Success: Reconnecting to Our Waterways

The Power of Collective Impact in Indianapolis

In October of 2010, Indianapolis and the Central Indiana Community Foundation hosted the CEOs for Cities Livability Challenge, where national experts and local leaders generated big, creative ideas for boosting life for people in cities. One of the ideas that emerged for every city to consider was “reconnect to your waterways.”

Brian Payne of CICF, and other leaders promoted the Livability Challenge ideas to Indianapolis stakeholders throughout 2011. Near the end of 2011, Sherrie Bossung, of the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation and leader of Lilly’s annual Global Day of Service, met with Payne and the idea of Reconnecting to Our Waterways was born. From the start, ROW operated under a collective impact structure — bringing a cross-sectorail approach to finding solutions in a city that had, for too long, turned its back on one of its most important assets.

After starting with a two-year stretch of research, community engagement and launching starter projects, the ROW steering committee teamed up to apply for funding from Kresge Foundation to take ROW to the next level. In late 2013, ROW received $1.35 million from Kresge for creative placemaking projects in strategic locations along six waterways located in the central city. These funds are paired with local dollars from CICF and deep investment by the large group of organizations participating on the steering committee as part of the collective impact approach.

The Kresge-funded projects — created with leadership from residents and artists alike — are now in the early stage of implementation, with funding in place until 2016. Projects will include temporary or permanent public art, trails improvement, outdoor public spaces enlivened by public programming — and a variety of other methods aimed at creating long-term, vibrant and active destinations that will attract people, business, community and culture to areas around our often-previously-overlooked waterways.

In addition to the success of the incredible investment in our waterways, Indianapolis is also seeing other groups use the collective impact approach to approaching issues in our city. ROW and its connecting organizations have offered multiple opportunities for people to learn about and the collective impact approach. And this knowledge — as well as the experience of working together with a common goal — will create a positive and lasting legacy in Indianapolis.

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