2022 Impact Report

Progress and insights from our year at MDC

Progress and insights from our year at MDC


Meaning. Dignity. Community.

A note from MDC’s President and CEO, John Simpkins

Our work at MDC is focused on “a South where all people thrive.” When people thrive, they have choice-filled lives of real possibility, not theoretical opportunities.  Thriving involves building a life of meaning through work that brings dignity, all while building a community where dignity can be fully realized. Meaning, Dignity, and Community are core to who we are as an organization.

This year, our team considered how existing economic support systems can be changed to achieve more equitable outcomes. We worked with organizations dedicated to meeting the needs of our Southern neighbors and amplifying the voices of partners, clients, and friends who are advancing equity. In everything we do, we strive to build community as a source of meaning and dignity for all who call the South home.

In 2022 we expanded our voice through opinion articles, webinars, and convenings. We built a new digital home and resource for our network. Our team supported leaders working toward increased equity in education, rural prosperity, economic security, and workforce development. We trained, facilitated, and created space for both challenging and necessary conversations—elevating racial and gender equity and highlighting the ways systemic racism prevents equity.

Our impact report provides a closer look at what we were able to accomplish with the support of partners, friends, and community who are also working to achieve a more equitable and thriving South. We hope what you find here serves as an invitation to learn more about MDC and our work. We look forward to connecting with you in 2023 and beyond.

View our impact report below or access a PDF version here.

Supporting families in Guilford County, North Carolina

MDC and United Way of Greater Greensboro (UWGG) are working together to establish an Integrated Services Delivery (ISD) Network to move economically vulnerable households in Guilford County, North Carolina, from poverty to economic stability.

In June, UWGG held a “soft launch” event for the Guilford Success Network (GSN). Core partners who were present spoke about what the Network means to them and highlighted key principles that were developed through MDC’s community-based design-and-build process. In January 2023, UWGG was awarded a $1 million grant to support the Network. The grant is both important to the sustainability of the Network and validation of the ISD Network approach.

MDC will continue to support the Network through and beyond its launch in 2023.

Streamlining Social Services Delivery

Integrated Services Delivery (ISD) is a method of bundling economic support services to help individuals and families achieve better social, economic, and health outcomes. MDC’s Build Up initiative will support the development of at least four ISD Networks (similar to the Guilford Success Network) in local communities across the South and will be looking for partners in 2023. Over the course of four years, Build Up plans to expand ISD Networks to 10-15 communities.


Strengthening the South’s Human Services Workforce

MDC worked with the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) and the Region 4 Office of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to design a learning community for human services teams focused on strengthening recruitment and retention within the human services workforce. These topics were identified as priorities in interviews MDC conducted with Southern human services leaders this summer. MDC believes in the power of learning communities to strengthen organizational practice toward improving outcomes for impacted people. We look forward to supporting the network alongside APHSA and ACF Region 4 in 2023.


Tackling Southern Debt

MDC is a national partner of the Southern Partnership to Reduce Debt (SPRD), an effort sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF). As a national partner, MDC has conducted critical research on the roots and ripple effects of debt in the Southern United States.

This year, MDC was awarded a grant from AECF to convene a multidisciplinary working group to further advance our policy agenda to reduce student loan debt in North Carolina. MDC is also working with partners to organize student debt relief outreach across the South.


“Over the long-term, we’ll need a bold, equity-focused policy agenda that protects citizens from wealth-stripping practices while holding institutions accountable for reducing debt among communities.” – MDC op-ed, Triangle Business Journal

Welcoming MDC’s new Director for Educational Equity

Jason Marshall joined MDC in October as our new Director for Educational Equity. Jason brings deep experience as an educator, anti-oppression facilitator, and designer of accessible learning spaces and will be an incredible asset to LENS-NC.

LENS-NC: Working at the intersection of learning differences and racial and economic equity

Learning for Equity: A Network for Solutions – North Carolina (LENS-NC) is an action and learning network facilitated by MDC and supported by Oak Foundation. Organizations in LENS are exploring ways to improve outcomes for students with learning differences who are affected by educational inequities due to racism and/or poverty.

