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"If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with." -L. Frank Baum

Kansas City Civic Engagement

Work in Our Backyard

By Gloria Jackson-Leathers, Director of Kansas City Civic Engagement, Kauffman Foundation

Gloria Jackson-Leathers
Gloria Jackson-Leathers

Our communities are the canvases for vivid memories, colorful lives, and bright futures. During his lifetime, Ewing Kauffman saw Kansas City as a place full of possibilities. His passion and commitment to his hometown have enriched the lives of both children and adults, leaving a lasting footprint that extends well beyond the Kansas City area’s boundaries.

Today, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation continues our founder’s legacy by elevating our civic role and responsibility in the community. Each year, the Foundation invests approximately $5 million toward institutions, causes and events that make our community a better place to live, work and play.

We receive many inquiries and requests to support various needs within our city. We can’t fulfill all of them, so we select those that are strategically aligned with our goals and that are supported by the community and other funders. Absent clear market signals, we rely on these inputs to determine the value of civic investment in KC and to ensure that we are not merely throwing money at the problem.

The Kauffman Foundation’s “Kansas City Civic” team is responsible for leading and funding initiatives that improve the quality of life in Kansas City and promotes the city’s identity and growth in targeted areas (e.g., education and entrepreneurship, consistent with Mr. Kauffman’s intentions). To carry out this ultimate goal, we categorize our work into two major areas:

  1. Invest in anchor institutions
  2. Cultivate innovative capacity

Anchor institutions
Anchor institutions are best described as large-scale public organizations that are vital to Kansas City’s identity and growth. Museums, libraries, performing and visual arts organizations, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City are examples of such anchor institutions. The Foundation has made substantial investments in this area to improve the quality of life in Kansas City, attract and retain talent in Kansas City, and positively impact the local economy.

Anchor Institutions also include certain nonprofit organizations, such as service providers for quality afterschool enrichment programs and sponsorships that are designed to support annual fundraisers for a variety of nonprofit organizations.

Cultivate innovation
The second component of the Kauffman Foundation’s KC Civic initiative is to cultivate innovative capacity in Kansas City through experimental programs and competitions, and by replicating proven national models.

As an example, four years ago, in partnership with Kansas City’s historic Union Station, we launched Maker Faire in Kansas City to enhance awareness of the growing maker movement and to provide a venue for local makers, including students involved in STEM programs such as Robotics and Project Lead the Way. Maker Faire has also rapidly become an annual attraction in Kansas City, attracting local regional and national guests. In fact, KC’s event has become one of the largest Maker Faires in the country, joining cities such as New York, Detroit, and San Mateo, Calif.

Mr. Kauffman once said, “…if we work together, there is no problem in the world that can stop us.” We couldn’t agree more and are proud to join our local grantees, partners, and the community at large to support and celebrate a community so rich with possibilities.

Kauffman Foundation Conference Center

As part of our ongoing work to bring thought leaders together, the Kauffman Foundation provides a valuable convening space for the community through the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center — which is adjacent to the Kauffman Foundation’s offices.

This state of the art facility:

  • Hosts more than 70,000 visitors annually
  • Welcomes local, national and international guests
  • Contains 40,000 square feet of state-of-the-art meeting space with full-service catering and audio/visual capabilities
  • Offers 10 meetings rooms with variable configurations
  • Includes a landscaped parking lot for 380 vehicles

Want to Keep Up to Date on What We’re Doing in KC?

View past issues of the monthly “Kauffman in Kansas City” newsletter and subscribe today.

Our Kansas City Commitment, Pictured

The Kauffman Foundation supports its hometown in many different ways, a few of which are pictured below.

Maker Faire
Since the Kauffman Foundation became the founding sponsor of Maker Faire at Union Station in Kansas City in 2011, the event has become one of the largest events of its kind in the United States. Billing itself as “The Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth,” the annual gathering just may provide a glimpse of the next great innovations that will swell Kansas City’s wave of entrepreneurship
Fueled by curiosity and creativity, Maker Faire: Kansas City showcases the work of innovators who embrace the do-it-yourself spirit across the spectrum of science, engineering art, performance, and crafts.
Launched in 2003, Kauffman Scholars was designed to offer a comprehensive enrichment and mentoring program for Kansas City-area urban students who are long on potential but short on opportunity. Daisy Escamilla, Kauffman Scholars Class 5 (left), who graduated from Cristo Rey high school in May 2014, is one of many students who joined the program as seventh-graders in the early years of Kauffman Scholars and now have graduated from high school and moved on to college
The Ewing Marion Kauffman School supports the Kauffman Foundation’s mission to advance educational achievement, particularly among urban youth in Kansas City. Founded in 2011 and operating as a public charter school within the Kansas City (Missouri) Public Schools district boundaries, the Kauffman School’s mission is straightforward: To create college graduates.
The Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden draws inspiration from the couple’s journey through life and their commitment to share with others. It is an enduring gift for Kansas City that extends the legacy of a gracious couple and welcomes visitors to a vibrant landscape. Open year-round through autumn’s crisp winds, winter’s quiet chill, the renewal of spring, and the warm summer sun, the Memorial Garden provides a tranquil place where everyone is welcome and the Kauffman legacy continues to grow.
Toby Rush, founder and CEO of EyeVerify, a Kansas City, Kansas, startup and one of the first companies to present at 1 Million Cups in Kansas City, delivered the knockout pitch to win “Get in the Ring: The American Startup Clash,” one of several featured events sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation during Global Entrepreneurship Week 2013.
The Kauffman Foundation’s commitment to a sense of community, fresh produce, and connection to the environment begins in its own backyard where the Kauffman Community Garden features sixty-three vegetable beds and, working in partnership with The Giving Grove, eighty fruit-bearing trees. Kauffman associates and people from the neighborhood tend garden plots collectively.