A great school is vital to every community, but it’s only one part. A new organization, Maslow Development Inc., knows this and they’re working to build vibrant communities around the nation by tying education to other forms of neighborhood development. I recently talked with Maslow’s Nora Jendoubi and Derwin Sisnett about their work and their hopes for the neighborhoods of the future.
What inspired the creation of Maslow Development Inc.?
Maslow was established in Memphis in order to think about scaling community development differently. Rather than taking the same model and inserting it into any given community without knowing the surrounding context, Maslow found a way to decentralize community development by lifting up community voices and giving power to the people.
Instead of a static model that is replicated on behalf of communities or that circumvents local voices, we scale our theory of change by modeling holistic ecosystems based on communities’ wants and needs.
What’s your theory of change?
Maslow believes that if we creatively design with the community a comprehensive mixed-use development where education is at the core, then academic achievement and overall community outcomes will improve. By approaching this work with an ecosystems lens, each pillar (education, housing, health care, workforce) performs better than if it existed in a silo and is therefore working in service to one another.
This approach will improve equitable access to community assets in communities that have not/are not experiencing socioeconomic mobility.
How do you prepare individuals, communities and organizations to successfully implement your model?
We take a “teach a man to fish” approach to our work. We support communities in developing their own model of community development, informed by our theory of change. We stand alongside communities as we guide them through the community development process, based on our own learnings and best practices. This allows communities to make improvements in the out years as the community evolves without needing additional support or expertise from us.
How critical are community-based partnerships and engagement in supporting and sustaining Maslow’s goals and vision?
Community-based partnerships and engagement are absolutely critical to supporting and sustaining Maslow’s goals and vision. We don’t and can’t do this work alone. Core to our model is working with on-the-ground leadership that has the ability to rally community members together and to bring their voices front and center of the process. We rely heavily on local knowledge to ensure that the community development model that is established fits the context. On-the-ground, community-based partners are the only ones who can authentically do that.
How has Maslow had an impact on the cities and communities it currently serves and how do you measure success?
From engaging early on with foundations, city government and community stakeholders to envision what the potential for their communities can be, to diving deeply into the development of an anchoring school and developing a coalition of hundreds of community members to design the surrounding ecosystem, to developing our own prototype of a 100-plus acre holistic ecosystem from scratch that can be scaled nationwide, our impact on the cities and communities that we currently serve is appropriately broad.
As such, we work with each community to develop and monitor success metrics that are shaped after custom-designed community development models.