National leaders provide critical input on Promise Zone


SouthernCarolina’s Sandy Steel and Justin Maxson of Winston-Salem, N.C., listen to Atlanta’s Donald Phoenix at the ThinkBIG conference in Charleston.

FEB. 2, 2016 | A dozen leading thinkers and analysts from across the South met over the weekend to learn about the S.C. Lowcountry Promise Zone and make suggestions to broaden the impact of its collaborative efforts to reduce poverty.

16.01.thinkbigposter_sm“The ThinkBIG conference was an important step in our planning process in realizing our Promise Zone goals,” said Danny Black, president and CEO of SouthernCarolina Alliance, the lead organization of the Promise Zone.  “We were fortunate to have guidance from and discussion with experts from around the country in rural economic and community development, who joined us to share fresh ideas and innovative approaches to our challenges.”

SouthernCarolina Alliance worked with the Center for a Better South, a Charleston think tank and Promise Zone coordinator, to provide information and lead discussion with participants of the conference, which was made possible due to generous funding by BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina.

“Anytime you get a bunch of smart people together who are focusing on one project, good things happen,” said Andy Brack, president of the Center, which organized the conference. “The ThinkBIG conference provided an opportunity for our South Carolina effort to get fresh ideas and reactions about our transformational plans to move our region forward.”

Better South's Andy Brack, in background, leads a discussion during the conference.

Better South’s Andy Brack, in background, leads a discussion during the conference.

Participants in the ThinkBIG conference included:

  • Bill Bynum, CEO, Hope Enterprise Corp./Hope Credit Union, Jackson, Miss.
  • Harvey Galloway, executive director, BlueCross BlueShield SC Foundation, Columbia, S.C.
  • Lavastian Glenn, network officer, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Winston-Salem, N.C.
  • Susan Glisson, executive director of The Winter Institute, Oxford, Miss.
  • Conaway Haskins, executive director, Virginia Community Economic Network, Blacksburg, Va.
  • Beverly Karns, managing director, Capitol Peak Asset Management, Denver, Colo.
  • Justin Maxson, executive director, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Winston-Salem, N.C.
  • Bill Milliken, founder Communities in Schools, Alexandria, Va.
  • Donald Phoenix, regional vice president, NeighborWorks America, Atlanta, Ga.
  • Jessica DeLoach Sabin, executive director, Arkansans for the Arts, Little Rock, Ark.
  • Ark. Rep. Warwick Sabin, executive director Arkansas Regional Innovative Hub, Little Rock, Ark.
  • Charles Tucker, assistant director, The Winter Institute, Oxford, Miss.

On Saturday, participants toured the Promise Zone region, including stops in Bamberg, S.C, at Voorhees College and in Allendale, S.C., at the University of South Carolina-Salkehatchie campus. On Sunday, participants discussed strategic efforts and made suggestions about strengthening a work plan being developed for the 40 partner and supporting organizations involved with the Promise Zone.

One participant in the conference told organizers how much the ThinkBIG conference meant:

“It was truly a pleasure to spend the weekend discussing the prospects and strategies for a brighter future for the S.C. Promise Zone region,” he said. “I left South Carolina inspired by the work that you’re all doing to improve the fortunes of the people and places across the South who are often forgotten.”