Mid-Year Impact Report [2023]

Progress and insights from the past 6 months

Progress and insights from the past 6 months



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

MDC has been busy in 2023. We continue to add talented people to our team as we grow to meet our mission of being a truly regional organization. Through State of the South, we have held in-person events in Durham, NC, Charleston, SC, and Berea, KY. Each gathering served to connect, educate, and inspire a growing community of people and organizations who share the belief that the South can be a place where people thrive.

Some of those connections have resulted in promising collaborations, which will enhance our reach and increase our impact. In speeches at United Philanthropy Forum, the Minnesota Council on Foundations, and Philanthropy Colorado, we are sharing our experience working in rural communities and assisting funders in developing strategies for long-term engagement with rural populations.

We also achieved significant milestones in equity-centered leadership and are beginning to articulate a more comprehensive approach to economic mobility. We continue to build our policy capacity by better understanding how our work can translate into policy proposals. From measures to ensure adequate screening for neurodivergent kids of color to organizing home-based childcare providers, there are many opportunities to translate programmatic findings into policies that will allow positive results to be scaled.

Read on to learn how MDC has leveraged the support, insight, and investment from partners, friends, and community to move closer to a thriving South—all in the first six months of 2023.

Cover photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

Guilford Success Network partners with residents to advance economic mobility

The Guilford Success Network (GSN) officially launched this spring. GSN is a county-wide, mobile friendly network in Greensboro, North Carolina, that connects people to services and coordinators who help them advance personal goals of becoming financially stable. MDC facilitated the community-based design and build of the network, which flips the traditional service delivery model from “fitting people into programs” to instead partnering with residents to develop their own goals and household plans. The network then connects households to nonprofit and public services that empower community residents to achieve economic stability. The network uses a proven approach that triples to quadruples the odds that households will achieve major economic outcomes such as increased levels of education, employment, income, and financial stability. MDC looks forward to learning alongside GSN partners as the network gets up and running. 

Putting people first for equitable and effective social service delivery

An estimated one in six Southerners lives below the federal poverty line. The likelihood of Southerners moving out of poverty into a higher income bracket is slim, particularly for people of color. In MDC’s home community of Durham, North Carolina, the median household income at age 35 for children ​who grew up in low-income families is $37,000 for whites, $35,000 for Hispanics/Latinos, and $24,000 for Blacks and American Indians. Clearly, the traditional systems for moving people up and out of poverty aren’t working.​

In March, MDC hosted a webinar about Build Up, MDC’s initiative to design and build Integrated Services Delivery (ISD) Networks throughout the South. ISD Networks “flip” the traditional services model of “fitting people into programs” and instead use ISD to plan with—and wrap services around—people and their families to help them achieve major economic outcomes. These include increased levels of education, employment, income, and financial stability—social determinants of health that drive upward economic mobility. Watch the webinar to see how ISD Networks put people first in service delivery to end the cycle of poverty.  

MDC Senior Program Director Ralph Gildehaus talks about integrated services delivery on a March webinar


MDC launches North Carolina Student Debt Relief Coalition

Student loan debt comprises the largest percentage of non-mortgage debt held by Southerners, likely because of the rising cost of education, unrestricted loan borrowing, and low returns to credentials in the labor market. Insights like this were shared in MDC’s State of the South webinar to raise awareness about the inequitable burden of student debt on Southerners. In the weeks following the webinar, MDC hosted an interest meeting for the nascent North Carolina Student Debt Relief Coalition (NC-SDRC). NC-SDRC is designed to empower member organizations to share timely and accurate information about student debt relief opportunities with their constituents, to connect member organizations to advocacy efforts to reduce student debt and make postsecondary education more affordable, and to share real stories about the impacts of both student debt and debt relief to build support for equitable access to education. MDC continues to recruit new members as the coalition takes shape. We’re also happy to talk with individuals and organizations interested in organizing similar coalitions in other Southern states 

MDC Rural Forward Partnership Manager Sabrina Golling talks about student debt relief on a May webinar


Welcome, Harrison Dale, Program Administrator for Economic Security and Mobility

Harrison Dale joined MDC as a Program Administrator for Economic Security and Mobility this spring. Harrison has a passion for social and racial justice, equity, and economic mobility and has previously served as a deposition clerk for a private law firm, a middle school educator in North Carolina public schools, and as a certified Sexual Assault Advocate in the state of Texas. We are excited to have Harrison on board! 

