Founded in 1964, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation (BRAF) has become a force for growth and positive change in Louisiana’s Capital Region. The Foundation’s mission is two-fold: first, BRAF connects philanthropists with nonprofits to ensure that the needs in the community are being addressed. Second, the Foundation serves as a catalyst for civic leadership projects. It was BRAF’s active participation in the public-private partnership with the State of Louisiana, Louisiana State University and local government bodies to attract IBM’s 800-job software development center to downtown Baton Rouge. With their eyes firmly set on Baton Rouge’s future, BRAF is already tackling major new projects in the Capital Region, including the 35-acre Water Campus on the Mississippi River. BRAF President and CEO John Davies shares the foundation’s innovation story:
[Q] What inspired the launch of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation?
[A] In 1964, business leaders came together to create the Foundation as a vehicle to buy land that was used as an incentive to lure GSRI Inc. A community foundation – somewhat like an investment for doing good – was a good vehicle for that purchase and donation. Since then, the Foundation has grown to more than $550 million in assets and granted more than $350 million to nonprofits on behalf of our fund donors.
[Q] How does the Foundation impact the Louisiana economy?
[A] Philanthropy is one part of our business. Collaborating on projects is the other. More than 15 years ago, the Foundation underwrote Plan Baton Rouge, a downtown revival strategy that since has sparked more than $2 billion in private and public investment in our city center. We did our work in collaboration with state and local government, and private enterprises. Another example is the innovative partnership that has led to securing of an IBM software development center. Our collaborators in the project include private donors who sold land for the buildings at a discount, Baton Rouge government and the State of Louisiana through Louisiana Economic Development. With state incentives and our own financing, the real estate wing of the Foundation is building offices for up to 800 IBM employees and a companion residence tower to bring more people to live in downtown.
[Q] What is Baton Rouge Area Foundation doing that no other organization is doing?
[A] Philanthropists can open charitable funds with other companies, but the Foundation offers them local knowledge that makes giving through us more effective and enduring. We understand what is happening across South Louisiana and which organizations are doing the good work needed to make our region a better place.
[Q] When did you realize that the Foundation would be a success?
[A] The Foundation had been quietly operating in Louisiana for four decades, and then Hurricane Katrina changed our trajectory. Generous people from around the world donated more than $45 million to us, which we used to care for people in the community at first, and then to use for long-term planning to build stronger and smarter across South Louisiana. Our post-storm work let us connect with new organizations, raised our profile and expanded our scope of work. We became entrusted with new initiatives, from supporting reforms in public schools to redeveloping inner-city communities, particularly in East Baton Rouge Parish.
[Q] What do you think individuals not in Louisiana should know about the state?
[A] Louisiana has energy for life. Our people are enthusiastic. Our restaurants offer the tastiest food in America. Our oil and gas economy powers America, and our universities are producing graduates working around the world. Personal effort can make a difference here while giving donors enough time to enjoy our enriching culture.
Louisiana residents believe in our state, and our economy is exploding with demand for inexpensive natural gas. The state has been aggressive in remaking itself, and offers a range of incentives to diversify the economy.
There is more promise for Louisiana than ever in its history. Because of that, innovators have a chance to grow their businesses, while also doing something that betters the world.