Mapping Non-Profit Influence: The Case of the Lower 9th Ward

September 17th, 2013

This research was conducted by Cameron Conklin

Research Background

Due to the rapid growth of non-profit organizations within the U.S. and around the world, it is incumbent that scholars more closely examine the interactions between three sectors: private enterprise, government and non-profit organizations. In the late 1990’s, non-profits began to serve as an alternative mechanism to government for providing collective goods (Weisbrod, 1997, p.551). According to Weisbrod, non-profit organizations often spring up to fill the gaps in services when voters are unsatisfied with the form or amount of government assistance. Carrie Meyer sees non-profit organizations as serving a similar role, providing and producing public goods that government has failed to provide. She emphasizes that public goods are “jointly consumable,” providing benefits for the people directly receiving them but also benefiting society as a whole, for example, education (Meyer, 1997, p.1127). The provision of collective goods by non-profit organizations has been studied in various forms. One of the key topics in this literature is the provision of collective goods by non-profits after a disaster. Large-scale disasters, both natural and man-made, often put insurmountable stress on government bodies. Non-profit organizations have the ability to step up and help with the recovery process by supplying collective goods that supplement government services in these times of need. One of these cases was the non-profit response to Hurricane Katrina.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, many New Orleans residents felt that an effective government coalition was absent in the recovery process (Irazabal, 2007, p.27). Sparked by this perception of government failure and inadequate relief and recovery efforts, local communities began creating grass-roots organizations and coalitions that could supply collective goods to their neighborhoods. Irazabal and Neville (2007) note, “the unprecedented surge since Katrina in neighborhood-based planning, which has taken place across racial, class and geographic lines, is being acknowledged as truly a historic moment in the city by local planners, officials and residents.” These organizations were able to respond quickly to the immediate and acute recovery needs of community members (Simo, 2007, p.128). Forgette, Dettrey, Boening and Swanson found that New Orleans citizens reported civic, community and religious organizations as the most important sources of their basic items such as food, clothing, and medical care directly after the disaster. Five months after the storm, these organizations remained the most important source of these items (Forgette, 2009, p.14). The legitimacy, competency and trustworthiness of these non-profits played a significant role in their ability to respond to the disaster. Neighborhood residents saw the non-profits as being organized and possessing a high level of service delivery experience. Katz (2008, p.15) emphasizes that many of the efforts initiated directly after the storm are still ongoing. Many of the groups she mentions combined assistance with social activism, such as Safe Streets/Strong Communities, the Common Ground Clinic and INSITE! Women of Color Against Violence. Safe Streets/Strong Communities campaigns for a new criminal justice system, Common Ground works in wetland restoration, while INSITE! Women of Color Against Violence develops political projects to end violence toward woman. These non-profit organizations are continuing to make an impact in the New Orleans neighborhoods.

Through these research projects, Weisbrod and Meyer have provided a number of ways to investigate and understand non-profit organizations and their interactions. Two of these methods will be significant in this research. First we will rely on Weisbrod’s list of performance indicators to chart non-profit performance. Second, we will use Meyer’s list of information sharing activities to understand how organizations interact and share information with the public and each other. The benefits of Weisbrod’s performance indicators is to establish whether or not non-profits in the Lower Ninth Ward are successfully filling their role in the three part economy. Previous research shows that non-profit institutions consistently provide more access to consumers with the inability to pay, provide a higher percentage of collective goods and more opportunities to volunteer than private enterprises (Weisbrod, 1997, p.554). This research will look for evidence of these three criteria in each organization. Beyond performance, this research will also be looking at the extent to which non-profit organizations in the Lower Ninth Ward share information. This is important to analyze because practices that share information increase human and social capital and serve as investments (activities that will increase future production or pleasure). The production of these public goods provides direct returns as well as positive externalities. Meyer emphasizes that partnerships and information exchanged between non-profits are key in keeping information flowing in the non-profit sector. “By investing in networking, NGO’s exchange information and strengthen each other’s production process. Information may also be exchanged between NGO’s in a kind of barter transaction or pooled as they jointly undertake a project.” (Meyer, 1997, p.1135). The freedom non-profits have in exchanging and disseminating information (versus for-profit companies) allows for greater transparency within the sector. This transparency is a key foundation for creating a larger communal presence of non-profits in a given political economy.

