They are meaningful for that moment in time. But, let’s not fool ourselves, they are not a sustainable solution. Inspiring generosity sometimes exposes deeper, systemic inequities that those gifts seek to address. Our opportunity is to balance these monumental gestures with everyday moments of giving and advocating for those who are left out.

The truth is, we need both. Generous donors shining a light on what is possible, and public funding that translates those solutions and breakthroughs into a better life for all. For this to happen, we need strong public sector support in the form of smart policies and fair funding.

Alicia Philipp is president of Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.

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