North Carolina Home Based Child Care Initiative
Centering North Carolina’s home-based childcare providers for a more equitable early childhood system  

Home Based Child Care (HBCC) is a widely utilized form of care for children under the age of five. It is the most common childcare placement for infants and toddlers and includes both formal and regulated care, like licensed family childcare homes, as well as informal care known as Family, Friend, & Neighbor care (FFN). HBCC provides critical infrastructure to the early childhood system and is integral to meeting the needs of families at a time when families are struggling to find affordable childcare. Despite its prevalence, HBCC providers do not receive equitable resources, support, or recognition from our early childhood system which has prioritized licensed center-based settings.  

MDC seeks to uplift HBCC as a vital and valued part of the early childhood system through its new North Carolina Home-Based Child Care initiative, supported by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation. The initiative, which launched this spring, will: 

  • Establish a Community of Practice (COP) that builds the capacity of HBCC networks to create an effective and inclusive system for HBCC providers and the families they serve. 
  • Create a North Carolina-based version of Leading from Home, a national leadership development model pioneered by Home Grown that supports home-based childcare providers in engaging in early childhood policy decisions and action. 

Our Educational Equity team is growing! 

This spring, MDC welcomed Laterria Lassiter to the team as Program Manager for Leading from Home, part of MDC’s Home-Based Child Care (HBCC) initiative. Laterria has firsthand experience working in early childhood education and childcare—including as a home-based child care provider—and has spoken up about low wages, lack of benefits, unfair contracts, and systemic poverty within the profession. We are thrilled to have Laterria lead this important work. 

In February, Susan Nobblitt was promoted to Program Manager to lead the design and facilitation of MDC’s Home-Based Child Care Community of Practice (HBCC COP). Previously, Susan was a Program Associate at MDC, supporting project teams across MDC’s work in education equity, economic mobility, and equity-centered leadership and philanthropy. Congratulations to Susan as she embarks on this new leadership role! 


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.

In April 2023, LENS-NC hosted a day-long virtual convening of Network Members including a session with we are – working to extend anti-racist education on how individuals can intervene in their work or advocacy to prevent and stop racist microaggressions, along with a session with CAST on the Universal Design for Learning framework.


“I am thankful to be a part of this wonderful group and look forward to our next meeting.”

“I liked the sessions/workshops that were given because they are definitely relevant to our work!”
– LENS-NC April Convening Participants


Throughout spring 2023, LENS-NC Network Members have also had the opportunity to participate in a webinar with National Center for Learning Disabilities (pictured below), a coffeehouse session to connect with one another, and a power mapping session to look at the North Carolina education system, all facilitated by the MDC team.

National Center for Learning Disability’s Joey Hunziker led a webinar session for the LENS network

Great Expectations
Sustaining and scaling a high-impact family support model

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. Over the past several years, MDC’s Great Expectations team has supported Imprints Cares—a nonprofit committed to addressing structural barriers to education and health equity in Forsyth County—with the scale-up and sustainment of the Pediatric Parenting Connection (PPC). PPC is an impactful model that integrates family support services into pediatric practices. The model is now on track to be adopted within two major healthcare systems in North Carolina. In addition, with initial support from the MDC team, Imprints Cares is now working to become a Medicaid-reimbursable provider to help sustain the PPC model and home visitation services, opportunities that emerged through Medicaid transformation. 

Cultivating systems leadership through facilitation training

Skilled facilitation, including the ability to create space for all voices, navigate conflict, and promote meaningful dialogue, is a critical component of systems leadership. MDC hosted a training with Janeen Bryant of Facilitate Movement to build the facilitation and conflict management skills that Great Expectations partners need to lead groups and coalitions in systems change efforts. The training was provided as part of MDC’s support to Great Expectations grantees and partners that are advancing early childhood systems change in Forsyth County, North Carolina.  

