Q&A: Brian Payne, President and CEO, Central Indiana Community Foundation

Brian Payne, CEO of Central Indiana Community Foundation
Brian Payne, CEO of Central Indiana Community Foundation - Courtesy CICF

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There's Indianapolis, the city – population over 800,000, capital of the state of Indiana, with a bustling, increasingly bikeable urban core and, yes, a pretty famous race. Then there's Indianapolis, the hub of a regional effort to win a different kind of race: a spree to improve degree attainment rates by at least one percentage point by 2014. By raising the post-secondary degree attainment rate from 30 to 31 percent, the Indianapolis metro area stands to see $1.3 billion in economic impact.  

As president and CEO of the Central Indiana Community Foundation and the Indianapolis Foundation, Brian Payne works with partners across Central Indiana and statewide to spread the word about talent efforts, scale up and subsidize what's working, and make sure Indianapolis continues to grow into a vibrant, creative, and diverse community. We talked about approaches to building true, lasting partnerships, and some early successes that are coming out of Indianapolis that stand to make a difference across the Hoosier state.

Talent Dividend Network: Why is talent so important for economic development in Indianapolis and central Indiana?
Brian Payne: We at the Central Indiana Community Foundation believe that the cities that will thrive are the ones that do the best job at developing, attracting and retaining highly educated, creative, and community-minded citizens – that's the formula. We have two human capital development initiatives: Family Success, and College Readiness and Success, and within that second initiative we see a huge link with the Talent Dividend and promoting post-secondary degree attainment.
There's a lot going on in Indiana. We're lucky to have the Lumina Foundation headquartered here in Indianapolis – we have early access to their data, research, thought leadership, and grants. We are working closely with the Indiana Commission on Higher Education, with the State Department and the State Superintendent of public instruction – we're lucky to be the state capitol so we have direct access. But even beyond geography, the great thing about Indianapolis is that it's a very connected place. Relationships are honored, you have access to people, there's great collaboration. That's Hoosier culture. 
We get it – if you're not highly educated or creative, what are your opportunities? We're trying to create a community of people who have the skill-set, the education, and the innovative thought-processes that build a community.
TDN: How does the region benefit from work that's happening in Indianapolis? Do you have any examples of collaborative programs that have been successful? 
BP: In Indiana, we have a terrific state program called 21st Century Scholars – basically, any student who signs up before the end of eighth grade and pledges to stay out of trouble, and to get a 2.5 GPA, becomes a 21st Century Scholar. If they meet their obligation, they'll have their tuition covered in any state or public school in Indiana. But even with that great program, in Marion County, only 38% of the students were even applying. We got that number up to 75% and we're taking that to Hamilton County, where they've had some early success in the more rural areas. We're taking our success and sharing it with the Commission for Higher Education and are in a conversation statewide about what we're doing and why. It's about providing the tools to give economically disadvantaged kids the financial wherewithal to get a degree. 
Another program we're excited about is an accelerator program at Ivy Tech Community College to create a sense of urgency and overcome the time challenge behind getting a degree. They're offering an 11-month intensive degree program that gets you a ready-to-transfer associate's degree, which would normally take two years. And besides financial aid, there's a stipend of $400 a month to help the student meet finanical living expenses, because at community colleges especially, it's so often that students are working more than one job, and can get off track if something happens financially. We're looking at the program to see if we can help scale it and bring partners to it. That started out in Indianapolis and it's been added to other campuses in West Lafayette and other parts of the state. We're looking to be a player in that.
TDN: What lessons have you learned about building collaborative partnerships in your work toward talent development in the region? 
BP: The biggest challenge is geting the corporate community and the academic community aligned – that's a hard one to bridge because the cultures are so different. Business people like to act fast and from the top down, and academics like process, committess, consensus. They both see process and timelines completely differently. Where we've had some success is that we've been able to create networks that include business people, academics, non-profit leaders, artists, cultural entrepreneurs, and we get them all mixed up. Our CEOs for Cities network of about 20 people all come to the conferences together and learn to have a relationship with each other. It all comes down to trust and understanding, and the best way to do that is get people together over time, interacting on some big ideas, and building that sense of relationship. 
People don't know each other. To think you're going to get 14 people into a room, or on a committee, and do something useful right off the bat – I think that's unrealistic. You have to create a relationship that's deeper and more enduring, and good work can come out of that. It doesn't come out of a 90-minute committee meeting. 
Our Chamber of Commerce hosts a leadership exchange trip, taking 90 or 100 business leaders to a different city to learn best practices for that city. Since CICF has started to influence and subsidize it, it's become a dynamic network of everyone working together. This last conference had a much better demographic mix, so much more dynamic and productive than the previous one. I've been asked to be the co-chair for the next trip to Cologne, Germany, and our foundation will give some significant subisidies to leaders, artists, and community builders, people who might not be connected to an organization that can pay for this, to find the means for them to go. The Chamber has gotten religion on this and are bridging partnerships with people they didn't even know two years ago. And it's working. How do you get all sectors of leaders involved and build trust and relationships? I think that's how progress is going to get made in the twenty-first century. 
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