Tom Cousins, Warren Buffett and Julian Robertson at the 2011 Purpose Built conference in Indianapolis (Photo by Maria Saporta)

By Maria Saporta

A game-changing nonprofit – Atlanta-based Purpose Built Communities – is marking its 10-year anniversary by hosting its 10th annual conference at the Loew’s Atlanta Hotel.

It will be the third time Purpose Built has held its annual three-day national conference in Atlanta, which speaks to the nonprofit’s origins with the revitalization of the East Lake Community – an effort championed by developer Tom Cousins.

Purpose Built’s mission is to help other communities around the country replicate the kind of success East Lake has experienced. The model takes a multilayered approach to community development – starting with the concept of mixed-income neighborhoods with quality educational opportunities from pre-K through high school.

About 470 people from 56 different communities in 49 cities from around the country are expected to attend the three-day conference.

“Can you believe we are 10 years old?” asked former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin in a telephone interview. Franklin has had a leadership role with the nonprofit ever soon after she left the mayor’s office in 2010. She currently serves as its executive board chair.

It is estimated there are about 800 distressed communities around the country – neighborhoods that could use a targeted revitalization effort like East Lake.

Tom Cousins, Warren Buffett and Julian Robertson at the 2011 Purpose Built conference in Indianapolis (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Purpose Built was started when three philanthropists – Cousins, Warren Buffett and Julian Robertson – decided the best way to replicate the model would be for Purpose Built to provide free consulting services to member communities to help accelerate their revitalization.

Donations from the three funders cover the entire operating expenses for Purpose Built, which then partners with a community quarterback in each of its network communities.

As of a year ago, Purpose Built was working with 20 communities around the country – from Omaha to Indianapolis to Orlando, where the conference was held in 2018.

In addition to East Lake, the Grove Park community in Atlanta is part of the Purpose Built network.

It is expected that Purpose Built will announce several new additions to its national network of partner communities during the conference.

“More and more people around the country are beginning to understand the relationship between people and place,” Franklin said. “We are much better equipped to help them understand what their options are within the model.”

Among the notable speakers at the event include:.
*   Richard Rothstein, author of the Color of Law
*   Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative
*   Dr. Richard E. Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation;
*   Raphael Bostic, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta;

*   Egbert Perry, CEO of the Integral Group; and
*   Katharine Wilkinson, vice president of communication & engagement at Project Drawdown and senior writer of the New York Times bestseller Drawdown.

Maria Saporta, executive editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state. From 2008 to 2020, she wrote weekly columns...

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  1. Wonderful (but too brief) update on the remarkable movement started by Tom Cousins at East Lake. For all the ongoing angst and politics over poverty, you have to wonder why there is not far more awareness and news coverage of Purpose Built Communities. Local business leaders and philanthropists, local agencies and political leaders and educators investing themselves with energy and determination to succeed that matches the most successful for-profit private enterprise in America. And it all starts locally, in the heads, hearts and hands of local leaders — not in Congress, not in politics, not in pleading for tax dollars. Truly remarkable.

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