Uniting Communities for Sustainable Change: The Community Alliance Project

How Stephen Shaff's Vision Is Transforming Underserved Areas into Thriving Hubs

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Devin: What do you see as your superpower?

Steve: One of the nice things about getting older is you have a little more wisdom, or you hope you have a little more wisdom to kind of reflect on how you got to where you're at now. I began to realize after the housing crisis blew up, after spending 20 or 30 years in a certain career, I had three or four different kinds of careers. Also, I knew a lot of people. So, I think of myself as a connector. 

In this episode of the Superpowers for Good show, I had the privilege of hosting Stephen Shaff, the visionary founder of Community-Vision Solutions, Benefit LLC. Stephen shared insights into his groundbreaking initiative, the Community Alliance Project, aimed at revitalizing underserved communities in a sustainable and inclusive manner. His approach, rooted in decades of social enterprise and activism, offers a fresh perspective on community development that leverages the strengths of diverse sectors for collective progress.

Stephen's journey began with a realization that conventional community revitalization efforts were often fragmented and under-resourced, unable to effectively counteract market forces or address deep-seated inequalities. "The community revitalization paradigm is dysfunctional and grossly under-resourced," Stephen observed. This acknowledgment led him to explore a more holistic and cooperative model, one that could harness the potential of social enterprise and the broader community for meaningful impact.

The essence of the Community Alliance Project lies in its collaborative framework, bringing together faith-based organizations, nonprofits, local businesses, activists, and other stakeholders to work towards common goals. By integrating various sectors, including housing, arts, education, and civic engagement, the project aims to build vibrant, self-sustaining communities where everyone has a stake in the outcome. Stephen's approach underscores the importance of inclusivity and shared value, principles that are critical in countering the forces of gentrification and displacement.

One particularly compelling aspect of Stephen's strategy is the emphasis on utilizing existing assets within communities, such as underutilized land owned by faith-based organizations. By forming strategic partnerships, these assets can be transformed into mixed-use developments that provide affordable housing, community services, and commercial spaces, all while preserving the community's cultural and social fabric.

As I reflect on my conversation with Stephen, I am struck by the potential of his model to effect transformative change. The Community Alliance Project represents a beacon of hope for underserved communities, offering a path to empowerment and prosperity through collaboration and innovation. Stephen's dedication to this cause is not only inspiring but a testament to the power of unity in overcoming the challenges that face our society today.

In embracing this model, we can all play a part in building a more equitable and vibrant world, one community at a time.

Stephen will speak at SuperCrowdBaltimore at the B&O Railroad Museum on Thursday. This event addresses directly how we can support community builders like Stephen with impact investments via crowdfunding. Register today with the discount code SUPERCROWD to save 30 percent.

AI Episode Summary

1. Stephen Shaff is the CEO and founder of Community-Vision Solutions, which focuses on rebuilding underserved communities with authentic, community-oriented approaches.

2. Community-Vision Solutions is a culmination of Stephen's 35 years of experience working in social enterprise, activism, and organizing, leveraging a network of resources and solutions for community development.

3. Stephen's work began with a pivot from being a political and social psychology PhD candidate to entering the affordable housing sector, realizing that real estate could be used for social impact.

4. He learned that the community revitalization paradigm was dysfunctional and under-resourced, incapable of combating market forces, leading him to explore social enterprise for greater impact.

5. Another observation was that revitalizing communities can be a multi-billion-dollar opportunity, but it usually misses the involvement of local organizations, something Community-Vision Solutions wants to address.

6. The Community Alliance program aims to integrate various sectors, such as funding sources, activism, political advocacy, and expertise, to foster community-driven change and development.

7. A practical example provided is working with a church that, facing gentrification, can partner with Community-Vision Solutions to develop housing, repair the church, and create sustainable income while serving community needs.

8. Stephen emphasizes that to effectively use crowdfunding, which is a democratic and beneficial tool, communities need to amplify their reach, as small entities often lack the necessary extensive network for success.

