Achieving deeper racial equity in communities across the country requires taking on existing power structures and working to change the systems that sustain racism.

A new set of place-based initiatives is working to change these systems through three avenues: structural changes in policies, practices, and resource flows; relational changes in networks and power; and transforming attitudes. The initiatives we studied bring together actors across public, private, and nonprofit sectors to tackle systems shaping access to housing, health, education, public infrastructure, and other life essentials. This work happens across multiple locations, creating a patchwork of many local, cross-sector site teams pursuing similar goals.

We talked to the stakeholders of these initiatives and others to explore their different goals, structures, and processes and distilled four lessons on what it takes to advance racial equity through systems change.

1. Make racial equity a goal and embed it in practices

By making unravelling racism an explicit initiative goal, funders provide political cover and enable communities to take public action to center racial equity in their work.

2. Shift power, take risks, and build trust

Inequitable outcomes stem from inherent power imbalances. Shifting power means offering more authority over goal setting and decisionmaking to those affected by an issue, including hiring community members as staff and paying them as participants.

3. Bridge communities, initiatives, and sectors

Place-based initiatives can advance racial equity and amplify their outcomes by intentionally building connections with other communities and initiatives doing similar work.

4. Commit for the long haul

A long investment horizon, and an even longer timeline for measuring outcomes, fosters trust with the community, enables a focus on structural changes instead of short-term gains, and allows for adaptation and learning.

Read the full article about place-based initiatives by Corianne Payton Scally and Lydia Lo at Urban Institute.