ISC launched the Gulf Coast Sustainable Economies Leadership Academy to help smaller, primarily low-income communities explore how energy efficiency, renewable energy, and ecological restoration can revitalize their economies. 20 communities from four Gulf states sent teams to the Academy.view slideshow
United States Gulf Coast
Gulf Coast Sustainable Communities Network
When ISC began working with Moss Point, Mississippi residents in 2005, we knew that it was just one of many communities along the Gulf Coast grappling with rebuilding in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
We quickly learned that some communities—in particular rural, predominantly low-income communities of color—lacked many of the resources and connections that were helping their larger neighbors recover. Their civic and nonprofit sectors, meanwhile, often had little capacity to address community concerns.
ISC launched the Gulf Coast Sustainable Communities Network in early 2009 to help these vulnerable communities become more economically, socially, and environmentally healthy and resilient. Stretching 400 miles from Alabama to Texas, the Network connected local leaders from 13 communities and more than two dozen community organizations.
The Network helped them develop the tools and resources to better advocate for their communities and the people who live there. In coastal areas, for example, where wetlands act as a vital buffer against hurricanes and storm surges—and where those wetlands are rapidly disappearing—a community’s survival may depend on its ability to make the case for wetland restoration and preservation.
The hurricanes also laid bare a number of issues with which communities had long been struggling, and many community leaders saw the rebuilding process as an opportunity to address long-term challenges. From utilizing green building and new storm management systems, to developing urban agriculture and more diverse local and regional economies, Network members learned and shared creative strategies that can help communities rebuild their neighborhoods and institutions more sustainably.
In the first two years, member of the Sustainable Communities Network convened five times to share their stories and challenges, and to work together to solve collective problems. They identified these collaborations as among the most valuable components of the Network, as members drew inspiration, motivation, and support from one another.
“It's to the point where ISC convenings are like reunions, where we can catch up on each other's work and think on a more regional level,” said one community leader from East Biloxi, Mississippi. Another Network member from Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana added, “We are all pieces of the puzzle. Putting it together is hard, but there is no impact unless we do it together.”
In addition to the convenings, ISC provided training and technical assistance in areas that Network members identified as priorities for their communities, including green building, land use techniques, and digital media. Younger members were also able to participate in the Emerging Leaders Initiative, a program of customized leadership development training.
Though the Network was born out of the need to strengthen recovery efforts from Katrina and other natural disasters, it also helped communities mobilize to confront yet another disaster—the BP Deepwater Horizon spill. Members were able to react quickly to this unprecedented challenge using the relationships, community connections, and leadership they had developed since Katrina. Their ability to effectively communicate and share resources meant they were better equipped and prepared to advocate for their communities.
At the heart of the Gulf Coast Sustainable Communities Network is community empowerment through active local involvement, and our goal was to leave behind a lasting legacy of cooperation. So, in January 2011, we were delighted to transition ISC’s role as convener and facilitator to the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health.
The Gulf Coast Fund is a community-led philanthropic organization working towards a just and sustainable Gulf Coast. Many Network members are already grantees of the Gulf Coast Fund, and the two organizations share several individuals and organizations in active leadership roles.
As ISC continues to work with Gulf Coast communities in the months ahead—beginning with the Gulf Coast Sustainable Economies Project in 2011—we are constantly inspired by the passionate communities, leaders, and organizations we have met so far. They give us a great deal of hope for a sustainable, prosperous future on the Gulf.
Local advocates and organizations are transforming New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward into a model for Gulf Coast communities looking to make themselves stronger than they were before Hurricane Katrina. ISC's Gulf Coast Sustainable Communities Network gathered there for its third meeting in October 2009.view slideshow
Like its neighbors along the Gulf Coast, the city of Moss Point, Mississippi suffered tremendous devastation during Hurricane Katrina. Today, ISC is helping city officials become stronger leaders, a fledgling nonprofit grow to better serve its community, and the city's poorest neighborhoods—severely flooded by Katrina—engage in the rebuilding process.more
Many Communities, One Future
Meet some of the extraordinary members of the Gulf Coast Sustainable Communities Network. You can also view a more in-depth version of this video by clicking here.
Our work in the Gulf Coast has been made possible by:
- 21st Century Foundation
- Nathan Cummings Foundation
- Ford Foundation
and the generosity of individual donors like you.