In addition to facilitation training, Great Expectations also hosted a visual mapping workshop to introduce grantees to network mapping technology.

“We all benefit when diverse voices are heard. Leadership is relationship. It’s arguably the simplest and most poignant definition of leadership that we’ve got.”
MDC op-ed on Why the South needs equity-centered leadership, Atlanta Journal and Constitution

MDC graduates its first cohort of Investing in Leaders of Color (ILOC) Fellows  

MDC’s Investing in Leaders of Color (ILOC) Fellowship is a leadership and capacity-building initiative to acknowledge and support the work of leaders of color—and their organizations who 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 within the philanthropic and nonprofit fields. Philanthropic partners participate in collective learning, mutual mentorship, and relationship-building alongside the fellows.  

In May, MDC hosted a 1.5-day celebration to mark the end of the inaugural cohort’s fellowship year. Over 40 people attended the celebration, including board members from the fellows’ organizations, plus staff and CEOs from supporting foundations. Aptly dubbed, “The Originators,” the fellows reflected on their personal and professional journeys over the year, shared appreciations for each other and the program, and engaged in continued learning in community together. Over the course of the fellowship year, MDC was able to provide opportunities for 12 dynamic nonprofit leaders to connect and grow in their leadership journey, and to create and maintain space for honest conversation about how philanthropy can change to better engage and support communities of color. Learn more about the inaugural cohort of fellows and the organizations they lead. 

I want to contribute to substantive change not based in saviorism. I want to be a resource to other leaders of color. I want to always be available to take a minute to have coffee, to answer their questions, to support them.” – ILOC Fellow on what they want their legacy to be

The inaugural Investing in Leaders of Color (ILOC) cohort gathered at The Duke Endowment in Charlotte, North Carolina, for a closing celebration with partners and funders

Developing new leaders through MDC’s Autry Fellowship 

Marilyn Boutte, MDC’s 2022-2023 Autry Fellow, contributed significantly to two projects during her fellowship. As part of the Investing in Leaders of Color (ILOC) Team, Marilyn supported the nonprofit fellows and their philanthropic partners during in-person and virtual sessions. She also joined the Educational Equity Team to focus on early childhood education and maternal health. As part of her work with Great Expectations, Marilyn researched the potential implications of Medicaid Expansion on maternal health in North Carolina, presenting those findings to the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust and in a written policy brief. We are thrilled that Marilyn will stay at MDC as a Program Coordinator for the Equity Centered Leadership and Philanthropy Team to continue her work providing organizational and programmatic support to ILOC.  

Emerging Leaders Fellows present independent projects at Oak Foundation celebration   

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, Ajani Anderson, Rebecca Hall, and Maya Weinberg, participated 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. To celebrate the completion of their two-year fellowship, the Fellows attended a May luncheon at the Oak Foundation office in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The Fellows presented independent projects of direct relevance and impact to the Foundation’s work, including recommendations to improve the foundation’s grant inquiry process; a resource guide on Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for global philanthropy; and an accessibility toolkit for supporting employees with learning differences. The Fellows identified these projects as part of their year-two work plan.  

“I appreciated the opportunity to explore a new sector and take on a variety of projects that interested me… The experience gained in grant writing and project management will surely serve me well in future endeavors.” – Emerging Leaders Fellow

Emerging Leaders Fellows Ajani Anderson, Rebecca Hall, and Maya Weinberg

It was such a pleasure to work with our fellow. The fellow was highly professional and produced high quality outputs for our team. Everyone appreciated their work, and they will be missed. – Fellowship Supervisor, The Oak Foundation

Welcome, Nina Rivers, Program Administrator for Equity Centered Leadership and Philanthropy 

MDC is excited to welcome Nina Rivers to the team as our new Program Administrator for Equity Centered Leadership and Philanthropy. Nina is originally from North Charleston, South Carolina, and has always had a passion for advocating for underserved communities in the South. Nina has experience in field-organizing for political campaigns in the low country region of South Carolina, which has helped her see the challenges that many Southern communities face accessing resources and economic opportunity. Welcome to the team, Nina! 