The network launched in 2020 with nine organizations and expanded to 20 organizations this year. The diverse work of these organizations includes direct support to students and families, community organizing, teacher support, racial equity, disability rights, support for rural communities, and more. Learn about the individuals and organizations participating in LENS.

MDC’s LENS team works hard to create engaging, energizing, and inclusive spaces, even when the network meets virtually. In October, LENS organizations gathered online to build skills in racial equity and implicit bias and continue shaping the mission of the network. Simultaneous interpretation was provided to ensure the space was accessible to all members, regardless of their preferred language.

LENS participants are beginning to integrate what they’re learning into their own organizational practice, for instance, adding cultural competency training for all staff and examining activities through a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens—“something I knew would be worthwhile because of [LENS],” shared a participant.


“Participation in LENS-NC has significantly improved our work. The network has expanded our capacity to focus not just on disability, but also the intersection of disability, race, poverty, and educational inequity.”LENS-NC Participant



Great Expectations: Transforming early childhood systems in Forsyth County, North Carolina

Great Expectations is a special initiative of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust that seeks to ensure that children in Forsyth County, North Carolina, enter kindergarten ready to learn and leave set for success in school and life–regardless of their race, location, or economic status.

In September, MDC hosted the first gathering of Great Expectations grantees supported by the Trust. The convening focused on shared learning, networking, and collaboration and featured a powerful keynote on racial equity and systems change by Trust President Dr. Laura Gerald. Grantees appreciated the “candid conversations” and were inspired to “push deeper into both dialogue and action needed for structural and systemic change.”

In December, over 70 people attended an MDC webinar on creating an equitable and inclusive system for home-based child care (HBCC). MDC will build upon this conversation in 2023 and expand efforts to support HBCC providers.



“MDC really helped navigate conflict and power dynamics in a project that involved many organizations and needed to be owned by the community.” – Great Expectations Grantee

In a survey of Great Expectations partners, respondents overwhelmingly agreed that MDC has helped their organization build capacity to integrate promising practices into their work, collaborate to advance systems change in their community, and center racial equity and inclusion.



Building strong networks for change 

Both Great Expectations and LENS-NC are utilizing a tool called network mapping to better understand and visualize how MDC-supported organizations are building connections and influencing systems to advance equity in the South.

Over the course of LENS’s first year, the average number of connections an organization had to other organizations within the network increased three times (from 1.2 to 3.6). This relationship-building is expected to continue as new organizations join LENS.

With deeper, intentional connection, networks can be powerful tools for systems change by increasing alignment and collaboration among previously disparate groups. Drawing on collective energy and resources, the network can tackle complex challenges that no organization could solve on its own.

Sample network map:

Welcoming MDC’s new Senior Program Director for Equity Centered Leadership and Philanthropy

Kerri Forrest joined MDC in July as the Senior Program Director for Equity Centered Leadership and Philanthropy. Kerri has more than a decade of experience in the nonprofit and philanthropic fields including strategic partnerships, governance, and communications.

Investing in Leaders of Color in the Carolinas

This spring, MDC welcomed the inaugural cohort of the Investing in Leaders of Color (ILOC) Fellowship, a leadership and capacity-building initiative to acknowledge and support the work of leaders of color, and their organizations that serve communities of color, throughout the Carolinas. Co-designed by participating fellows and supporting foundations, this initiative intentionally invests in leaders and organizations that have experienced systemic disadvantages in their work.

The inaugural cohort of 12 leaders has gathered monthly alongside philanthropic partners. New cross-organizational bonds have been forged and deep personal and professional growth has already occurred.

“It’s awesome to be in the same room with people that are going through familiar struggles I am facing, not only in my professional life, but at a personal level.”ILOC Fellow


Growing the next generation of leaders in philanthropy

The Emerging Leaders Fellowship is a joint fellowship program with the Oak Foundation that gives young leaders an opportunity to learn how philanthropy can advance equitable systems change. Three early career professionals are participating in the inaugural two-year fellowship from 2021 through 2023. Fellows attend MDC-facilitated learning sessions while working with Oak’s Special Interest Programme, President’s Office, and Learning Differences Programme. Fellows have developed valuable skills and expanded their professional network through the experience.


