CHAPTER 3

learning

What We Heard From North Carolinians
During our yearlong process, we examined data that intrigued us and heard stories that inspired us.

Almost all of them had to do with the fact that North Carolina has been through significant change over the past 20 to 30 years. Yet, despite the changes, what also became clear is that the mission and values upon which the Foundation has stood for eight decades are as important as ever for shaping a positive future that includes every North Carolinian.

what we heard

1
People Feel Uncertain About the Future.

Rapid and sometimes volatile changes in technology, demographics, growth, economics, politics, and public education (just to name a few), are causing many North Carolinians to feel unsure about what’s next for their families, their communities, and the state. In times of great uncertainty, the Foundation’s ability to remain adaptive and flexible is key.

2
ZSR Has a Dual Role to Play.

The Foundation always has served North Carolina as a statewide funder, working at both the state level and in communities. People across the state confirmed the need for us to continue playing a role at both levels, as opposed to putting all of our eggs in one basket.

3
North Carolinians Desire Deeper Connection.

While technology is connecting people more easily and faster than ever before, people crave a deeper, more personal connection within their communities—one that fosters greater understanding and belonging. As the world becomes increasingly polarized, we all want to find avenues to build meaningful relationships with others.

4
Racial Equity Is Critical.

Equity is a longstanding value of the Foundation. Racial equity explicitly acknowledges the impact of structural racism on the distribution of resources, opportunities, and burdens in society, and ZSR proactively looks for ways to mitigate the effects of systemic and structural racism. Over the past year, we heard the desire for the Foundation to continue to play a leadership role in promoting racial equity and to find additional ways to support individuals, communities, and institutions engaged in the vital work of making our state a more equitable place to live and work.

5
We Cannot Have a One-Size-Fits-All Approach.

Our communities are rich with ideas and innovation, often despite scarcity of resources, and are home to many individuals who are committed to making their community a thriving place to live and work. However, North Carolina’s communities are not all changing in the same ways, and we heard that our community investments must be grounded in the context of each place.

CORE VALUEs: Civic Participation
We believe that civic life and a healthy democracy depend on an informed and involved populace that is able to exercise its individual rights and come together for a common purpose.

Additional Learning

In addition, there were a multitude of other themes and issues that surfaced as we traveled across the state, including:

  • Broadband and access to information are key, and often lacking.
  • County lines pose regional challenges relative to how people live, work, and move in the 21st century.
  • There is a mismatch between available jobs and available workers.
  • Health and human service needs (especially affordable housing, mental health, and substance abuse recovery) are not being met sufficiently in all parts of the state.
  • Structural racism and internalized oppression still persist.
  • Population shifts (decline, growth, and demographics) are having differentiated impacts on communities.
  • Dynamic local leadership matters deeply to local outcomes.
  • Public education is vital, but also must continue to evolve.
  • Political leadership is not reflective of changes in demographics.
  • New strategies to connect urban and non-urban economic development are needed.
  • Small town economic development and downtown revitalization are critical to retaining people, including youth.
CORE VALUEs: Excellence
We strive for organizational excellence and continuous opportunities to learn. We seek out best practices and innovative, cutting-edge ideas for our institutions, grantees, partner organizations, and communities across North Carolina.