North Carolina Inclusive Disaster Recovery (NCIDR) Network successfully advocates for flood history disclosure

This spring, the North Carolina Real Estate Commission decided to move forward on a petition that will give potential home buyers information about flood history and risk when buying a home. Disclosure laws help to educate the public about the hazards associated with climate change, assist people in making better decisions about where to live, and help to foster resilience. The petition to add flood-related questions to the real estate disclosure form was filed on December 2022 by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), North Carolina Justice Center, MDC Inc., North Carolina Disaster Recovery and Resiliency School, Robeson County Church and Community Center, and NC Field.

“Lower income households bear a disproportionate burden of the risk and costs of flooding. The Commission’s decision is an important step towards our vision of a more just and transparent disaster recovery system.” – Andrew Shoenig, MDC Rural Forward

MDC and Candid push for more climate-driven philanthropy in rural communities

“Rural communities, already with access to fewer resources, are experiencing increased climate disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, and floods. We witness, time and again, the stark gap between what people need and what local, state, and federal governments are willing to provide; it’s clear there’s an opportunity and responsibility for philanthropy to step in.” Read the full NPQ article.

McDowell County Commissioners unanimously approve opioid settlement recommendations

MDC Rural Forward has supported the McDowell Partnership for Substance Awareness (PSA) for the last 4.5 years with facilitation, coaching, conflict management and mediation, and through organizational transitions. With MDC support, PSA worked for several months to develop recommendations on how to spend Opioid Settlement Funds to address substance use in their community. County commissioners agreed to consider the recommendations made by this coalition but still held the final decision on where monies were allocated.

PSA facilitated a community-led, participatory process to determine the needs of front-line community organizations and presented their recommendations to commissioners in January 2023. Approximately one month later, county commissioners unanimously approved their recommendations, ensuring that funding reached critical front-line services, including those for harm reduction. MDC Rural Forward is incredibly proud of PSA’s work to ensure resources are allocated to address pressing community needs.

How data shapes (and misshapes) conceptions of diversity in rural America

Racial and ethnic diversity is one of the most misunderstood aspects of rural America. While rural places are often depicted in the media as a homogenous, white working class, this obscures the reality that 14 million Black, Hispanic or Latino, Asian, Native, and multiracial people live in rural America. Failing to acknowledge this diversity can inhibit efforts to help rural communities to thrive.

In Part 1 of “Who lives in rural America?”, the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) uses data visualizations and mapping to explain how and why such flawed conceptions of rural America exist. In Part 2, they present stories of the different demographic groups that make up rural America — where they are, how they came to be there, and how they have changed in the past decade — while also recognizing that no story can capture the experiences of all the people in a demographic group. These stories are part of CORI’s Rural Aperture series, a project of Thrive Rural. MDC is collaborating with CORI to frame the stories, articulate equity implications, and offer possible solutions.

Our Health Matters

“What do you want to see in a Healthy Community?” This was the question posed to more than 75 Roanoke Valley residents who participated in “Our Health Matters,” a community health forum facilitated by MDC Rural Forward and the North Carolina Rural Center earlier this spring. The purpose of the forum was to galvanize the community to work together to build a healthy community that would improve overall health outcomes. Participants identified three primary focus areas—access to services, social determinants of health, and civic engagement—which they will continue to strategize on in future work group sessions.

“Our Health Matters” participants enjoy a discussion on “what would a healthy Roanoke Valley look like.”

Rural Forward Program Associates build skills while supporting rural communities

Each year, MDC Rural Forward recruits talented undergraduate and graduate students to serve as Program Associates (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.

In May, we welcomed five new PAs and look forward to having them on our team this summer:

  1. Chandler Briggs
  2. Eleanor Tyson
  3. Jacob Hunter
  4. Jeremy James
  5. Tristan Millsaps

True South continues…

In fall 2022, MDC launched True South, a 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.