While non-profits working in New Orleans received the immediate attention of scholars for their disaster relief, the impact of non-profit organizations over the long term has received less attention. The Lower Ninth Ward serves as a prime example. The Lower Ninth Ward was one of the neighborhoods that was hit hardest by the levee breech and subsequent flooding. This community is bordered by the Mississippi River, the Industrial Canal, and the Main Outfall Canal. This geographical position paired with much of its elevation at or below sea level caused the flood waters to create mass devastation in the Lower Nine. The rebuilding of this neighborhood has been spearheaded by a number of non-profit organizations who are still working to develop and transform this community. While the Lower Ninth has seen a number of great successes due to these organizations, dominant media seems to ignore these strides. In March 2012, the New York Times Magazine published a cover story titled “Jungleland” which paints a grim picture of the Lower Ninth Ward as an urban jungle, infested with predatory animals, overgrown with wild vegetation and essentially abandoned by the city. This is just one example of an ongoing narrative since Hurricane Katrina, which has portrayed the Lower Ninth Ward as destitute, dangerous and failing as a viable neighborhood. This article, along with many others of a similar nature, fails to talk about non-profit organizations working and helping in this cultural landscape. If they are mentioned, they are often written off, such as the reference to the Make It Right Foundation found in “Jungleland.” It reads, “An exception is the sliver of land on the neighborhood’s innermost edge, where Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation has built 76 solar-paneled, pastel-hued homes — though this seems less a part of the neighborhood than a Special Economic Zone.” The study of non-profits in the Lower Ninth Ward is particularly pertinent because of the vast number and reach of non-profit organizations in this neighborhood. This research project aims to counter the popular narrative presented by dominant media sources such as the New York Times Magazine by providing a more in-depth and accurate portrayal of the interactions between non-profit organizations in the political economy of the Lower Ninth Ward.

Research Question

What have been the roles of non-profit organizations in the political economy of the Lower Ninth Ward since Hurricane Katrina in 2005?

Methods

This is a study of political economy based on data gathered from publicly-available sources according to multiple criteria. First, the organizations were categorized based on Weisbrod’s list of performance indicators, and then they were categorized based on Meyer’s information sharing activities. Next, they were categorized geographically and by the services they provide. Lastly, they were categorized by their participation in networking.

Weisbrod developed a set of criteria to evaluate the performance of non-profit organizations. This list includes:

1. Access by consumers regardless of ability to pay: The ease of which consumers can access the services of an organization regardless of the consumers’ ability to provide monetary compensation for said service.
2. Provision of Collective Goods: The extent to which organizations provide collective goods to their targeted community that complement goods being provided by the government.
3. Opportunities to Volunteer: The encouragement of altruistic values by providing opportunities for persons to volunteer with their organization.

Each organization was analyzed in terms of adherence to these indicators. Information was gathered based on their programs, missions, collaborations and activities. This information was gathered via publicly available sources including the internet, printed publications, pamphlets, posters, newspapers, budget reports and year end summaries. (To see the analysis of performance indicators for any organization, please refer to the individual article page linked to the organization below.)

Next, the organizations were examined with respect to their ability to share information. This research uses Meyer’s list of Information Sharing Activities to identify how non-profit organizations are effectively providing collective goods, one of the criterion in Weisbrod’s list for gauging performance. She has established a list of information-sharing activities that the majority of non-profits are involved in:

1. Education
2. Training
3. Research
4. Capacity Building
5. Networking
6. Awareness Raising
7. Social Change

Categorizing Non-Profits Geographically

The researcher looked to see where non-profit organizations working in the Lower Ninth Ward are coming from. The researcher divided the organizations by scale and scope of their operations:

1. Local: Grass-roots organizations that only work in the Lower Ninth Ward, started by residents of this community.
2. Regional: Organizations that work in New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana.
3. National: Organizations that work in two or more states in the country.

