The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately harmed marginalized communities and heightened existing inequities. The NYC Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity (NYC Opportunity) wanted to work with non-profit organizations to empower community leaders to design more targeted and effective solutions for challenges in their communities.
In 2021, NYC Opportunity developed the Designed by Community Program which offers funding and guidance to local leaders to pursue projects under the management of a host non-profit organization to support their communities. While the fellowship was originally designed to improve ongoing government projects within the office’s purview, NYC Opportunity moved to a remote program focused on projects led by community leaders and organizers in poverty-affected communities after the onset of the pandemic. The office maintained an emphasis on equity and improving relationships between government and marginalized communities.
NYC Opportunity recognized that the program model could empower residents by giving them more control over program funds. As such, the office created three funding streams: living and learning stipends to financially support fellows, research incentives to compensate residents for participating in projects, and general project funds. The office created Medium posts, videos, brochures, and interest forms to advertise the program and to seek applicants. Additionally, NYC Opportunity mapped out a process for fellows to identify their research questions, conduct outreach to residents, integrate feedback in their project designs, and create launch plans for implementing their projects after the fellowship.
Project Outcomes and Impact
For the first year of the fellowship, NYC Opportunity worked with TakeRoot Justice, a community-based organization which offers research and legal aid to support grassroots efforts, and residents living in public housing (NYCHA). Program fellows completed the five-month fellowship program in October 2021 and developed a variety of projects to improve community engagement. These projects include technology to facilitate communication between NYCHA residents and community organizers, a mentorship program to support young artists and reduce violence, a women's empowerment group, and a skating program to promote health. In early 2022, NYC Opportunity opened a call for proposals seeking a partner organization for the second iteration of the fellowship.
The Designed by Community program is an example of how government agencies can work directly with underserved communities and help them lead design efforts. This model can be more effective and more cognizant of individual needs than top-down approaches to service delivery.