Supporting young leaders through MDC’s Autry Fellowship

The Autry Fellowship Program is a one-year fellowship at MDC that celebrates the life and perpetuates the work of the late George B. Autry, MDC’s founding president.

This summer, we said a reluctant farewell to Sofia Molina, MDC’s 2021-2022 Autry Fellow, as she accepted a new role with Girls Who Code. Sofia contributed significantly to our work, especially to the Investing in Leaders of Color Fellowship.

“My organization and tech skills vastly improved. I gained facilitation skills, both in practice and from watching the amazing folks here at MDC. I also have a lot more confidence in myself. This year helped me see that I really do bring valuable thoughts and skills to the table.” 

Marilyn Boutte joined the team in August as MDC’s 2022-2023 Autry Fellow. We are thrilled to welcome her back after she served as the Dan Broun Intern in summer 2021. Marilyn graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a BA in Public Policy and Sociology.

ARPA Partnership Project: Advancing community-driven investment in rural

MDC was awarded funds from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC Foundation to support the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Partnership Project. MDC joined Local Progress NC, NC Black Alliance, and the NC Budget and Tax Center to organize the ARPA Partnership Project—a collaborative of statewide and community-based partners working to build community capacity to ensure that local ARPA investments are equitable, accountable, transparent, and community-driven.

In the first phases of this work, the ARPA Partnership Project has supported local leaders and civic organizations with research, public engagement materials and planning, advocacy skill development sessions, and three convenings for relationship-building and learning. MDC’s technical assistance focuses on facilitation to identify collective and local goals and objectives.

New ARPA Partnership Project Manager

Trevor Flanery joined MDC Rural Forward this fall as lead for the ARPA Partnership Project. Trevor’s background in development and resilience planning, field organizing, issue advocacy, and policy research will be a tremendous asset as he supports community and government collaboration toward long-term recovery and resilience.

North Carolina Inclusive Disaster Recovery Network: Shaping state government’s public engagement practice

The North Carolina Inclusive Disaster Recovery (NCIDR) Network—convened by MDC Rural Forward—submitted a framework for community engagement to the NC Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) to guide the Department’s public engagement efforts. The framework includes an explicit acknowledgement of why systemic racial and economic discrimination requires better public engagement practices.

The framework was developed through an inclusive, community-led process with the NCIDR Research Team and builds on an initial set of recommendations NCIDR submitted to inform the NC Flood Resiliency Blueprint.



New Research: EITC helps reduce disparities in rural places

MDC worked with an interdisciplinary team of researchers and rural practitioners to understand potential differences in uptake of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in North Carolina. Although rural residents and people of color face systemic barriers to accessing government programs, the project found no differences in uptake between rural and urban counties and that counties with larger proportions of people of color actually had higher levels of EITC uptake. These results suggest that the EITC is an important tool for reducing disparities for rural communities and communities of color.



Healthy Places NC: Improving health outcomes in rural communities

Healthy Places NC is a partnership of MDC Rural Forward and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust that seeks to improve the health of residents in some of North Carolina’s most rural and vibrant yet under-resourced counties. A lot of progress occurred in Healthy Places communities in 2022, including in Beaufort and Rockingham Counties.

With MDC Rural Forward’s support, the Beaufort County Behavioral Health Task Force presented an Opioid Action Plan to their local Board of County Commissioners, who adopted the Task Force’s plan unanimously. The plan, which includes recommendations for how to utilize NC Opioid Settlement litigation funds, is based on six years of organizing, community engagement, and research into best practices. Because of the Task Force’s leadership, the county is investing their allocation of NC Opioid Settlement funds in ways that are equitable, transparent, and accountable to community priorities.

In summer 2021, community stakeholders in Rockingham County came together to form a Design Thinking cohort supported by Cone Health and MDC Rural Forward, with timely funding from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. Most team members were not connected at the start but are now working together to create a healthier, more equitable county by addressing social drivers of health. In 2022, MDC Rural Forward supported two pilot events that highlighted local individuals and organizations that are centering community voices and making positive change in Rockingham County. Watch the highlight video!