Categorizing Non-Profits by Services

In order to understand the goods non-profit organizations are providing, the researcher identified five service categories:

1. Environmental Protection: Supporting and implementing sustainable practices such as wetland restoration, energy saving construction, and raingardens.
2. Construction: Building new homes and public spaces, repairing existing homes or public spaces, and construction on recreation or community facilities such as playgrounds.
3. Urban Farming: Constructing and maintaining small farms or orchards in the Lower Ninth Ward to grow food and other consumable products.
4. Arts and Culture: Developing programs that teach and train on various arts and cultural subjects such as dance, music, photography and history.
5. Resident Development: Providing services for residents such as legal counseling, job training, mental/emotional support and advice.

Networking

Networking is one of the information sharing techniques described by Meyer. The researcher looked to see the role networking played among organizations and which type of networking organizations engaged in. The following networking types were used in this analysis:

1. Giving/Receiving Gifts
2. Giving/Receiving Loans
3. Sponsor Same Event/Program
4. Volunteer Referral
5. Consumer Referral

Gifts can refer to anything from giving material goods to helping work on another organization’s headquarters. Loans often manifest in the form of tools or supplies. Volunteer referral is the exchange of volunteers between organizations. Consumer referral is advising residents to seek help from another organization that can serve them more effectively. It can also be considered advertisement of an organization by another organization. Each organization was analyzed for evidence of these types of networking based on their programs, missions, collaborations and activities. This information was gathered via publicly available sources including the internet, printed publications, pamphlets, posters, newspapers, budget reports and year-end summaries.

Organizations Selected for Study

The following organizations were chosen for their work directly in the Lower Ninth Ward. While this list includes organizations that are both national and local, these institutions represent the 18 most involved organizations the researcher was able to distinguish in this community. “Involvement” was based on the number of programs the organizations have in the neighborhood and how many people these programs impact. However, because this research was gathered through publicly available sources, the amount of public information an organization made available naturally had an impact on these choices. Unfortunately, the number of organizations had to be limited for this project due to time restrictions. Future research in this area would benefit from a larger sample of organizations. Many organizations work less directly in the Lower Ninth yet highly contribute to the success of those listed below.

18 non-profit organizations have been included in this study:

1. Common Ground Relief
2. CAPSTONE
3. Our School at Blair Grocery-
4. Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development-
5. Backyard Gardeners Network
6. Lower 9th Ward Village
7. Youth Orchestra of the Lower Ninth Ward
8. Make It Right-
9. Lower 9th Ward Neighborhood Empowerment Network Association
10. GroundWork NOLA
11. Global Green USA
12. Bayou Rebirth-
13. House of Dance and Feathers
14. Tekrema Center for Arts and Culture
15. L9 Center for the Arts
16. Historic Green
17. LowerNine.org
18. Sierra Club

Findings

Please click on the above names to read about the history and programs of each organization. There you will also find an in depth analysis of their information sharing activities and performance indicators which has informed the findings in this article. From this data set, I have found:

1. Most organizations working in the Lower Ninth Ward are local

When I categorized the organizations by locality I observed that 61% out of the 18 organizations studied are local, 22% are regional and 17% are national. This means that 11 organizations are local, four are regional and three are national. This shows that the majority of organizations working in the Lower Ninth Ward are grass-roots organizations, created by Lower Ninth Ward residents to support and help only this community.

2. Non-profits have focused on five areas of rebuilding

When I look at the 18 organizations in this research I can observe that all of the organizations fall into five service categories (Environmental Protection, Construction, Urban Farming, Arts and Culture and Resident Development). The following trend occurs:

Five organizations (28%) participate in urban farming, six organizations (33%) participate in construction, seven organizations (39%) participate in environmental protection, four organizations (22%) participate in arts and culture and four organizations (22%) participate in resident development. This data shows that a wide variety of services are being provided at a fairly equal level.

