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A Shared Imperative

The anchor mission framework represents a significant shift in how anchor institutions have traditionally engaged with their communities. Effectively engaging members of the anchor collaborative and positioning institutions for collective action requires a shared imperative: a recognition and acceptance by all members that adopting the anchor mission framework is necessary and critical for the betterment of their communities.

Members of the collaborative must recognize that how they hire, purchase, invest, and deploy their other institutional assets is an essential component of creating thriving communities and equitable local economies. With the anchor mission as their framework for action, members of the collaborative move from a shared imperative for systemic change to concrete goals for realizing it as they explore, build, and implement measurable anchor strategies to generate positive social impact individually and collectively.

What you need to know

To successfully develop a shared imperative:

  1. Build consensus among anchor institution leaders that how their respective organizations hire, buy, invest, and activate other key assets is an essential part of addressing racial and economic inequities in their communities.
  2. Identify a trusted, capable convener who can help organize institutions and community partners around a shared imperative, strategy, and implementation plan.
  3. Create opportunities for members of the collaborative to build collective understanding of economic and racial inequities in their communities, and of the link to core organizational priorities, such as health and well-being.
  4. Prepare to adapt, and embrace nuances and differences in priorities that arise when crafting and implementing anchor strategies across different anchor institution sectors and political contexts.
  5. Engage in a thoughtful and strategic process to establish institution-level and collaborative-level goals that are specific enough to be meaningful and adaptable to anchor institutions across sectors.

In this section, we discuss the role of a trusted convener in initiating the anchor collaborative, understanding and defining the imperative, and preparing for the nuance of a multisector collaborative; and we offer guidance on goal setting around anchor strategies.

Identifying a trusted convener

The trusted convener takes on many of the coordinating functions of the backbone such as engaging partners, managing internal and external communications, planning and facilitating meetings, and organizing the group around a shared imperative and framework for action. (For more information on backbone functions, see section 1.4 Getting Started: Forming the Collaborative and the Backbone.) The convener is a critical player in moving the collaborative forward and is viewed by members of the collaborative as credible, respected, capable, and transparent in objectives and approach. Some backbone organizations serve as the convener, oftentimes with the support of a consultant or expert facilitator. Other times, the backbone organization maintains the administrative functions while another organization takes on coordinating and convening duties for the collaborative.

The trusted convener helps the group develop consensus, and makes sure all sides and perspectives are acknowledged and captured—creating a safe space for members to share sensitive information. Trusted conveners can be excellent assets for organizing multisector collaboratives because they are not viewed as prioritizing the interests of one particular group over another. The right organization to serve as the trusted convener depends wholly on a community’s unique circumstances including history, politics, and dynamics between institutions.

Some characteristics of a trusted convener include:

  • a high level of credibility within the community and within the anchor institution’s sectors;

  • an understanding of local players, history, politics, and dynamics;

  • a dedicated staff;

  • an ability to build relationships across members of the collaborative; and

  • an ability to focus participants’ attention and create momentum.

Steps for getting started: Selecting a trusted convener

  • Decide whether the organization or individuals who initiated the anchor collaborative are capable and appropriate to serve as the convener, or whether an outside individual or organization is needed.

  • Conduct exploratory interviews with anchor institutions and community members to gather their suggestions for individuals or organizations who could serve as the trusted convener.

  • If there is not a clear choice, consider issuing an RFP (or similar application process) to identify an individual or organization to serve as the convener.

Working with an External Facilitator: South Florida Anchor Alliance (SFAA)

As of 2024, SFAA includes twenty members representing government, public schools, colleges and universities, and health systems. The Health Foundation of South Florida (backbone for SFAA) hired an external facilitator to build relationships across sectors and take stock of the hiring, purchasing, and investing practices of key health systems, governments, and school districts. As SFAA was launching their regional marketplace to connect local vendors to bid opportunities at anchor institutions, the facilitator helped each anchor navigate their contracts with the technology partner. The Health Foundation of South Florida has since welcomed a Project Director to manage the anchor collaborative and work with the facilitator on developing new programs, maintaining relationships with members, and keeping the group focused on its goals.

Understanding and defining the imperative

Anchor institutions can set a strong foundation for collaboration by working with the backbone organization to define the imperative—answering the question: why is it important for anchor institutions to work together, and what is the collaborative working towards?

