Baltimore has many nicknames, from “Charm City” to the “City that Reads” and many others along the way. For those of us at Baltimore Corps, we say “Baltimore is the best place in the world to change the world.”
Being in such close proximity to the nation’s capital, we know DC has a certain allure, not to mention active recruitment. Despite this, Baltimore consistently ranks within the top 10 destinations in the country for regional college graduates.
The truth is that Baltimore is not Washington, nor should it aspire to be. We have a different set of challenges and a unique collection of assets, and we don’t evaluate ourselves on any other city’s terms.
What we have learned in the years since Baltimore Corps’ founding in 2013 is that Baltimore not only has the growing infrastructure capable of attracting the nation’s brightest young professionals, but it is showing an expanding ability to attract the right talent.
Baltimore has challenges, but it also has incredible people willing to lean into those challenges. We find that people from all over the country are excited about making Baltimore their home, and dedicating their careers to solving entrenched social problems.
For those of us that choose to live and thrive here, we know that Baltimore is resilient. “Smalltimore,” as it is lovingly referred to, is a small big city. Residents take great pride in their neighbourhoods and working together to fulfill Baltimore’s promise as a great American city in which every resident has the opportunity to live a full, meaningful life.
Baltimore embraces its unique identity as a place that attracts brilliant minds and big hearts to solve some of the hardest challenges of our time. We all want to see a stronger Baltimore, so the looming question is always, “How?”
Baltimore Corps is confident that the city has the necessary conditions to serve as the social impact innovation hub of the nation. Our main objective, then, is to connect talent to opportunity, while ensuring that the definition of those terms are in line with the city’s needs and with our values: to advance equity citywide, improve the effectiveness of Baltimore’s social impact sector, and build a network that puts Baltimore’s collective interests above those of any single organisation.
To achieve its mission, Baltimore Corps has built and is scaling a range of programmes that connect talented individuals to impactful opportunities: the Baltimore Corps Fellowship, Place for Purpose, and Elevation Awards.
In our flagship Fellowship programme, aspiring and established changemakers apply to participate in a year-long, paid fellowship. Fellows are matched with Visionary Cause Leaders (VCLs) who direct Baltimore institutions positioned to address the major issues impacting Baltimore. Baltimore Corps’ VCLs range from government agencies to nonprofits to social enterprises.
Throughout the year, Fellows are supported by Baltimore Corps Faculty, who provide customised coaching. Faculty are diverse in their professional and personal experiences, and ensure that the Baltimore Corps community executes at the highest level. To deepen their commitment to and understanding of Baltimore, Fellows also engage in values-based programming throughout their fellowship.
Recognising that those within our network often have openings outside of the Fellowship timeline, Baltimore Corps’ Place for Purpose provides a year-round curated job placement service. Through strategic partnerships, Baltimore Corps will be able to provide opportunities to retain a growing social impact workforce in the city.
The final piece in what I like to call our equity-in-leadership pipeline came from the realisation that only a fraction of the VCLs – and others in this sector within Baltimore – reflect in racial profile the communities they serve. This fact speaks not to the capacity of Baltimore’s communities of colour but to the lack of investment in leaders of colour striving to make a difference in their communities.
Baltimore Corps’ Elevation Awards endeavors to correct that inequity, providing seed grants and long-term support to community leaders in bringing their ideas and innovation to fruition, or bringing existing programs to scale. Awardees receive regular programming and support from Baltimore Corps Faculty, and are featured in a series of events designed to elevate their leadership to diverse stakeholders from across the city.
Although our organisation is just three years old, we already see the fruits of our labour. In total, more than 80 percent of Baltimore Corps fellows from the first two cohorts remain in Baltimore and, most importantly, its social impact sector. Applications for the Baltimore Corps fellowship have increased by 500 percent over the past three years. This is promising, but as we grow, we are determined not to repeat the mistakes of our city’s past. It is imperative that we partner with, invest in, and take cues from communities that have been historically and systematically marginalised by Baltimore’s prevailing institutions. By building and empowering equitable talent pipelines, Baltimore Corps will sustainably drive change across the city.
Baltimore is ripe for social innovation and has the potential to emerge as a city at the forefront of dismantling systems of oppression. We understand that this will not happen without a clear focus on the principles that lead to enduring change: by empowering those closest to the problems facing our communities, shifting how we deploy resources, and remembering that positive impact requires collaboration at all levels, we are well on our way to making this a reality. In 20 years, we envision a city that disrupts the intergenerational cycle of poverty and inequity that has locked out entire communities from opportunity for generations. We invite you to be part of this history-in-the-making.
For more information about Baltimore Corps and how you can get involved, please visit www.baltimorecorps.org.
Fagan Harris (Maryland & DC & St John's 2011) co-founded Baltimore Corps, where he currently serves as the President and CEO. He is a passionate evangelist for Baltimore, who is proud to work every day strengthening America’s greatest city. Fagan sets the organisation’s strategic direction, builds its partnerships, and supports its outstanding community of staff, fellows, and volunteers.
Photo Credit: By Patrick Gillespie - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51221387