Confluence Denver Launches Collective Impact Discussion Series

On March 18, Confluence Denver hosted its first Collective Impact Advisory Meeting at RedLine in Curtis Park. The discussion showcased a wide range of ambitious initiatives and projects, as well as what's necessary to help them cross the finish line.
"Our goal was never to build a media company," said Brian Boyle, co-founder of Issue Media Group, Confluence's parent company. "The question we wanted to answer was: 'How do you build a community of extraordinary cross-sector talent?’"

Kicking off the conversation at RedLine, Boyle added, "Welcome to our experiment."

Jay Salas, program manager, Denver Office of Strategic Partnerships (DOSP)

"We've become the office of innovation in the city," said Salas. The goal has been "taking all of the things happening in Denver and making matches. We're there to support partnerships."

To this end, DOSP was instrumental in launching Denver Shared Spaces and the city's network of Financial Empowerment Centers.

The big push is moving the DOSP towards the model of New York's Center for Economic Opportunity. "We're going to Denver-ize it," said Salas.

As far as needs, he adds, "We need support and partnerships -- partnerships is in our name."

C. Benzel Jimmerson, owner, Diversity Dynamics Consulting

"The biggest thing we focus on is fatherhood," said Jimmerson. "If we attack that one issue, a lot of our problems around the city, the country, the world go away."

Jimmerson said that his top initiative is building a statewide community to address related issues and build "infrastructure for activism."

"What we need is partners," he added, citing a goal of finding a go-to collaborator for such focus areas as arts, sports and other subjects.

Heather Baker, director of marketing and business development, Otten Johnson Robinson Neff + Ragonetti

The longstanding real-estate law firm is focused on engaging the community, said Baker.

"We want to get past writing checks and putting our names on tables at galas. We want to be part of the conversation. We also want to be part of the dialogue of what needs to be built."

Christopher Herr, HDRJesse Adkins, principal, Shears Adkins Rockmore Architects, and Christopher Herr, design principal, HDR / AIA Denver

"We're building a city here," said Adkins. "Large tracts of land are being developed. The centrality of Denver has moved. It's at 17th and Wynkoop now."

Adkins ran down a laundry list of housing issues in the city: the construction defect laws stifling the development of for-sale condos, skyrocketing rents and the lack of affordable housing.

"The biggest problem is probably action," he said. "I like to get shit done. I'd like to challenge everyone to go do that."

Added Herr: "Everybody has a relationship with architecture. We think architecture is a thread that combines all of these elements."

For this reason, he noted, AIA Denver is looking to "facilitate, initiate and emphasize that conversation" about building a better city.

Louise Pilar Martorano, RedLine / Sam Pike, Wonderbound / Adam Gordon, The Temple

Representatives from Curtis Park's socially conscious arts triumvirate said their mission was using art as a tool to connect and converse with the surrounding neighborhood.

"RedLine is not just a gallery," said Pilar Martorano. "We do a lot of community outreach."

Wonderbound is "using art as a way to tell the stories that connect us in this neighborhood," said Pike. "How can art be part of the conversation?"

The big need? "For all of us, it's a steady tax base and buy-in from the community," answered Gordon.

Joe Haines, VP of development, Mi Casa Resource Center Joe Haines, Mi Casa Resource Center

Haines said Mi Casa is known for its Latino focus, "but we're really focused on the economic success of Denver."

One of the nonprofits new initiatives is an intensive, three-week customer service training program with corporate partners like Comcast. Participants can land jobs that pay about $40,000 annually after completing the program.

"We're looking for participants, specifically women," said Haines, also citing a need for additional corporate partners.

Haines highlighted another ask: "I need greater exposure and awareness of Mi Casa's mission."

Tammy Mulligan, executive director, Denver Urban Ministries

The service provider is making a big push to make employment for accessible in the metro area.

"The biggest initiative we're working on is helping people get jobs, especially those with felony backgrounds," said Mulligan. "Everybody should be allowed to work. When you shut people out, they have to look elsewhere."

She called affordable housing the biggest need that dovetails into this mission.

Jami Duffy, executive director, Youth On Record

The music education nonprofit in La Alma/Lincoln Park has a mission of getting more Denver kids interested in their education.

"50 percent of our teenagers do not graduate high school," said Duffy. "That's real. That's going to impact everybody in this room."

Duffy said her goal was taking the Youth On Record model to other cities. "If you have a model that's working at home, you should try to go national with it."

Erika Righter, owner, Hope Tank

With the wares of nearly 100 local artisans on the shelves of her Baker store, Righter donates a portion of sales to nonprofits.

She said her goal was to "activate entrepreneurship” and make giving easier.  

"People want to give back and nonprofits make it very difficult," said Righter. "A lot of organizations that should be talking are not."

Rob Smith, executive director, Rocky Mountain MicroFinance Institute (RMMFI)

The organization has graduated more than 100 small businesses from its programs to date with a 75 percent rate of success.

"A big focus of ours is building community around entrepreneurship," said Smith, noting that gentrification represents a big hurdle to RMMFI and the city right now. "It's about investing in these neighborhoods and our businesses from the inside out."

Gary Steuer, president, Bonfils-Stanton Foundation

The arts-centric charitable foundation is blazing a new trail -- not many of its peers have taken on arts and arts alone.

"What we're grappling with is our focus on arts and culture is relatively new," said Steuer. Arts organizations "need to see their role as part of the larger civic context."

Stephanie Mercer, founder, Inleit Properties

Mercer says she wants to help people create the lives they want in Denver, and that means she's interested in being part of the conversation about housing.

Noting that Denver needs talent, but a lack of inventory is driving prices higher and higher, Mercer says, "There's a need for housing. How do we fill that need and do it so it's affordable?"

Kate Lynch, Downtown Denver PartnershipKate Lynch, marketing and communications coordinator, Downtown Denver Partnership

Lynch highlighted The Commons on Champa. "This is the new entrepreneurial center at 1245 Champa," she said.

With the 20,000-square-foott space at a city building at the Denver Performing Arts Complex set for a May launch, Lynch said the DDP, the Colorado Technology Association and other partners are looking for members and mentors.

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn

Read more articles by Eric Peterson.

Eric is a Denver-based tech writer and guidebook wiz. Contact him here.
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