Economic Empowerment

Delta unemployment is some of the nation’s most staggering, leading residents in Delta counties to face poverty rates double and triple the national average. In the face of such deep poverty, Delta Directions has advocated for policies and designed programs intended to financially empower Delta residents and build community wealth and economic productivity in Delta communities. Delta Directions’ advocacy has included offering practical guidance to entrepreneurs, as well as guidance to consumer on consumer financial services and the costs of payday lending. Other Delta Directions work has examined the potential for micro loans and access to consumer financial services.

Read more about our current and past projects.

Current Projects:

Students in the Mississippi Delta Project’s Economic Development Team are currently working on a project to promote zero waste policies in the city of Jackson, and ultimately in the state more broadly. The Team has partnered with their client, Cooperation Jackson, whose “Just Transition Plan” includes a goal that the city of Jackson become a “Zero Waste” city by the year 2025—meaning that the city will strive to send zero unnecessary waste to landfills. The Economic Development Team is developing a policy toolkit and proposal that Cooperation Jackson can present to Jackson’s city council, in order to start turning this vision into a reality. This report is expected to be completed in the summer of 2018.

Past Projects:

GrowDelta Initiative – Small Business Development

Delta Directions partnered with the University of Mississippi School of Business to launch the GrowDelta Initiative from 2009 until 2011. GrowDelta aimed to serve as an incubator and enabler for local individuals and outside entrepreneurs considering new business ventures in the region. The initiative provided free small business development services, helping over 50 Delta entrepreneurs deepen their business and legal knowledge through free workshops featuring visiting speakers and Harvard Law School volunteers.


Legal Guide for Small Businesses in Mississippi (March 2010)

Paid Leave

Mississippi, along with six other states, voted in 2013 to prohibit local governments from enacting paid-leave mandates (or a living minimum-wage requirement) on local businesses. This restriction disproportionately impacts low-income employees, who are less likely to have paid leave through their employers, and thus more likely to have to choose between losing a day’s pay (and potentially their job) or attending to their health and family needs. In Spring 2014, the Economic Development Team of the Mississippi Delta Project produced a white paper outlining recommendations for state-based paid leave policies, including a recommendation that the state repeal the restriction on local paid leave policies. This report provided guidance for the Mississippi Women Economic Security Council, which incorporated paid leave recommendations into their policy agenda for 2016. In 2017, the team continued their research into paid leave policy strategies, drafting a report that was presented to the Women’s Foundation Board of Directors to guide their future policy efforts.


Paid Leave in Mississippi: Analysis and Recommendations (Feb. 2014)
Paid Leave Policy Recommendations for Mississippi (Spring 2017)

Financial Services for Low-Income Households

Through the Economic Development Team of the Mississippi Delta Project, Delta Directions has worked to support for-profit and nonprofit entities in Mississippi focused on improving access to affordable, responsible financial services.

Students in the Delta Project worked with the Institute for Community-Based Research (ICBR) to develop a guide to community financial services for students at Delta State and for staff members of local nonprofits. In addition, students collaborated with Southern Bancorp, the largest rural development bank in the country to support various community development activities, including free tax assistance and promoting historic preservation. In spring 2011, the team worked with the Mississippi Center for Justice to develop consumer education materials on payday lending and the Dodd-Frank Act. The team spent most of the 2011-2012 school year working with the Delta Regional Authority, the Small Business Administration, and ACCION USA as they started a new microfinance initiative in the Delta region. The work consisted of legal and regulatory research, policy research, and interviewing key stakeholders at banks and other organizations throughout the Delta.

In the fall of 2012, students developed legislation meant to facilitate the growth of microfinance and microlending in the Mississippi Delta region, with a focus on Arkansas. Work included research regarding regulatory obstacles and potential economic development programs as well as policy analysis to support the legislation. The team worked with local stakeholders in developing their recommendations. The following spring, the financial services team helped to develop policy meant to facilitate the funding of microfinance and microlending in Arkansas based on the legislation they wrote had written the preceding semester.


Policy Options for Microlender Funding in Arkansas (Dec. 2012)
Consensus-Building Efforts on Community Development Goals

In spring 2009, the Delta Fellow organized a group of students from the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinic to assess transportation needs and resources and foster consensus-building among transportation users and providers. The Delta Fellow supervised the project in partnership with the Delta State Institute for Community-Based Research and the Tri-County Workforce Alliance. The students created a report and stakeholder conflict map about transportation needs, and provided recommendations. One of their recommendations focused on providing negotiation and consensus-building training. In response to this need, Delta Directions hosted a “Harvard Negotiation Basics Training” in November 2009. During spring 2010, the Negotiation and Mediation Clinic continued to work in Coahoma County to train community leaders about the process of consensus-building on topics of interest to the community, with a focus on transportation.

Crossroads Cultural Arts Center

In Spring 2016, four Harvard Law students came down to the Delta participate in a spring break trip to provide support to the Crossroads Cultural Arts Center (CCAC) in Clarksdale. Students met and interviewed local artists, arts organizations, and two Mississippi record labels. The students provided a report and presentation to the CCAC based on their findings, which included recommendations for how to support the legal needs of local artists and explored the feasibility of developing a non-profit record label.

Local Grant/Funding Assistance

Delta Fellows have helped community leaders in the Delta apply for funding to expand their programs. Delta Fellows have helped several organizations receive grants and has helped other organizations with fundraising. In addition, the Delta Fellow serves on the advisory board of several nonprofits and community initiatives, helping them with program development and implementation.

Optimizing Grant-Making

During the 2015-16 academic year, the Economic Development Team of the Mississippi Delta Project worked a report on strategies to optimize grant-making and grant-giving in Mississippi. The team spent the fall doing informational interviews, organized by the Delta Fellow, with various foundations and community workers. The spring was devoted to using that information to inform their research into innovations in grant-making and philanthropy that could be useful for Mississippi.