Although construction is one of the most common services, more advanced services such as the development of arts and culture are also being provided. This is a positive sign for the recovery process, showing that non-profits have begun to move away from direct disaster relief to developing a more holistic set of services geared towards long-term sustainability and prosperity.

I also see that organizations are very influential in producing services that are centered on sustainable environmental practices. For example, 39% of organizations are working toward environmental protection (such as wetland protection) and 28% are also engaging in urban farming. This indicates that organizations in the Lower Ninth are at the forefront of rebuilding and redeveloping this community with the future in mind. This data shows us that non-profits have truly established a well-rounded and forward-thinking set of services in the Lower Ninth Ward.

3. All of the non-profits supply collective goods

I found the following trends in terms of performance indicators: 89% of the organizations had satisfactory access to consumers regardless of ability to pay, 100% of the organizations provided collective goods, and 61% of the organizations provided opportunities to volunteer. This shows us that the organizations did very well in performing the duties and providing the services of a non-profit.

The highest performance indicator was provision of collective goods, with 18 out of 18 organizations providing these services. The lowest indicator was opportunities to volunteer. The researcher saw a trend in the data, showing that national organizations and those providing services in the arts and culture category were less likely to advertise opportunities to volunteer. The most likely reason that organizations are less likely to provide volunteer opportunities is due to the role of CSED in the community as an over-arching volunteer coordinator. They facilitate and organize volunteers across the neighborhood for all of these organizations, leading individual organizations to not feel the need to advertise volunteering on their own.

4. Non-profits are most likely to share information through networking

From the data collected above, the researcher wanted to look closer and see what sort of collective goods these organizations provided. The researcher looked to see if organizations engaged in information sharing (a form of collective good) and if so, if this contributed to the provision of their services.

The 18 organizations in this study are very active in information sharing. 55% of the organizations participate in education, 61% participate in training, 38% participate in research, 61% participate in capacity building, 89% participate in networking, 28% participate in awareness raising, and 66% participate in social change. The data shows us that networking and social change are the strongest indicators with capacity building and training also being very common sharing practices.

The form of information sharing these organizations engage in is not only indicative of the relationship between them, but also the relationship these organizations have with their community. The high level of networking is a very interesting and important indicator. This will be discussed below. The level of social change we see correlates with the high level of environmental protection services these organizations offer. Training and capacity building are very connected indicators (training can be a form of capacity building). The high levels of these two activities shows that organizations working in this community are also working with the communities members. The high level of local organizations is a factor in the high levels of training and capacity building. Local organizations are most notably interested in hearing and incorporating community opinion into their activities.

5. Non-profits are most likely to engage in networking by sponsoring joint programs or events

From the data collected, we see that non-profits in the Lower Ninth engage in five types of networking with each other: giving/receiving gifts, giving/receiving loans, volunteer referrals, consumer referrals and joint sponsorship on projects or events. There are 12 organizations (66%) that give/receive gifts, four organizations (22%) that give/receive loans, 13 organizations (72%) that sponsor the same program or event, 10 organizations (55%) that refer volunteers and five organizations (27%) that refer consumers. The most common networking technique is joint program or event sponsorship, one of the deepest networking indicators. Joint event sponsorship shows that organizations have missions and goals similar enough to design and implement programs together. This speaks to the interconnectedness of organizations in this neighborhood. Joint sponsorship has made possible coalitions such as the Connect the 9 Committee and the Bayou Bienevnue Project. These projects are lead by community members from various organizations, compiling resources to hold events and programs in support of these initiatives.

Beyond these indicators, non-profits in the Lower Ninth have a very organized and distinct networking structure. The Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED) has network connections with 15 of the 18 organizations in this study. This number is almost twice as high as the second largest networker. CSED serves as a networking and advertising coordinator for the non-profits in the Lower Ninth Ward. They have begun numerous coalitions, bringing other organizations on board and connecting smaller organizations with each other. The CSED is the largest volunteer coordinator in the neighborhood. They disseminate volunteers to various organizations as they come through the city. They keep track of which non-profits are operating in the neighborhood, what their mission is, and what projects they are currently working on. The CSED is vital to maintaining the strong network connections seen throughout the Lower Ninth Ward.

