Exploring Innovation participants had the chance to test their innovation skills in the “Fed Prize Challenge,” a contest that asked participants to submit their most creative response to a question on the minds of community development practitioners.

Specifically, the St. Louis Fed posed this challenge: “Based on traditional models, the viability of today’s community development sector looks bleak. Describe how an innovative approach could change that horizon. What new structural changes, measures of success, funding tools, partnerships and comprehensive approaches will enable the community development sector to reinvent its role and sustain itself in the 21st century?”

The winners were Ben Steinberg of Southern Bancorp and Karl Cassell of the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission.

Steinberg impressed the judges with his description of an innovative approach to improving communities by providing access to capital in areas of persistent poverty in a way that is scalable, replicable, sustainable and effective. The core of this approach is building lasting partnerships that empower local leadership to drive comprehensive community revitalization. “Instead of waiting for borrowers to approach Southern, Southern, guided by the community goals, creates and solicits opportunities to lend and leverage resources,” Steinberg wrote. He outlined a geographically focused, bank-centered community development strategy that has delivered real results, decreasing poverty and unemployment, increasing high school graduation rates, and leveraging more than $70 million in investment.

Steinberg won a scholarship to the CFED Assets Learning Conference in Washington, DC.