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Community Highlights

May 22, 2017

Virginia: Highlights From Abingdon

Report on the Appalachian Funders Network Gathering

  • Abingdon, VA

    1 of 5 Abingdon, Virginia, the site of the AFN meeting.

  • Local Musicians

    2 of 5 Local musicians from Abingdon, Virginia.

  • Appalachian Leaders with Jen

    3 of 5 Appalachian-based foundation leaders (and Jen).

  • How to Engage People

    4 of 5 Engaging people to discuss equity.

  • Front Porch meeting

    5 of 5 Front porch meeting, AFN style.

For the 8th consecutive year, foundations and grant makers gathered for two and a half days in Central Appalachia to participate in a working meeting about aligning their investment resources.

What started out as an initiative of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, the Benedum Foundation and the Appalachian Regional Commission has grown into a network of about 100 funders that have organized around strategies that support an economic transition in Appalachia. The strategy is characterized by justice and evenhandedness for a region that has seen disinvestment, low education attainment rates, poor health outcomes and the environmental impacts of enduring extractive industries. This group of funders is known as the Appalachian Funders Network (AFN).

The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond has been engaged with this network of funders throughout their journey. “Appalachia is an exceptionally compelling place with diverse assets and a resilient culture,” said Jen Giovannitti, the Richmond Fed regional Community Development manager that has been leading our efforts in this region. “AFN is proving that there is a desire to invest in Appalachia and take a strategic approach to advancing a positive economic transition.” Jen Giovannitti was elected by her peers to join the AFN Steering Committee this year and remarked, “The leaders I get to work with in this region are some of the most thoughtful and innovative people in community development and I look forward to serving.” 

Participants in the AFN invest in Central Appalachia, specifically in a 234 county region that contains parts of Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee. The network is focusing on five primary areas of interest for funders: health, food systems, energy, capacity building and impact investing. Workgroups focusing on these five areas meet throughout the year.

The funders in the AFN are investors in both people and place. Investment happens in the form of grants, program-related investments, donor advised funds, and other leveraged sources of capital that go into infrastructure and large building projects. Practitioners execute the work of the investment within communities and are the recipients of the investments who in turn use the funds to benefit individuals in the region. 

Recently, the AFN gained national attention when it initiated a concept to launch an impact investing fund. The Just Transition Fund — a collaboration between the Rockefeller Family Fund and Appalachia Funders Network — is now holding its first event to provide interested investors with an opportunity to learn directly from energy and economic transition experts who are leading these efforts in Appalachian coalfield and power plant communities around the country. This is one of many innovative ideas flourishing in the region. 

This year’s gathering in Abingdon, Virginia, included a video welcome from Senator Tim Kaine who spoke in detail about the challenges and opportunities that exist in the region. Foundations from San Francisco, New York, Boston, Vermont and Seattle attended the AFN Gathering this year, an indication that there are opportunities to invest in Appalachia’s future. 

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