ReCity Network: seeking shared success, impact

By Rob Shields

Guest columnist

Together means everyone

You may have seen these words on our website, front and center, or on any number of collateral materials here at ReCity Network: “Rewriting the story of our city together.” While many may zoom in on the front end of that sentence, a metaphor for the efforts of our non-profits, mission-driven companies, and faith-based organizations to reshape the success dynamic of Durham by attacking and eliminating individual and systemic problems, I like to focus on the last part.


Just because you have a dream doesn’t mean it’ll come true. Very few of us truly live a dream, and for many, such as the clients of our network members, reality is harsh. When the visioning team for what became ReCity gathered nearly four years ago, we wanted to bring opportunity to every corner of Durham, and we knew that there would be a lot of hard work along the way—never-ending work, in some cases.

To accomplish every challenge laid before us, the founding group behind ReCity realized that we would need to pull together an unprecedented coalition of people united by their abilities to understand the issues facing Durham. This coalition must be defined by both sympathy and empathy for the historic contributing factors to inequitable distribution of wealth as well as the current and evolving problems faced by demoralized and downtrodden groups, starting with youth disengagement.

Our coalition – the network itself – must look like Durham, feel like Durham and experience life like Durham. If you look at Durham itself, it’s a socio-economic and racial/ethnic mosaic of humanity. It’s a city of incredible opportunity, home to economic drivers like Duke University and its health system, thriving life sciences and technology sectors, and a near-peerless climate for entrepreneurs. It’s also home to immense, multi-generational poverty.

Non-Hispanic whites, while financially dominant, make up around 37 percent of the population, second to a black plurality of nearly 41 percent. These two largest groups are complemented by a fast-growing Hispanic/Latino population of nearly 15 percent, as well as a small Asian community. When we looked at these demographics, we realized that in order to release the full economic and social potential of this wonderful city, everyone would need to be involved in a big way – black, white, and brown.

And despite the efforts of local business incubators like our friends at American Underground, we also know that men disproportionately benefit from the wealth afforded by thriving sectors in the Bull City. Our visioning team also figured out very quickly that in order to maximize and optimize opportunities for shared success, we would need leadership from men and women alike.


We launched ReCity last September, largely on the strength of an affluent, majority-white donor base that was eager to open a new avenue for sharing success with all. In a few short months, our network has emerged truly representative of the socio-economic, racial/ethnic, and gender spectrum of our city.

Nine months in, we have amassed nearly four dozen partner organizations. That number alone would be cause for celebration among many when launching a new venture. But we have a more difficult measure of success at ReCity. Without the right partners across the entire spectrum of what makes Durham the city it is, we won’t have the impact we set out to achieve.

So, are we building this network in the right ways? To date, over 60 percent of the member organizations of ReCity Network are women and minority-led, making us a true “by the people, for the people” organization. While societal constructs like privilege certainly aren’t shed when people enter these doors, a renewed sense of hope, optimism, and opportunity for all certainly do beckon those who want to be a part of our mission.

Shared success, shared impact. Together.

We all know that it’s easier to build the organization you want when you start off with the end in mind. People tell me that they get a special feeling when they walk through our building. I think I know why – you can’t help but feel a little better about this world when you see people literally sitting down to have dialogue, collaborate, and work to end poverty and all of its problematic permutations.

Discover ReCity for yourself. Let’s turn those harsh realities for some into that shared dream for all. Together.

Rob Shields is the founding executive director of ReCity Network. Launched in September 2016, ReCity is a social impact hub that promotes collaboration among non-profits and social entrepreneurism.