Seattle Foundation Blog

Seattle Foundation Launches New Civic Infrastructure Project

Civic Commons strives to unite voices to advance greater equity

May 30, 2018

Community leader and Seattle Foundation senior executive Michael Brown will spearhead design of a new regional civic infrastructure to unite more community voices in decision-making, announced Seattle Foundation President and CEO, Tony Mestres. Known as Civic Commons, this undertaking builds on the Foundation’s longstanding work to advance racial and economic equity by increasing the voice and power of communities.

“At its core, this project is about activating assets and fighting fragmentation. Our region needs a new model for leadership and community engagement, a model that activates all partners in a collective approach to decision-making,” said Mestres, adding that Civic Commons is of the highest strategic importance to the Foundation’s mission. 

“Simply put, communities need to create new vehicles to get things done, and the Civic Commons shows that Seattle realizes that it needs a different approach to tackle its serious social and economic challenges,” said Bruce Katz, author of The New Localism and former Centennial Scholar at public policy research organization Brookings Institution. “Truly solving problems requires more democracy, not less, and the Civic Commons has the opportunity to show how the downward and horizontal movement of power can produce better, more sustainable results for all.”

Civic Commons will launch with two primary initiatives. The first is You Belong Here, which is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. You Belong Here seeks to tackle the root causes of barriers to health and well-being, such as structural racism, gender inequity and extreme income inequality—rather than continuing to only address symptoms like homelessness, disparate health and education outcomes, and fragmented safety net services. It aims to bring together grassroots community leaders, government, the private sector, nonprofits and philanthropy. While there are many sector- and cause-focused forums, You Belong Here will aim to build a leadership ethos that crosses traditional networks. 

“We’re excited to be partnering with Seattle Foundation and other regional stakeholders from the philanthropic, government, business and community sectors,” said David Wertheimer, Director of Community and Civic Engagement at the Gates Foundation. “We believe that the solutions to our region’s toughest challenges can be found in a collective approach that acknowledges the critical role of community members in the solutions.”

The second initiative will establish a Regional Indicators Dashboard of key data and indicators. This dashboard will help to proactively identify a data-driven strategy to enhance the region’s competitive advantages, ensuring that residents have access to job opportunities and prosperity linked to key growth industries.  

“The traditional tri-sector structure with the private, public and nonprofit sectors is failing because it leaves community voices, particularly those of people of color, out of the policymaking process,” said Brown. “This new model will capture these voices and capitalize on the perspectives that can power economic inclusion and community building.”

Brown will serve as Civic Architect for this project. He has worked at Seattle Foundation for more than 16 years, most recently as vice president of community programs. Throughout this tenure, he has led the design and implementation of the Foundation’s programs, grantmaking and impact investing across a broad spectrum of community needs. As Brown assumes his new role, Seattle Foundation is beginning a search for a chief impact officer. 

Prior to Seattle Foundation, Brown served as a legislative aide for the City of Seattle and deputy director for the Washington Association for Community Economic Development. He is president of the Building Changes board of directors and the Neighborhood Funders Group board; a commissioner at the King County Housing Authority; and a board member of the Washington State Budget and Policy Center. He received the 2018 Terrance Keenan Leadership Award in Health Philanthropy, presented by Grantmakers In Health



Community Issues


Vibrant CommunitiesSystems and policy changesocial equalityRacial equity

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