James S. McDonnell Foundation awards $2.4 million grant to help St. Louis Anchor Action Network continue its work and expand its impact

St. Louis Anchor Action Network strategy meeting

St. Louis Anchor Action Network Director Stefani Weeden-Smith (second from right) and UMSL Chancellor Kristin Sobolik (at right) lead a strategy meeting for the St. Louis Anchor Action Network at Delmar DivINe in April. The James S. McDonnell has awarded the network a $2.4 million grant over the the next three years to support its continued work. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

A group of leading St. Louis institutions and employers came together in 2021 to establish the St. Louis Anchor Action Network (STLAAN) with a shared commitment to try to address longstanding economic and spatial inequities in the region.

Its members have set a focus on increasing employment opportunities for residents and expanding contracts with local business owners in 22 ZIP codes that have suffered from decades of disinvestment.

Over the past two years, the STLAAN – co-led by the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Edward Jones – has engaged with community members to develop an action plan, held career and hiring expos to assist dozens of applicants in getting jobs and has helped connect small businesses with network members to bid on contracts, including through the creation of a searchable community business tool.

The James S. McDonnell Foundation is making an investment that will allow the STLAAN to build on those early successes and widen its impact. The foundation has awarded the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the STLAAN a $2.4 million grant over the next three years that will allow for additional staffing and programming to support network members.

This investment comes on the heels of the James S. McDonnell Foundation’s announcement that it will be focusing on shared prosperity and quality of life in St. Louis.

“The St. Louis Anchor Action Network exemplifies the critical collaborative work needed for shared prosperity to be realized in our region,” said Jason Purnell, president of the James S. McDonnell Foundation. “The institutions and partners that have come together in this effort have laid an important foundation that needs to be built upon to tackle the deep racial and economic inequities in our region that affect us all.”

Before beginning his tenure as president of the foundation earlier this year, Purnell led the establishment of BJC HealthCare’s Community Health Improvement strategy and launched health equity efforts to address the physical, emotional and financial health of those most impacted by unequal access to life-sustaining resources and opportunities. He also helped guide BJC’s involvement in the St. Louis Anchor Action Network.

“It is very heartening to see that we have enough of proof of concept over these last few years to move it forward,” STLAAN Director Stefani Weeden-Smith said. “We’re at a place that many of our network members are talking about moving the St. Louis Anchor Action Network toward the 2.0 version, and we’re excited that this funding can help us get to the next iteration of this work, being able to support and help more residents and businesses within the focus geography.”

Edward Jones recently helped Weeden-Smith engage PriceWaterHouseCoopers to conduct an analysis of the St. Louis Anchor Action Network. PriceWaterHouseCoopers worked pro bono on the project, which among other things revealed the network’s need for greater independence.

UMSL and Edward Jones have been providing leadership and staffing for the STLAAN, whose members also include AmerenBJC HealthCareEquifax, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. LouisGreat Rivers GreenwayHarris-Stowe State UniversityMercy Health, the Missouri Botanical GardenSt. Louis Community CollegeSaint Louis University, the Saint Louis ZooSSM HealthWashington University in St. Louis and Webster University.

Initiation and development of the STLAAN was supported by UMSL’s Office of Research and Economic and Community Development, and this new grant from the McDonnell Foundation will allow the network to strategize and move into a sustainable position for the future.

Funding implementation will allow the STLAAN to increase personnel, expand data analysis, build out real-time dashboards on member progress, support additional programming, including career readiness events and additional hiring expos, and, on the purchasing side, expand business events that facilitate interaction between network members and local business owners.

“The University of Missouri–St. Louis remains committed to playing a leading role in the St. Louis Anchor Action Network, and we are excited to see additional resources being directed to support this important work,” UMSL Chancellor Kristin Sobolik said. “We are grateful to the McDonnell Foundation for recognizing how critical it is for our region to address longstanding inequities, and we look forward to continuing to work in partnership with other distinguished institutions and organizations in this collective effort. We will all be stronger when everyone in our region can contribute to its growth and share in its prosperity.”

Edward Jones will also continue its leadership of the STLAAN as it continues to grow.

“We deeply appreciate the generous support of the James S. McDonnell Foundation in helping to advance the work of the St. Louis Anchor Action Network,” said Laura Ellenhorn, an Edward Jones principal responsible for the firm’s community impact efforts. “Edward Jones, UMSL and all of our network members are committed to driving sustained investment in St. Louis communities to remove longstanding barriers to economic opportunity and help more area residents and small businesses thrive. This grant will enable us to make strategic investments and build capacity so we can achieve impact faster for our community and our members. The McDonnell Foundation’s unprecedented commitment to our mission will help enhance our collective impact and create a stronger and more equitable future for more people in St. Louis.”

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