In Chapel Hill, North Carolina  |  In February, MDC and Carolina Performing Arts at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill co-hosted a State of the South event in conjunction with the showing of Rhiannon Giddens’ opera, Omar. MDC Senior Program Director Kerri Forrest moderated a dialogue between the late Howard University Economist/MDC board member, Dr. William Spriggs, and UNC Islamic Studies professor, Dr. Youssef Carter. The conversation centered around the life of historic figure, Omar ibn Said, and issues of exploitive labor rooted in the “othering” of workers, a practice that persists today through policies like the substandard federal minimum wage.

In Charleston, South Carolina  |  In March, MDC partnered with the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture to host a State of the South panel discussion on housing displacement and gentrification in Charleston, South Carolina. Representatives from the South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development, the historic Phillips Community, and The Charity Foundation spoke on the importance of identity, trust, and sense of home within a community and the ways in which housing displacement disrupts residents’ lives and livelihoods. Panelists discussed issues of development, heir’s property, and zoning and emphasized the need for community engagement and policies that protect people and communities over profit.


In Berea, Kentucky  |  In April, MDC partnered with Brushy Fork Leadership Institute to host a State of the South convening in Berea, Kentucky, and examine issues of equity and economic opportunity unique to Central Appalachia. Conversations centered on rural economic development, inclusive disaster recovery, the community impact of incarceration, and strengthening support for Appalachian children and families. Each panel highlighted the need for greater economic investment in Appalachia, community engagement, and strategies to address systemic barriers to economic security.

“The need for ‘hope’ has been on my mind ever since the gathering. I will be looking for ways that communities are creating hope for their people.” – Participant, State of the South Central Appalachia

Poet Frank X Walker performs at State of the South Central Appalachia (Erica Chambers Photography)

Following the Kentucky convening, several panelists and participants offered perspectives on the issues that were discussed:


Shared challenges despite unique community contexts

Many of the issues and policy ideas that have emerged from State of the South convenings are unique to the urban or rural community in which the convening was held. However, a few core themes continue to echo across our conversations:

  • Rural and urban communities that are not home to major foundations are often overlooked by philanthropy, yet they would benefit greatly from flexible and sustained philanthropic investment.
  • When policymaking and economic development strategies inadequately engage—or altogether leave out—impacted communities, communities suffer lasting economic and social consequences.
  • Policies and economic development strategies that value industry over people exacerbate poverty, housing insecurity and displacement, and community instability. Alternatively, investing in people and communities drives more equitable outcomes and benefits everyone in the long run.

Best wishes to Julie Mooney, longtime MDC leader 

It is with mixed emotions that we say farewell to Julie Mooney as she steps down from her role as MDC’s Senior Program Director for Educational Equity at the end of June. Julie has been steadfast in her support of every aspect of MDC’s work over the years and has been constantly at-the-ready to accomplish whatever needed to be done—programmatically, organizationally, or otherwise. We’re excited for Julie’s next chapter, which she assures us means “continuing commitments to social justice and at the same time a different way of life—more time with family, more exercise, and a little more travel.” Thank you, Julie, for your many years of service to MDC!

Welcome, Diana Williams, Summer Program Associate for Policy and Impact

Diana Williams is the Summer Program Associate for Policy and Impact at MDC. She supports the organization by providing policy insights and developing public-facing material that highlights the unique and important projects MDC is working on. Diana graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in spring 2022 with a degree in public policy and global studies, and shortly thereafter began a master’s degree in public policy, which she’ll complete in spring 2024. Diana’s upbringing in rural North Carolina sparked her passion for social justice work, specifically racial equity as it relates to place.

MDC mourns the passing of Dr. William Spriggs, renowned economist, and Vice Chair of MDC’s Board of Directors

The MDC community mourned the passing of our friend and long-serving board member, Dr. William Spriggs. Bill was an effective and powerful voice who brilliantly championed the causes of equity, racial justice, and worker’s rights. He used economics as a dynamic tool to highlight systemic injustices and push back against the field’s basic assumptions about discrimination. Our work at MDC and the communities we serve are immeasurably better because of Bill’s insight, generosity, and wisdom. Read MDC’s full tribute here.

Donate to MDC

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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 towards 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. View our 2022 Impact Report.