Mendi Blue Paca, the President & CEO of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation (FCCF), delved into the economic inequality in Fairfield County, Connecticut, on a recent episode of The Business of Giving Podcast. Her conversation revealed a nuanced understanding of the systemic issues plaguing the county and the importance of an equity-focused approach to effecting change.
The Stark Reality: Housing Affordability Crisis
Mendi starts by unearthing the stark reality that shadows Fairfield County—a troubling housing affordability crisis. She shares this, “One of the statistics that really stuck out to me is the percentage of Black and Latino households that are housing cost burdens, so spending more than 30% of their monthly income just to provide their basic shelter costs. And we’re, in some cases, above 50%, so that is really something that we have to pay attention to as a county.” Mendi’s words serve as a clarion call, urging the necessity to delve into these grave numbers that reveal the silent struggles of numerous households.
Fairfield County Forward: A Strategic Response
Armed with a deep understanding of the realities, Mendi explains that FCCF has chosen to respond proactively through their strategic plan, Fairfield County Forward. This endeavor aims to target the root causes of social inequality. She remarks, “Ultimately, what we want to see is fewer people who are housing insecure and fewer people who are food insecure. This means looking at the systems and the structures in which people operate, engaging more actively in advocacy and public policy.” In addition, Mendi extols the virtues of community strengths and how they are often an underutilized reservoir of change. She advocates for the cultivation of innate talents and resources within communities, believing that sometimes scarcity breeds creative solutions.
A Leadership Defined by Values and Inclusivity
Mendi segues into her experiences and approaches in assuming leadership at FCCF. She emphasizes the importance of a value-driven leadership approach, one where humility, respect, and inclusivity are cornerstones. Mendi affirms, “Nothing more important than supporting the actual strengths that already exist in communities.” Her dedication to being a servant leader shines through, as she reflects on the importance of building bridges and honoring the legacy of those who paved the way.
Cultivating an Authentic, Equity-Centered Culture
Mendi doesn’t shy away from sharing the hurdles FCCF faced in fostering an equity-centered organization. She underscores that the transformation demanded deep introspection, unlearning, and a commitment to tough conversations. “Through a culture of collaboration, openness, and a willingness to engage in difficult conversations, we have created an environment that fosters growth, learning, and
authenticity,” she reflects.
Mendi Blue Paca leaves us with a wealth of insights and a model that shatters complacency. By actively addressing economic inequality, embracing the values of inclusive leadership, and cultivating an authentic, equity-centered culture, organizations can champion sustainable change and enrich the lives of the communities they serve.
Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving serves as a Trusted Advisor and Executive Coach to Nonprofit Leaders. His Book, The Business of Giving: New Best Practices for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leaders in an Uncertain World, is available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.