By Lisa Dumas –
The Minority Reporter recently spoke with Dr. Leonard Brock, executive director of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, to find out what RMAPI expects to gain from holding its recent participatory budget meetings for area residents, and how members of the community can expect the organization to use public input to help fund local development projects in return.
Minority Reporter: How many participatory budget meetings has RMAPI held so far, and what is the purpose of these meetings?
Dr. Leonard Brock: There have been ten meetings held so far, with several more planned across the community. The purpose of these meetings is to educate the community on the Participatory Budgeting process, to collect ideas for projects, and train members of the community who are leading the process.
Minority Reporter: What can residents expect when they attend one of the participatory budget meetings, and how will RMAPI affirm that their ideas are being adequately considered for the projects?
Dr. Leonard Brock: At these meetings, residents will brainstorm ideas for projects, learn about how else they can participate in the process, and meet neighbors who have the same enthusiasm for making their neighborhood a better place. It has been encouraging to see people so passionate about their community meeting one another and sharing their ideas to better the place they live.
Every idea that comes from the community will have the opportunity to go through a formal proposal development process. Budget Delegates, who are volunteers from our community, are leading the process to create these proposals. Anyone and everyone can become a Budget Delegate! You don’t need a background in grant writing or formal program design to participate and share your ideas.
Minority Reporter: What has been the turnout so far, and is RMAPI satisfied with how the process has been progressing?
Dr. Leonard Brock: We have met with more than 200 people at our meetings and have reached out to thousands more to ask for ideas. Because Participatory Budgeting is a fully inclusive process, we have made special efforts to reach individuals and groups who traditionally have not had a voice in community decisions so they can share their ideas and input. Everyone is welcome at the Participatory Budgeting table.
As we continue to hold meetings and idea collection events, we aim to meet people where they are, offering opportunities for them to attend events within their own neighborhoods to share their ideas.
Minority Reporter: What is the amount of spending RMAPI is discussing with residents, in order to fund possible projects locally, and where will the funding come from directly?
Dr. Leonard Brock: We have a total of $175,000 for the entire Participatory Budgeting process, and the maximum any one project can propose is $50,000. This funding comes from RMAPI’s Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) budget.
Minority Reporter: Does RMAPI currently have a process to decide which projects would be ideal for funding, and which would not?
Dr. Leonard Brock: We have four rules in place for projects. They must be:
- Located in Monroe County
- Cost between $10,000-$50,000
- Align with RMAPI’s guiding principles
- Fight Poverty
Any project that meets these requirements can be put up for a vote by the community. Ultimately, it is up to the community to decide which projects will be funded.
Minority Reporter: What would RMAPI consider to be a viable potential project, as opposed to one that would not be as ideal for its consideration?
Dr. Leonard Brock: This decision is entirely up to the community. As long as the project meets the basic requirements, it is viable for the process. Once all of the proposals are completed, we will have a voting process where the community chooses which of those projects are funded.
Minority Reporter: Are there any ideas from the community that RMAPI is currently considering funding?
Dr. Leonard Brock: This will be another decision for members of our community to make when project proposals are put up for a vote later this year.
Minority Reporter: In what way will the meetings help contribute to RMAPI’s goal of reducing poverty in the region by 50 percent over the next 15 years?
Dr. Leonard Brock: One of the RMAPI Guiding Principles is to build community, which has been a proven result of the Participatory Budgeting process in other cities where it has been held. This process encourages people from all backgrounds to work together for efforts to help build their neighborhoods, allowing them to participate in direct democracy and giving them a stronger voice to advocate for their needs and the needs of their community.
The projects themselves also contribute to fighting poverty, even if it is on a small scale.
Minority Reporter: Does RMAPI have any measureable way to determine whether it’s getting any closer to reaching its goals?
Dr. Leonard Brock: It is important for RMAPI to track its goals and to maintain a level of transparency with the public. For the Participatory Budgeting process, our goal is to engage 5,000 people and engagement is measured through meetings attended, ideas collected, volunteers recruited, and votes cast. We have already engaged with more than 200 people and that number continues to grow.
Visit https://www.uwrochester.org/RochesterAnti-PovertyInitiative.aspx for additional information regarding the initiative.