Don Williams' Effort to Empower South Dallas: Helping a Neighborhood Help Itself

John F. Kennedy School of Government (Harvard)



Case Study Sector

Community Building

When Don Williams, the president and chief executive officer of the Dallas, Texas, real estate and services giant Trammel Crow, decides, in 1994, to leave the position, he does so with big plans for his post-corporate life. Williams, much influenced by the John Kretzmann and John McKnight book Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets, sets his sights on helping to improve one of the worst neighborhoods in Dallas. In predominantly African-American South Dallas, fully 51 percent of the population was not in the labor force. The population had dropped in half over a 25-year period. Williams hopes to create, and is willing to help fund, an organization that will develop "policies and activities based on the capacities, skills, and assets of lower-income people and their neighborhoods." As he starts out, however, Williams finds himself confronted with a far more mundane-sounding request: would he pay for a trip which a school choir hoped to take to a music festival in Salzburg. Suddenly, Williams had to decide how to respond to a specific request—in the context of the broader message he would send to South Dallas and his larger hopes and dreams. This relatively brief case allows for discussion, in classic case fashion, of the strategic implications of an unexpected moment of decision.



  • Partnership
  • Strategy


  • Northern America

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