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The private sector is responding

Detroit cares about its neighbors. United Way's 1983 fund-raising campaign results prove it. The nationwide fund results, reported yesterday, almost reached the $2 billion mark, representing a 10 percent annual increase. The people of Detroit, where unemployment is declining only grudgingly, were almost as generous as the national average, reaching in their pockets to contribute $46 .9 million. This was an increase of 7.6 percent over 1982 results. Detroit is not unique. A dozen other industrial cities hard hit by recession produced results equally as impressive. These reports reveal effective fund-raising techniques. Herein lies a tale of the American people faithfully and creatively responding to their neighbors' needs.

Throughout the 1970s we teetered indecisively on the public/private fence. While government spending continued to soar, we experimented with ways to involve the private sector in public programs. Where the private sector was ignored, for example in urban planning and housing, disaster often ensued. One unfortunate example, Pruitt-Igoe, the St. Louis public-housing project, became so filled with strife it was eventually razed. Regulations were then developed to ensure the involvement of the private sector in community planning.

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And what has happened now that the balance has shifted to the private sector? In 1981 the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank, predicted a dramatic decrease in the capacity of nonprofit organizations to supply vital social services while the demand for these services would increase. Now, however, the institute is moderating its position, noting a prevailing, positive trend.

A recent survey by Chemical Bank shows that corporate and other private giving will top $68 billion this year, up from $63 billion in 1983. By 1988 this amount will grow to $90.4 billion, an increase of 43 percent. Corporate giving alone will increase from $3.5 billion to $5.5 billion.

The Reagan-appointed Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives, created to encourage more leadership in the private sector for solving community problems, has uncovered thousands of successful examples of individual initiative and community coalitions working with local government. These models have been assembled for study and dissemination in a new organization called Partnerships DATA/NET. Ideas to spur more private sector activism are plentiful. Thomas Drohan, chief executive officer of Foremost-McKesson, suggests that corporations , beneficiaries of federal tax cuts in 1981, contribute these savings to social programs. The result would be $7 billion, or 2.5 percent of pretax profits.

While few businesses are likely to adopt Drohan's proposal, there are many other encouraging signs. Public-private partnerships at the local level are on the upswing. One example of a far-reaching private sector initiative has been a program, supported solely by private funds, to help combat youthful drug abuse. Buoyed by a positive response to a special community and television partnership in its own area a year ago, the Pittsburgh-based public television station WQED envisioned a national movement of community task forces created to change public opinion, to educate parents about the perils of drug abuse, and thereby, it was hoped, to save lives. Last Nov. 2 and 9 the public television station went national with its program. The result was astonishing. One out of every two high schools in the country sponsored grass-roots meetings (more than 10,000 in all) formed for one social cause. Groups large and small are now better educated and more actively engaged than ever in the fight to save children from drugs.

America has an impressive capacity to solve problems. While government has become a firm and undeniable partner in this march, the leaders in the fight are individual citizens. Who would ever claim that all our community problems are solved? We can, however, now reconfirm that our original instincts as Americans to face our challenges on an individual and community level rather than turning to government is the most effective way tp respond.

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