About AITF

The Anchor Institutions Task Force (AITF) is a growing network of over 700 leaders promoting the engagement of anchor institutions—including colleges, universities, hospitals, community foundations, libraries, arts institutions, and other anchors—in community and economic development.  The AITF is designed to develop and disseminate knowledge and function as an advocacy and movement building organization to create and advance democratic, mutually beneficial anchor institution-community partnerships.

Anchor institutions are enduring organizations that are rooted in their localities.  It is difficult for them to leave their surroundings even in the midst of substantial capital flight.  The challenge to a growing movement is to encourage these stable local assets to harness their resources in order to address critical issues such as education, economic opportunity, and health.  It is difficult to imagine fragile local economies and widening social disparities changing without leveraging stable institutions, especially amidst a decline in government resources. These dynamics have given rise to the concept “anchors” as agents of community and economic development.

Since 2009, the AITF has hosted annual conferences, produced several publications, created professional development affinity groups, and established international partnerships.

AITF is an individual membership organization.   Individuals can join if they agree with the AITF’s principles and values. The general membership is free of charge.

Core values of the Anchor Institutions Task Force include:

  • Collaboration and Partnership
  • Equity and Social Justice
  • Democracy and Democratic Practice
  • Commitment to Place and Community



In winter 2008-2009, a national task force was convened to advise the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on how HUD could increase its impact and strategically leverage anchor institutions, particularly higher education and medical institutions (“eds and meds”), to improve communities and help solve significant urban problems.

The anchor task force’s report, “Anchor Institutions as Partners in Building Successful Communities and Local Economies,” was published, by the Penn Institute for Urban Research, along with nine other reports in a volume titled Retooling HUD for a Catalytic Federal Government: A Report to Secretary Shaun Donovan (2009). Soon after the report’s publication, the ad hoc task force became a formal organization, the Anchor Institutions Task Force (AITF).


What We Do

Engaging government and philanthropy, the Task Force is enhancing anchor institution practices by:

  • Bringing together scholars, university presidents and other leaders in higher education, and practitioners;
  • Increasing cooperation and alignment among government, anchor institutions, businesses, schools, community organizations and philanthropy;
  • Developing strategies to promote interagency government collaboration;
  • Providing tools for anchor institutions to enhance their societal missions, address local needs, as well as strengthen democratic, mutually beneficial partnerships between institutions of higher education, schools, and community based organizations;
  • Providing tools for anchor institutions to help students develop as democratic citizens who are lifelong contributors to communities and the nation’s well-being.
  • Complementing philanthropic strategies to support and strengthen vulnerable communities.


Management and Administration

The Task Force is led initially by the University of Pennsylvania and administered by Marga Incorporated.

The University of Pennsylvania’s experiences in recent decades provide a persuasive case as to how an anchor institution can comprehensively contribute to a neighborhood and city, by tapping its intellectual, social, economic, human, and physical capital to transform its environment. Numerous lessons have been drawn from this story in the form of the Anchor Institutions Toolkit (Netter Center, 2009), which provides a useful guide for anchor institutions on how to simultaneously strengthen their purpose and surroundings and the results of a Penn-sponsored national conference, “Urban Anchors in the 21st Century: A Commitment to Place, Growth and Community” (October 2007). The Penn Institute for Urban Research, co-directed by Eugenie Birch and Susan Wachter, coordinated the development and publication of a series of task force reports titled Retooling HUD for a Catalytic Federal Government: A Report to Secretary Shaun Donovan, which included the “Anchor Institutions” report. Eugenie Birch was also the co-chair on the “Anchor Institutions Task Force” report. The Director of Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships, Ira Harkavy, is the chair of the Task Force. Marga Incorporated is a consulting firm dedicated to strengthening partnerships and philanthropic initiatives through research and strategic guidance.


Evolution of the Task Force

The Task Force is led initially by the University of Pennsylvania and administered by Marga Incorporated.

Founded in 1992, the Netter Center is Penn’s primary vehicle for bringing to bear the broad range of human knowledge needed to solve the complex, comprehensive, and interconnected problems of the American city so that West Philadelphia (Penn’s local geographic community), Philadelphia, the University itself, and society benefit. Throughout this time, Marga has provided ongoing support for the Task Force, by helping align the agendas of those in higher education advocating for expanded engagement, the new Federal Administration, and philanthropy.

The Netter Center is based on three core propositions:

  • Penn’s future and the future of West Philadelphia/Philadelphia are intertwined.
  • Penn can make a significant contribution to improving the quality of life in West Philadelphia/Philadelphia.
  • Penn can enhance its overall mission of advancing and transmitting knowledge by helping to improve the quality of life in West    Philadelphia/Philadelphia.
  • The Netter Center, which is housed in the Office of Government and Community Affairs, works to achieve the following objectives:
  • Improve the internal coordination and collaboration of all university-wide community service programs
  • Create new and effective partnerships between the University and the community
  • Create and strengthen local, national and international networks of institutions of higher education committed to engagement with their local communities

Through the Netter Center, the University currently engages in three types of activities: academically based community service, direct traditional service, and community development. Academically based community service is at the core of the Center’s work. It is service rooted in and intrinsically linked to teaching and/or research, and encompasses problem-oriented research and teaching, as well as service learning emphasizing student and faculty reflection on the service experience. Approximately one hundred sixty courses (from a wide range of disciplines and Penn schools) link Penn students to work in the community. (A steady increase in the number of academically based community service has occurred since 1992 when only eleven such courses were offered.)

For more information on the Netter Center, click here.