Community activists in the 1960’s ignited the community economic development (CED) movement, supported by the federal government and the Ford Foundation, to bring low-income communities into the economic mainstream and to lift the poor out of poverty. Initially, dozens of nonprofit, community-based development corporations were funded under the theory that the residents of low-income communities should have a leading voice in the development of their own communities. These organizations were connected by a network of technical assistance and training providers that offered consistent expert advice on issues common throughout this movement, and that shared lessons learned in one community with similar organizations in other communities.
The Insight Center for Community Economic Development (the Insight Center) was formed in 1969, originally as the National Housing and Economic Development Law Project and later as the National Economic Development and Law Center, to provide legal and project development expertise to this growing movement. The Center led the way in establishing the legal precedents for business and real estate development by charitable corporations, and wrote the first comprehensive legal treatise on the subject.
In the Insight Center’s first 15 years, we supported the creation of over 500 community-based development corporations, from Harlem and the South Bronx to East Los Angeles and the Navajo Reservation, from the Mississippi Delta to North Dakota. The Insight Center was the only national organization that offered a comprehensive and coherent approach to CED, helping to create housing, jobs, health care facilities, and businesses.
Low-income communities were particularly hard-hit by forces shaping the economy of the 1980’s, including recession, globalization, the loss of high-paying factory jobs, and the drastic reduction of federal spending on CED social programs. Community-based development corporations turned to private and community foundations, and local and state government, as the CED movement grew to thousands of organizations throughout the country. The Insight Center adapted to the changed environment and more localized funding streams by shifting our focus toward helping communities build jobs and support services around a local economic base.
The Insight Center became the first and is still the leading proponent of child care as an economic force in the local and regional economy, creating direct employment in child care facilities, small business ownership of home-based child care centers, and spin-off jobs for suppliers of food, laundry, and other services to these facilities. The Insight Center has helped forge statewide coalitions that promote child care expansion as an economic engine for local and regional economies.
The Insight Center became the first proponent of sector-based workforce development, a movement that now includes thousands of nonprofit and government agencies. The sector approach seeks to identify high-wage, good benefit-paying jobs in the local and regional economy, then reverse employment training and hiring practices that have traditionally kept low-income persons from those jobs. The Insight Center bi-annually convenes a national network of sector employment proponents to promote advances in this field.
Now, under the leadership of our President, Roger A. Clay, Jr., the Insight Center has restated its mission as “Helping people and communities become, and remain, economically secure.” We have added the perspective of race to our work, including a project to expand the impact of experts of color in the savings and asset building field, as well as innovative research that will help strengthen minority- and women-owned businesses.