Horizons was designed to contribute to NWAF's mission of poverty reduction by identifying, preparing and equipping new leaders and helping them to “take community action on poverty.” Clearly, the evidence gathered from 283 communities over five years substantiates that leadership changes have been sometimes profound, and they have been sustained. And, clearly, communities are taking action to address poverty. Indeed, over half of the alumni communities are still working on their poverty plan. Most communities acknowledged that by the conclusion of the formal 18-month program, they are just getting started on addressing poverty.
The leadership changes in Horizons communities have been striking and consistent. The extent of civic engagement, particularly the number of communities with new elected leadership as a result of this process, has been a highly significant outcome of Horizons. And even as communities continue to struggle to sustain the momentum and to nurture new leaders, these changes have been persistent. When these communities were first interviewed by the evaluation team in 2007, we heard a profound sense of pessimism about the future. Horizons appears to have replaced that pessimism with a sense of agency to make change and a kind of collective optimism that rural and reservation communities can thrive, even in very difficult economic times.
Community capacity has also been enhanced by Horizons. The program emphasized the development of new nonprofit organizations both to manage the work and secure grant funds. That effort was clearly successful in that nearly all of the communities (90%) have a new organization empowered to receive grant funds. Delivery Organizations have worked extensively with community leaders to increase their fund-raising capacity so that the work can be sustained and advanced. That $21,613,409 has been raised to date is a very striking accomplishment for communities of this size. By any measure, this is a significant return on the Foundation’s investment.
Action on Poverty
Clearly there have also been changes with respect to poverty. Community awareness of poverty has been very much increased; most communities embarked on Horizons without knowing much about the causes, consequences or realities of poverty. The program changed that, and is continuing to change sometimes entrenched attitudes about those who live in poverty. And while progress on poverty has been mixed at best, there are indications that a greater emphasis on poverty, economic poverty specifically, in the current cycle has led to more focused activity aimed at increasing family assets. Community activity has been broad and sometimes unfocused, and it perhaps unintentionally was insufficiently focused on economic poverty. However, there is consistent evidence that communities can be supported – with tools and training – to focus on more systemic poverty issues. Horizons communities have continued to work at poverty reduction, as they see it and understand it. Alumni communities reported that they have continued community conversations about poverty, and half are continuing to implement the plan developed during Horizons. Horizons One communities have sustained these activities over five years; in the the case of the Horizons Two communities, the time frame is approximately three years.
Communities asserted that they have made some progress toward poverty reduction, but most believe that it is too soon to judge progress or measure outcomes. Participants acknowledged the magnitude of the task, but insisted that there will be a return on investment in the form of measurable poverty reduction and sustained leadership changes. That change, most suggested, will take more than five years. Clearly Horizons communities are still working toward those outcomes.
This is a mature and stable intervention, successfully modified and adapted based on a willingness to learn from data. It has produced important leadership, community capacity outcomes and a significant amount of community activity, intended to address poverty.