As is the case with many anchor collaboratives, an analysis of health and wealth outcomes in the community will reveal the impacts of disinvestment, inequitable economic development, structural racism, and discrimination within the communities that the institutions serve. Collaboratives should start by building a shared understanding of economic and racial inequities in their communities, including the presence of oppressive and discriminatory policies and practices, and the populations and geographies that are most impacted. Engaging anchor institution leaders in these processes will foster trust among members of the collaborative and create a shared sense of commitment to the anchor mission and the community. See section 3.2: Activated Champions, for more information on how to engage key leaders in this process.

Steps for getting started: Laying the foundation for the anchor collaborative

  • Engage key leaders at anchor institutions in activities such as group education on key concepts and the differences between those concepts (e.g., racial equity, community wealth building, and anchor mission strategies).

  • Meet with community leaders, residents, and existing coalitions to learn about community priorities to redress racial and economic inequity, including identifying what is working and where more resources are needed.

  • Organize capacity-building initiatives, such as training programs, mentorship opportunities, and presentations of relevant data and research to enhance readiness to navigate complex systems.

Building the Foundation, St. Louis Anchor Action Network (STLAAN)

STLAAN has dedicated significant resources to build the Network’s framework, discover best practices, and accelerate learning and adoption of new practices. University of Missouri–St. Louis (UMSL) initially convened leaders from the regional anchor institutions to discuss how to support one another in adopting and implementing anchor strategies in hiring and purchasing. UMSL then formed an implementation committee made up of the C-Suite leaders of the regional institutions to shape the strategic direction of what is now STLAAN. One key approach for STLAAN is creating a deeper understanding of community needs and historical context among anchor institution leaders through the Executive Learning Experience. The experience aims to align leaders’ mindsets, deepen their understanding of community assets and needs, and provide historical context on disinvestment and inequities. This experience enables executives to become advocates for the Network’s mission and sustains the momentum of the work.

For any anchor collaborative to be effective, leaders of anchor institutions must be able to name health and economic inequities as a problem. They can then begin to draw connections to the anchor mission by agreeing that how the organization hires, buys, invests, and activates its other key economic assets is part of addressing inequities in health and wealth outcomes.

With a baseline understanding of how racial and economic inequities have manifested in the community, members of the collaborative can then begin to build consensus on a path forward by discussing what collaboration across their organizations might look like, exploring how to align their economic assets with community priorities, developing a theory of change, and co-developing a framework for action with community partners.

Communicating the ‘Why’, San Diego Anchor Institution Collaborative

With support from regional anchor institutions, backbone organization San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC) developed a report titled Anchor Institutions: Leveraging Big Buyers for Small Business that communicated the imperative of an anchor mission strategy for San Diego County. The report defined core concepts (e.g., anchor institutions), quantified the economic impact of the anchor collaborative ($9.9 billion in total spending), and called on anchor institutions to shift 1 percent of their procurement dollars to small, local businesses in San Diego. Importantly, the report tied procurement goals back to regional goals around inclusive economic development and small business growth, which regional anchor institutions had previously endorsed. EDC developed a compelling shared imperative that was effective in convincing key institutions to more deeply engage in the collaborative, establish firm commitments around impact purchasing, and demonstrate to their community a deeper commitment to the anchor mission. The County of San Diego, with total spending of more than $2 billion, then worked with EDC to identify opportunities to shift spending to local businesses and increase local vendor registration—leading to a 2.2 percent increase in spending with local businesses and a 10.7 percent increase with small businesses in one year.

Preparing for the nuance of a multisector collaborative

While some collaboratives include members from a single sector, many collaboratives will be a multisector partnership. There is incredible opportunity in working across sectors to create a cohesive and unified approach to equitable economic development, and collaboratives must be prepared to confront and embrace certain nuances and differences in priorities that arise when implementing anchor strategies in a multisector partnership.

Defining a shared imperative requires recognition that members of the collaborative will approach anchor strategies from different perspectives. They operate in different sectors with different motivations and challenges. They have access to different resources, and may use slightly different vocabulary to discuss similar concepts. Oftentimes, collaboratives will have an overarching shared imperative, while individual anchor institutions working in partnership with the backbone may tailor it to resonate more powerfully with key leaders in their institutions who are necessary for sustained commitment.

For example, an anchor collaborative may be spurred to action by the recognition that the life expectancy gap between two areas of a city is indefensible. The members may understand that racial and economic inequities, which concentrate at the hyper-local level, are the root cause of that gap. However, a health system and a university will likely frame those facts differently within their respective organizations in order to build and sustain buy-in, support, and participation in the anchor collaborative. The health system might need to explain how racial and economic inequities are contributing to health disparities, making the connection to the organization’s mission. Whereas the university may frame the inequities within the context of making higher education more accessible and responsive to the needs of the local community and a diverse student body. Furthermore, anchor institutions may share commitments to racial equity and unite around the goals of the strategies, but may use different language to describe similar concepts depending on the sector and whether the institution is public or private.

