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Mass Mutual Foundation

Building Community Wealth in Springfield, Massachusetts


Mass Mutual Foundation


Building Community Wealth in Springfield, Massachusetts


How can the collective action of local residents, organizations, businesses, and funders build community wealth in Springfield, Mass?


Settled in 1636 and established in 1852, the city of Springfield is the third largest urban center in Massachusetts. Many well-known companies have their roots in Springfield, including MassMutual Life Insurance Company, Friendly’s Ice Cream Corporation, and Milton Bradley. In spite of Springfield’s history of economic innovation and success, poverty is an increasing concern. 19% of Springfield’s families, 34% of Springfield’s children, and 54% of Hispanic households in Springfield currently live below the federal poverty level.

The North End of Springfield is the poorest census tract in the state of Massachusetts. It has the lowest educational attainment in the city of Springfield and has unemployment rates that are multiple times the national average. The North End includes three distinct neighborhoods – Brightwood, Memorial Square, and Liberty Heights – with approximately 10,000 total residents. For more than a century, Springfield’s North End has served as a first home for the city’s immigrant and migrant communities. While some have thrived here, most continue to experience health, educational, and financial well-being far below city, regional, and state expectations.

In 2019, the  Live Mutual Project (LMP) was launched. The LMP is a MassMutual Foundation-led initiative that brings together community resources and partners to create vibrant and empowered neighborhoods. The North End pilot included nine LMP grantees, five LMP partner organizations, and a local resident Action Tank.

Between 2019 and 2021, the primary focus of the North End LMP work was resource-sharing and relationship building among community members. With this focus, MassMutual initially facilitated two stakeholder groups—LMP grantees and Action Tank members. Each group met regularly over an 18-month period.  MassMutual selected one grantee, New North Citizens’ Council (NNCC), to serve as the facilitator of the Action Tank of community residents going forward.

In 2021, the MassMutual Foundation asked Root Cause to assess the effectiveness of the North End LMP pilot. Between April 2021 and January 2022, the Root Cause team  facilitated a strategic planning process to help LMP members design a  collective action model for how members can better work together.

This first design phase had three main components:

  • Assessing the current work in the North End to understand where opportunities to support the coalition exist.
  • Based on the assessment, designing and implementing seven working sessions that brought together community members and service provider grantees to create a collective action model for the initiative together.
  • Facilitating a participatory Collective Action design process with LMP members to define a common purpose,  core values  and suggested first activities for implementation.

During this phase, Root Cause also provided capacity-building services to New North Citizens’ Council (NNCC)such as:

  • Building consensus on what resources, skills, and responsibilities a backbone organization and a coordinator position require.
  • Developing the job description for the coordinator.
  • Supporting in the coordinator hiring and vetting process.

The second phase of work began in March 2022, shifting management of the work from Root Cause to NNCC.  During this phase, Root Cause’s role focused on:

  • Publicly relaunching the initiative in the community as North End Community Connects (NECC).
  • Building the capacity of the NECC backbone team to support the initiative.
  • Building strong relationships across initiative members and the wider Springfield community, including ways of sharing leadership of NECC.
  • Implementing the Collection Action model and adapting its design based on learnings.

Goals & Results

Between June 2021 and January 2022, Root Cause facilitated monthly working sessions with LMP members to collaboratively develop the model for this collective action initiative. This process moved through key questions, including the following:

  • What is our common purpose, our intended impact?
  • What shared values do we act on across all aspects of our work?
  • What existing strengths & opportunities do we have to work with?
  • How might we build on these strengths to create our impact?
  • Whose leadership and engagement is needed and not yet here?

Root Cause also conducted demographic research about the North End’s populations and needs in order to provide a contextual framework for the area’s needs. Informed by the guiding questions and demographic research, LMP members came to each working session ready to discuss, iterate, and draft different components of the collective action model. Collectively, the group:

  • Agreed upon a common purpose and intended impact.
  • Decided to focus on two strategies to achieve its intended impact: Community Wealth Building and Strengthened Service Coordination & Accessibility, and
  • Determined the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholder groups in the collective action initiative.

Root Cause compiled the collective action model and agreed-upon roles into a Phase I report. Root Cause also developed recommendations to strengthen the North End LMP pilot and to aid in the design of future LMP Collective Action pilots.
In phase two, the group has:

  • Publicly relaunched the initiative as North End Community Connects (NECC).
  • Built new partnerships with community members and organizations.
  • Continued to build out the capacity of its backbone team.
  • Established an Action Group that meets regularly to design and pilot work to move NECC strategies forward.

About the Partner

Mass Mutual Foundation

In 1851, 31 neighbors in Springfield, Massachusetts, promised to protect one another. From this commitment, the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) was born.

The MassMutual Foundation fuels initiatives that increase financial resilience within our communities and fosters a culture of community engagement for MassMutual’s employees and financial professionals. 

The Live Mutual Project is a MassMutual Foundation-led initiative that brings together community resources and partners to create vibrant and empowered neighborhoods. In 2019, the Live Mutual Project began in the Frayser neighborhood of Memphis, Tennessee and the North End neighborhood of Springfield, Massachusetts. As part of the 2022 North End pilot relaunch, community members chose North End Community Connects / Conectando La Comunidad del Norte as the new name for their collaboration.

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