Purpose Built Communities looking for a new CEO as David Edwards steps down
By Maria Saporta
A leadership transition is under way at Atlanta-based Purpose Built Communities, one of the most impactful nonprofits devoted to community revitalization across the country.
Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, executive board chair of Purpose Built, sent out an email announcing that David Edwards, the CEO for the past five years, has stepped down to work on writing and teaching about cities, community development, urbanism and public policy.
“David’s contributions to Purpose Built Communities were numerous and will have long lasting impact,” Franklin wrote. “Under his leadership, our national network of holistic revitalization efforts grew from 13 to 28, and several new partners and funders joined our efforts to break the cycle of intergenerational urban poverty.”
Purpose Built was started by retired developer Tom Cousins, who has been providing financial support for the nonprofit along with two billionaires – Warren Buffett and Julian Robertson. The three have made donations to cover Purpose Built’s operational costs so the nonprofit can provide free consulting services to communities with the greatest need for economic and social revitalization.
The Purpose Built model was designed to replicate the successful transformation of Atlanta’s East Lake community, a philanthropic endeavor launched by Cousins in the 1990s.
“As an organization and a network, we made racial equity a central lens through which we do our work,” Franklin said. “We are encouraged that this conversation is now embedded in our national discourse. We are grateful for David’s leadership, scholarship, and brilliance, and we are excited for him as he enters the next phase of his career.”
In a telephone interview, Edwards said he had made a commitment to implement Purpose Built’s most recent five-year strategic plan.
“This was a good time for me to leave the organization,” Edwards said. “They are moving into a new five-year plan, and they should get new leadership to see it through.”
The Purpose Built board has appointed Carol Naughton, its long-time president, to serve as its interim CEO. Franklin said the board will conduct a national search for a permanent CEO with the goal to announce the new leader by the end of the year.
Naughton, who is an internal candidate, is a “nationally recognized leader in community development and neighborhood revitalization,” Franklin said. Naughton also was one of the founding staff members of Purpose Built.
“Carol has been connected to the work of Purpose Built Communities for 25 years – well before the organization was founded – beginning with her involvement in the revitalization of the East Lake neighborhood and, later, her leadership of the East Lake Foundation,” Franklin said.
The Purpose Built model aims to create complete communities with mixed-income housing with cradle-to-college educational opportunities with neighborhood retail with an emphasis on health and quality of life.
“We are excited about the future of Purpose Built Communities and our growing network of revitalization efforts that are working to create racial equity, better health outcomes, and greater economic mobility,” Franklin said. “These initiatives are positively affecting communities today and will greatly benefit future generations in predominantly Black and Brown communities that have borne the brunt of systemic racism in our cities.”