“[MDC Rural Forward’s] brilliant, sustained support has helped our coalition construct a strategic plan that will allow us to more easily achieve our short-, mid-, and long-term goals.”  – Healthy Places NC Partner


“I have a greater understanding of social and racial justice issues, and the cultural sensitivities surrounding many groups’ reservations with institutions and government entities.” – Healthy Places NC Partner


Thrive Rural: Strengthening philanthropic investment in rural places

As part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Thrive Rural initiative, MDC is working with the United Philanthropy Forum—a national network of over 90 regional and national philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs)—to strengthen philanthropy’s understanding of and investment in rural communities.

At the Annual Conference of the United Philanthropy Forum, MDC President John Simpkins challenged philanthropic-serving organizations to examine their assumptions about rural America and begin educating, catalyzing, and supporting their members to address inequity in rural places.

Regional and national PSOs of all shapes and sizes want to energize their members to strengthen their investments in rural people and places, but they have expressed a need for more guidance and support. As a starting point, members of an MDC-facilitated working group drafted a set of 10 Principles for Effective Rural Philanthropic Practice, which will be formally released in 2023.

According to the principles, effective rural philanthropy:

  • Challenges preconceptions about rural communities;
  • Acknowledges the historical and continuing marginalization, exclusions, and disenfranchisement of rural people of color;
  • Recognizes the value of place to its residents;
  • Focuses on building from within;
  • Emphasizes impact over scale; and
  • Prioritizes equity, trust-building, and co-creation with local partners.



“We’re seeing dire needs in rural communities paired with admirable efforts to address persistent problems–and there’s a lot we can learn from what’s being done to build on the strengths of rural communities below the Mason-Dixon line.” – MDC op-ed, Courier Journal (KY)



Did you know?

Different definitions of rural places tell vastly different stories about the state of rural America. These definitions affect the way that narratives are shaped; how billions of dollars in federal funding each year are distributed; and the way that companies, banks, and philanthropies view communities and make investment decisions. “Defining Rural America: The Consequences of How We Count” uses data visualizations and mapping to explore what happens when we define “rural” in different ways.

This is the first story in the Center on Rural Innovation’s (CORI) Rural Aperture series, a project of Thrive Rural. MDC is partnering with CORI to frame the stories, articulate equity implications, and offer possible solutions.



Innovations in rural housing

MDC Rural Forward partnered with United Way of Alamance County (UWAC) to host Housing Alamance, a community forum to address affordable housing challenges. Over 130 people participated, representing nonprofits, faith communities, real estate, government, and individuals directly impacted by housing issues. As a result of the forum, UWAC created a Housing Innovation Fund to support efforts like eviction mediation and tiny home development to address local housing inequities.



State and Federal Appointments

MDC’s Calvin Allen was selected to serve on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Equity Commission Subcommittee on Rural Community Economic Development. MDC’s Merald Holloway was appointed to the NC Office of Digital Equity and Literacy’s Digital Equity Planning Core Team.



Thank you to our 2022 Rural Forward Program Assistants!

Each year, MDC Rural Forward recruits talented undergraduate and graduate students to serve as Program Assistants (PAs) at MDC. The goal of the PA program is to strengthen emerging leaders’ understanding of rural community development and help them develop skills in planning, meeting facilitation, community outreach, and more.

Thank you Breanna Bowling, Marcos de Oliveira, Paul Janampa, Jing Murray, Chisom Ojukwu, Taylor Palmer, Harini Patabendi, Brianna Ramgeet, Joey Rauch, Deja Taliaferro, Lara Veldman, Tavaura Wardlow, Lauren Welsh, and Jessie Willis!

“We don’t need another ‘New South.’ We need to be honest about the old South.” – MDC op-ed, Raleigh News & Observer

Welcoming MDC’s new State of the South Director

MDC welcomed Karim Baer to the team in June as the new Director for the State of the South Program. With a background in public policy and the arts, Karim is uniquely positioned to reimagine State of the South as a dynamic program that brings together community leaders, policymakers, artists, and others to develop a Southern equity agenda.