Additional nuance may arise as a multisector anchor collaborative implements anchor strategies individually or collectively. For example, procurement needs of healthcare institutions are vastly different from procurement in higher education or government. The same is true for workforce composition, access to investment or philanthropic dollars, and policy advocacy priorities. The members may be at different stages of implementing hiring, purchasing, investing, or other anchor mission strategies. Some may have existing programs that resemble an anchor mission strategy, some may be actively in the process of implementing, and some may be just getting started.

While this playbook cannot unpack the depth of nuances that arise when implementing anchor mission strategies across sectors, it is essential to identify the shared language and priorities within the collaborative, which in turn will create a stronger articulation of the collaborative’s goals.

[39] Advancing Mobility from Poverty: A toolkit for housing and education partnerships (Enterprise Community Partners, Inc., 2023),

The anchor mission as a framework for action: Setting shared goals around anchor strategies

With better understanding of each member’s priorities, commitments to economic and racial equity, and present community conditions, anchor collaboratives can then begin the process to establish shared goals. Keep in mind that members of the anchor collaborative are likely operating with limited resources, and that organizations will prioritize strategies that are aligned with its institutional priorities. Shared goals should be salient to each member and reflect an opportunity to address a community need. Establishing goals can help collaboratives move from idea to action. Institutional champions are often key to this process (See section 3.2 Activated Champions, for more information). Taken together, the success factors and anchor strategies outlined in this playbook provide a framework for action that anchor collaboratives can return to as they explore, build, or implement measurable anchor initiatives in their own communities.

Steps for getting started: Setting shared goals around anchor strategies

  • Conduct exploratory interviews with each individual anchor institution to identify its priorities and goals as related to the anchor mission.

  • Analyze interview data to identify common denominators—for example, pain points or opportunities that institutions share.

  • Report back to the anchor collaborative and focus on where there is already shared alignment, and where there are opportunities to build out new strategies and partnerships.

  • Facilitate discussion of a shared vision and how each institution will "show up" to achieve that vision. It will look different for each anchor institution, but as long as efforts are feeding into this shared goal, that is okay.

Sample goals and baseline metrics

In this section, we provide some examples of institutional-level and collaborative-level goals. Example goals are described for each of the core anchor strategies—Impact Workforce, Impact Purchasing, and Place-based Investing—and center primarily on how the anchor institution’s existing assets and operations can be leveraged for maximum community impact. Our intention in providing these examples is not to be prescriptive, as ultimately each anchor collaborative will need to define what success looks like for their own collaborative. What we provide below are example goals that we believe are specific enough to be meaningful, while proving the flexibility for anchor institutions across sectors to adapt them to fit the organization. Examples below follow the SMARTIE framework by setting goals that are Specific, Measurable, Ambitious, Realistic, Time-bound, Inclusive, and Equitable. Further detail on sample metrics can be found in anchor strategy sections: 2.1 Impact Workforce, 2.2 Impact Purchasing, and 2.3 Place-based Investing.

Institution-level goals

Each member of the anchor collaborative can set goals for their individual institution. These institutional-level goals manifest through anchor strategies that are implemented within each institution while reflecting the values and mission of the collaborative.

  • Impact Workforce: By year three, each anchor institution will reach at least 10 percent of new hires annually as “impact hires”—employees hired from local, economically disadvantaged areas, who connect to the organization through intentional pathways into jobs that require less than a bachelor’s degree.
  • Impact Purchasing: Within five years, each anchor institution will at least double their spending with small, local, minority and women-owned business (MWBEs), or reach a “national leader” benchmark of 7.5 percent spending with Tier 1 vendors (those vendors that an anchor institution works with directly to receive goods and services).
  • Place-based Investing: Each anchor institution will allocate 1 percent of its investable assets to place-based investing, and commit to deploy those funds within five years toward projects that impact root causes of health and wealth disparities (e.g., housing, economic opportunity, food access, transportation, and childcare) in historically underinvested neighborhoods.

Collaborative-level goals

The collaborative may build on or reframe institutional-level goals to further define what the collaborative can accomplish together. Institutional-level goals may “roll up” to collaborative-level goals.