9. Stephen identifies his superpower as being a connector and convener, able to bring together various sectors and networks to create collaborative and effective solutions for community development.

10. He encourages others to visit the Community-Vision Solutions website to learn more and engage with their work while emphasizing that building scalable, replicable solutions requires collaboration and shared learning.

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How to Develop Connecting As a Superpower

Stephen Shaff's superpower, as he articulated in our interview, can be encapsulated in the term "connector." This term highlights his ability to bring diverse groups together for a common purpose, facilitating collaboration and collective action. Stephen's superpower is rooted in his genuine interest in people and his capacity to connect across various networks, including political, business, and community sectors. His knack for engaging with a wide array of individuals and treating them with respect and dignity underpins his success in mobilizing collective efforts for community development.

An illustrative story of Stephen's superpower in action involves his work with an arts organization facing eviction due to their landlord's decision to sell the property. Drawing upon his vast network, Stephen assembles the necessary resources, developers, and capital to form a joint venture that benefits the arts group. His deep understanding and authentic involvement in community arts add a layer of trust and credibility, showcasing his ability to not just connect people but align their interests towards a shared goal.

To develop the superpower of convening, Stephen suggests engaging with diverse networks and being genuinely interested in learning from others. He emphasizes the importance of collaboration and the mutual exchange of resources and knowledge. Visiting platforms like the Community-Vision Solutions website can offer insights into effective cross-sector collaboration and provide opportunities for connection and growth.

By following Stephen Shaff’s example and advice, you can make convening a skill. With practice and effort, you could make it a superpower that enables you to do more good in the world, bringing together diverse groups to collaborate on solutions that benefit communities and foster sustainable development.

Remember, however, that research into success suggests that building on your own superpowers is more important than creating new ones or overcoming weaknesses. You do you!

Guest Profile

Stephen Shaff (he/him):

Founder, Community-Vision Solutions, Benefit LLC

About Community-Vision Solutions, Benefit LLC:
Community-Vision Solutions (C-VS) stands as an innovative social enterprise investor and strategist at the forefront of the emerging Impact economy. As a mission-driven Benefit LLC, C-VS maintains an unwavering commitment to equally prioritize the well-being of People and Planet alongside social enterprise profit. Flourishing at the intersection of expertise, distinguished networks, and an economic equality agenda, we actively strive to engender lasting positive change that nurtures sustainable and equitable communities.

Website: www.c-vsolutions.com

Biographical Information:
Stephen Shaff is a social entrepreneur and activist with a diverse background in affordable housing, organizing, advocacy, and community-wealth-building strategies.

Driven by a mission for change, he sought to enhance his affordable housing efforts in the most underserved neighborhoods of Washington, DC, through intentional community organizing collaborations. His leadership played a pivotal role in the founding, funding, advising, and/or serving on several nonprofit boards of directors dedicated to addressing issues related to anti-poverty, arts, children, environment, and other community-change initiatives.

In tandem with his entrepreneurial pursuits and commitment to economic equality, Shaff has cultivated an extensive cross-sector network. This network comprises business innovators, activists, elected officials, and other impactful leaders spanning from deep within underserved communities to a national network of change agents.

In 2023, Shaff established Community-Vision Solutions, Benefit LLC, a social enterprise specializing in investment, consultation, and strategic planning. The flagship initiative, the COMMUNITY ALLIANCE PROJECT, was conceived to empower under-resourced community stakeholders by providing them with a social enterprise strategic ally. This CAP collaboration aims to level the community development playing field through the convergence of Community-Vision Solutions' extensive networks, business expertise, access to new capital, and collaboration with mission-driven community stakeholder partners.

Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/stephen-shaff-2757354/

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Superpowers for Good: Empowering Changemakers for Social Impact via Regulated Investment Crowdfunding from the SuperCrowd.
We host changemakers who are using regulated investment crowdfunding for social impact--impact crowdfunding--as impact investors or social entrepreneurs, catalyzing change with leadership skills we call superpowers.