State of the South Online

State of the South has an exciting new home on MDC’s website and will serve as an online hub for MDC news, reports, events, and other online content. Visit the new site for stories like MDC’s Hidden Histories Series, written by Janay Draughn, 2022 Dan Broun Intern.

Over 130 people attended MDC webinars on Equitable Disaster Recovery and the State of Racial and Gender Equity in the South.

“Today’s session made me realize how much I don’t know about advancing racial equity and upward mobility in the South . . . . The resources shared will be helpful to me as I work to bridge the gap in my knowledge.” – Webinar attendee

State of the South In the Media

In advance of MDC’s True South kick-off in Durham, PBS NC’s Black Issues Forum hosted a conversation with President John Simpkins and event panelists Dr. Adriane Lentz-Smith, Marcus Kiser, and Alexandra Joye Warren about art’s role in advancing equity in the South.

In August, MDC President John Simpkins moderated a conversation about preserving public history at the Charleston Forum, featured on C-SPAN2.

State of the South In Durham, North Carolina

In October, MDC launched True South, a yearlong programmatic series that explores how—and if—Southerners are reckoning with the current era of economic, social, and environmental upheaval. The series is a reimagining of MDC’s State of the South reports, which have provided a valuable resource for Southern policymakers and practitioners for over 25 years.

The series kicked off with an evening of arts and dialogue in MDC’s home community of Durham, North Carolina. This was followed by a daylong convening at NC Central University focused on Reclaiming Southern History and Narrative. The event drew over 100 people from nonprofits, philanthropy, government, business, and community, all of whom were charged with using “radical imagination” to identify solutions to racial and economic injustices. Data and ideas from the day will feed into a future report that examines issues and opportunities to advance equity in the region.


“We must write newer, truer narratives that include the difficulty of the past.”Dr. Adriane Lentz-Smith, Duke Historian


Graphic recording of the October 2022 convening by A Visual Approach

MDC’s new website unveiled!

We are thrilled to announce the launch of the new MDC website, which you are viewing right now! Over the last year, MDC has worked with an incredible team at Literal Humans to create a new online destination that is easy to navigate, serves as a resource for our MDC community, and invites visitors to learn more about who we are and what we do.

MDC receives transformative MacKenzie Scott gift

MDC received a transformative gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott to support our work to shape a South where all people thrive. We are thrilled and humbled to be among 465 organizations that received over $3.8 billion, including a number of MDC partners and friends.


Building an MDC policy portfolio

In 2023, MDC will begin developing a unique policy portfolio that connects programmatic insights with critical research and analysis. MDC’s new Senior Policy Consultant, Morgan Smith, will lead this effort. Morgan comes to MDC as a seasoned public sector professional with a background in public policy and roughly 15 years of service in municipal leadership positions.


Growing and supporting our talented team

In 2021-2022, we developed an action plan to continue strengthening our internal culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We revamped MDC’s organizational structure to better align with programmatic goals. In the coming years, we will add critical new roles to our team to strengthen MDC programs and operations.

In January 2023, two proven team leaders and team builders at MDC will take on executive-level positions to guide our next chapter:

As Vice President for Partnerships and Programs, Calvin Allen will drive overall program strategy and represent MDC on regional and national levels. Calvin previously served as MDC’s Senior Program Director for Rural Forward.

As Vice President for Operations and Culture, Mark Motamen will manage operational functions and hold primary responsibility for culture-building at MDC.

Awesome administrative additions

Emily Beaver and Mary Lizzie Booze joined us in late 2021/early 2022 and have added tremendous capacity to our team. Together, they bring experience in program planning, grant-writing, community engagement, and so much more.

As MDC’s Administrative Assistant for Programs, Emily provides administrative and organizational support to program teams.

As Program Administrator for MDC Rural Forward, Mary develops, implements, and manages organizational systems for the Rural Forward team.

We are thankful for all of our incredible team members at MDC!

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