Selected Speeches

Anchor Collaborative Convening

June 11, 2018
Health Sciences and Human Services Library

Thank you, Celeste. I thank all the partners who’ve come together to put on this important conference. Of course, I thank the Baltimore Integration Partnership for wrangling this city’s anchor institutions—and holding us to ambitious but credible goals. UMB is so honored to be co-chairing the Partnership this year with LifeBridge.

It’s such a pleasure to welcome all of you to Baltimore. I know you’ve already had some terrific conversations about how we do economic inclusion and community development here, and it’s an honor to add to that discussion.

As someone who was at this University 15, 20 years ago, before coming back to lead it, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing—and steering—our evolution in terms of how we invest in our community. At UMB, the term “community” can be expansive, meaning the entire city of Baltimore, or it can be specific—meaning seven neighborhoods in Southwest Baltimore, where we focus many of our engagement and economic inclusion efforts.

You’ll see a big map of those seven neighborhoods hanging in quite a few offices at UMB. The neighborhoods are home to 15,000 men, women, and children. Median household income is $26,000 a year—a number that’s actually gone down since 2010. These neighborhoods are among the city’s poorest performing on health, economic, and social indicators.

UMB has several programs serving residents in these communities. We have a dynamic Promise Neighborhood just north of them. We have an intensive mentoring program for students from three West Baltimore middle schools. We have a Community Engagement Center just a few blocks west of here, where we work with neighbors, provide services, and train UMB’s students to deliver high-quality care and counsel to diverse and vulnerable populations.

But of all the work we do in the community, the most challenging might be economic inclusion. I’ll get into why that is, but I think it’s better to lead with a success story.

In fiscal 2016, we piloted a local purchasing program, using our seven-neighborhood community as the target area. The program focuses only on small catering purchases—anything under $5,000. At the time of the pilot, we were spending only about $1,000 a year in this target area. But by the end of last fiscal year—12 months later—our catering spend was more than $115,000. Our catering percentage went from .01 percent to 15 percent. And we generated substantially more revenue for local merchants by getting them connected to other corporate buyers throughout the city.

This was the result of a lot of hard work—by us and by our vendors. Many of these merchants are small, hyper-local, cash-only businesses, with no web presence. They’re not used to serving big institutions like UMB, where we demand delivery, and credit card payment, and online menus, and boxed lunches. And, of course, we demand top-notch quality. Local purchasing isn’t a scheme or a slush fund. It’s governed by the same criteria on quality that govern all of our buying.

So we worked with our local merchants, made sure they could process our University credit card, got them onto a food broker list, so that other organizations could buy from them as well. We helped them create websites and tailor their services to our needs. We held food fairs on campus so that merchants could meet—and feed—the people who actually make the catering purchases for their departments. Bill Joyner runs this program for us, and he’s done an amazing job.

But I said I’d talk about our challenges. There’s a reason we’ve started our economic inclusion efforts with catering purchases under $5,000 apiece. It’s an area where we have discretion.  These purchases don’t have to be approved by the University System to which we belong. They don’t have to be approved by the state. But, at the same time, all of our purchases under $5,000—across all spending categories—are worth about $40 million a year at UMB. So we know there’s a lot of potential here.

Catering was a natural fit for our first efforts because—unlike many sectors—there are already several food vendors operating in Southwest Baltimore. We wanted to concentrate on building up existing businesses before we branch out into luring new merchants into the community. So we decided to act in this small-purchase space, where our goals wouldn’t be put into conflict with System or state policies.

And this is a big challenge for a moderately sized, public institution like UMB. We have a very rigorous regulatory environment. The University System doesn’t have local hiring and local purchasing requirements—or even preferences—written into its policies.

So when we have to go before the System and the state—and prove that we’re being good stewards of the public’s money, we have to make sure that we’re going about economic inclusion in a methodical way, that we have evidence of its benefit. And, frankly, that’s not traditionally how our HR and Procurement offices approach their work. Their first obligation—and ours—is to fiscal responsibility.

But I actually think that our strict regulatory environment can be something of a boon. Because if economic inclusion can work at UMB, then it can work at public institutions across Maryland, institutions with the same rules and restrictions governing how they spend their money. We can build this into something bigger than just UMB.

I also think it gives us a powerful incentive to be creative in how we make economic inclusion happen—and who we partner with to get it done. And this is where I have to mention our partnership with the University of Maryland Medical Center, and why I’m thrilled to share this reception with Dr. Suntha.

A couple of years ago, we launched what we call our Partnership With West Baltimore. Certainly a partnership made sense, given that we’re the two biggest anchor institutions on the city’s Westside and share a community of constituents. A couple of years in, I think one of the best lessons we’ve learned is that we can each play to our strengths—and each take the lead where taking the lead makes sense.

Local hiring and local purchasing are good examples. UMB has had success in purchasing because we cater a lot of meetings. The medical center has had success in hiring because they have a lot of entry-level jobs available. And if the hospital carries us in hiring, and we carry them in purchasing—that’s okay. As long as we have shared goals—and buy-in from our shared community—then we can take advantage of our complementary strengths. Once you stop caring about who gets credit, you can start doing some amazing things.

And I think this partnership can be a model for others. I think it can start a larger conversation in the city—not just among anchor institutions, but all organizations—about how we leverage our different strengths to achieve mutual goals. Thank you.

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