Conclusions

Through information sharing activities, non-profit organizations functioning in the Lower Ninth Ward have created an interconnected network helping them to supply collective goods to residents. They have formed a distinct organizational structure formed around one central non-profit who delegates and promotes the auxiliary organizations in the network. This enables non-profits to communicate effectively with each other and stay in contact. Any non-profit that seeks to work in this neighborhood goes through the CSED. This enables the CSED to maintain a database of organizations operating in the community. This helps to maintain a wide variety of services and projects in the neighborhood and eliminate repetitive programming. As a collective working in the community, these 18 organizations are able to efficiently share resources, such as transfer volunteers to non-profits who need their skills most. They are also able to quickly join together and sponsor projects or events with each other. Consumers are provided a vast web of resources and programs, which are easily accessible as organizations share with residents information about other organizations in the neighborhood. Information, an important aspect of development and a vital collective good, is being transferred through various forms, such as education, networking and social change. By working together and establishing a collective structure, non-profits in the Lower Ninth Ward have found a way to effectively supple a vast number of services to this community. While their individual programs and missions vary, they maintain a joint presence in the community.

These findings should change the way we look at non-profits and rebuilding in New Orleans. From this study, we see that instead of a desolate and abandoned neighborhood, the Lower Ninth Ward is full of innovative and active organizations that are helping community members everyday. This research should help to inform scholars and the media that rebuilding is a process, not a result. The work that non-profits are doing in the Lower Ninth Ward is helping to make the Lower Nine stronger and more sustainable then before the storm. When we look at these organizations as a collective, we can understand their impact more accurately and holistically. We see that they have the ability to make a real and consequential impact.

The display of this research on MediaNOLA is designed in parallel structure to that of the organizations in the Lower Ninth Ward. The interface of MediaNOLA allows the main body of research to be recorded on this page with each organization linked, allowing the public to understand each non-profit on its own or within the body of this work. This main analysis page functions like the CSED in coordinating the research project and the organizations it encompasses. Beyond reflecting the networked nature of non-profits in the Lower Ninth Ward, MediaNOLA provides an open website giving the public and those interested in New Orleans access to this information, thus fulfilling the goal of this research.

Further Investigation

While this research has contributed to the discussion on non-profits in the Lower Ninth Ward, it has only scratched the surface of this issue. Further research would be highly beneficial in order to get a closer look at the effects of these organizations on their community. There are a number of questions that could be asked to extend and expand this research. It would be interesting to look deeper into the organizational structure of non-profits in the Lower Ninth Ward and investigate how this structure is similar to that of a governing body. It is also important to compare the services provided by these non-profits to that of the government and private sector. Lastly, it would be imperative to look more closely at the economic impact of these organizations when seen as a collective. While this project has provided an in-depth analysis of 18 organizations and their connections, it hopes to serve as a jumping off point for deeper investigation in this community and on this subject. The researcher originally intended to hold in-person interviews with leaders of each organization, but due to time constraints and a lengthy IRB approval process this was impossible. Future research expanding on this topic would highly benefit from interviews to complement information gathered from publicly available sources.

References

Forgette, R; Dettry, B; Van Boening, M and Swanson, D (2009): Before, Now and After: Assessing Hurrincane Katrina Relief, Research and Policy Review, Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 31-44.

Katz, C (2008): Bad elements: Katrina and the scoured landscape of social reproduction, Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography, vol. 15:1, pp. 15-29.

Meyer, Carrie. “The Political Economy of NGOs and Information Sharing,” in World Development, Vol. 25, No. 7, pp. 1127-1140.

Simo G, and Bies, A L (2007): The Role of Nonprofits in Disaster Response: An Expanded Model of Cross-Sector Collaboration, Public Administration Review, Vol. 67, pp. 125-142.

Weisbrod, Burton. “The future of the non-profit sector: Its Entwining with Private Enterprise and Government,” in Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 16, No. 4, pp. 541-555.