  • Impact Workforce: The anchor collaborative will partner on community-based career pathway programs to increase employment in historically under-resourced neighborhoods and achieve parity with city or state unemployment rates within five years.
  • Impact Purchasing: In three years, the anchor collaborative will achieve 10 percent institutional spending with women-, minority-, or disabled-owned businesses in the local community.
  • Place-based Investing: Through institutional allocations, the anchor collaborative will commit 1 percent of collective investment assets to place-based investments in order to support the production or preservation of 1,000 affordable housing units in low-income zip codes.

As discussed above, understanding the assets and experiences that each member brings to the table can serve as a useful starting point for goal setting. Specifically, anchor institutions likely have experience implementing one or more anchor strategies. Providing space to have anchor institutions share their experience putting such strategies into practice can help the group understand what it takes to deliver on such commitments.

Note on
geographic focus
For example, two anchor institutions may have robust supplier diversity programs, each with different approaches to fostering relationships with local vendors or to tracking progress towards procurement goals. Sharing best practices in anchor strategy implementation broadens the collaborative's perspective on what is possible and underscores the impact of scale. However, collaboratives should avoid attempting exact replication of a program solely based on its success in one community or organization. The place-based and cross-sector nature of the collaborative means that goals should match the unique needs of the community and be achievable by its members.

[39b] Healthcare Anchor Network, Annual Data Collection, 2019

Designing a Powerful Shared Intent, CoCreative (2020)

People, Tools, and Processes that Building Collaborative Capacity, Teagle Foundation (2015)

Anchor Mission Leadership Commitments, Healthcare Anchor Network

Readiness Matrix for Cross-Sector Collaboration, Public Health Foundation

Higher Education’s Anchor Mission: A Sharpened Imperative & A Framework for Action, Healthcare Anchor Network (2022)

The Overlooked Anchors: Advancing a New Standard of Practice for Arts and Culture Organizations to Create Equitable Opportunity in America’s Cities, The Kresge Foundation (2019)

Continuum of Progress: A Shared Imperative

When fully sustaining, members of the anchor collaborative are aligned around their shared imperative and able to think, strategize, and implement in the context of the anchor mission and the goals of the collaborative. With the support of a trusted convener, collaboratives can start by building consensus around shared priorities, motivations, and language. They will then be positioned to accept the anchor mission framework as the necessary path forward, and develop goals and strategies that address community needs. 
A credible, trusted convener has been identified to initially organize and engage members of the collaborative. They are working to understand the goals and motivations of each member.
A trusted convener has built relationships across members of the collaborative and is helping the group establish shared goals. 
The trusted convener leverages their credibility and trust to continually support members in achieving their shared goals. 
Members are building consensus that how each organization leverages its hiring, purchasing, investing, and other key assets are important factors for building an equitable local economy.
Members recognize and accept the anchor mission mindset and framework as necessary and critical for the betterment of their communities. 
Members are aligned around a shared imperative. They speak, think, and strategize in terms of the values and context of the anchor mission and the goals of the collaborative.
Members of the collaborative can articulate their individual motivations for participation and are learning about other member’s motivations and priorities.
The backbone and/or convener and each member institution have a baseline understanding of other member’s motivations, assets, structure, and stakeholders.                         
The backbone and/or convener and each member institution engage in ongoing and proactive efforts to learn and share together as they implement anchor strategies individually and collectively.
Members may use different language to describe their commitments and goals around racial equity, community health and well-being, and equitable economic development.
Members are developing shared language around core concepts, the purpose of the collaborative, and their role in it.
Each member of the collaborative can confidently and consistently articulate the shared imperative and how anchor strategies are helping to advance their shared goals.
Members are building knowledge of community challenges and partners and only beginning to understand the collaborative’s role in solutions.
Members have come to an agreement about baseline goals and are beginning to formulate strategies that build on collective knowledge of community challenges and consider resources and limitations of each member.
Members of the collaborative are activating assets and conducting pilot impact efforts. Strategies and activities are aligned with community needs and consider the nuances, resource constraints, and motivations of each member. 
Member Mindset
I am committed to strengthening our shared community and am interested in exploring solutions that are cross-sector and collaborative in nature.
I understand and value the assets of anchor institutions and believe that through intentional partnership, we are capable of broader impact than what is possible with our individual resources.
I am delivering on the shared commitments of the collaborative by helping to activate my institutional assets in service of community health and wellbeing.
Backbone and/or Convener Mindset
I am working hard to understand the unique motivations and constraints of each member of the anchor collaborative.
I am viewed as a trusted convener among anchor institutions across sectors and have helped the group make progress in defining the shared imperative and setting shared goals.
I have secured endorsements of a shared imperative and goals, and am monitoring progress across the collaborative.
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