[Watch] Integrating economic inclusion to strengthen local economies


Fed Communities Staff

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Can centering racial equity help fuel a more inclusive small business recovery? Lead to new solutions to addressing housing or workforce equity challenges in underserved communities? On March 9, 2023, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia held a Connecting Communities webinar to discuss three years of learnings from the Reinventing Our Communities (ROC) Cohort Program.

ROC, a national training program led by national research and practitioner experts, helps participants frame, contextualize, and organize around a community challenge. The program was developed by the Philadelphia Fed and conducted in partnership with Federal Reserve Banks around the country. During this virtual event, past cohort members will share what they’ve learned and how they’re carrying forward the work they started through ROC to remove barriers to inclusive regional growth.

Watch the video below.


Connecting Communities Integrating Economic Inclusion to Strengthen Local Economies (video, 1:01:37).
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Jennie Blizzard

Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Jennie Blizzard, a communications advisor with Fed Communities. Welcome to the Connecting Communities webinar, Integrating Economic Inclusion to Strengthen Local Economies. Today you’ll hear more about how communities have organized and work collaboratively to remove barriers to inclusive regional growth through their participation in the Reinventing Our Communities cohort program, which we’ll be referred to as ROC today.

We’re excited to kick off our second Connecting Communities webinar this year, but before we get started, we would like to share a few house housekeeping items. Today’s session is being recorded. The recording will be available within the next two weeks.

Views expressed during this session are those of the speakers and are intended for informational purposes. They do not necessarily represent the views of Fed Communities or the Federal Reserve System.

Microphones have been muted. Please use the Q&A feature throughout the session to submit questions. We promise to get to as many of them as possible during the Q&A portion of this presentation.

And finally, please feel free to keep the conversation going, and engage with us on Twitter using #connectingcommunities. Before moving to the content of today’s event, I would like to briefly introduce today’s moderator. Neelu Panth is a community development advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Before joining the Fed, she worked as the development director and entrepreneurship lead at a nonprofit where she was instrumental in creating a small business development program along with a microloan fund that helped start several black-owned small businesses. One of Neelu’s roles at the St. Louis Fed is to convene stakeholders to help strengthen economic mobility around St. Louis. The St. Louis Fed has engaged with the Boone County, Missouri ROC cohort participant. You’ll hear more about Boone County’s work later in the presentation.

So now, without further ado, I turn it over to Neelu.

Neelu Panth

Good afternoon, everyone. Sorry about that delay. It’s the little thing called technology. But again, welcome. And Jennie, thank you for that introduction. I also would like to thank our ROC team at the Philadelphia Fed for allowing me to moderate this very, very timely topic around racial equity and economic mobility. Today, we will share stories from within our communities of practice on types of commitment and solutions that are required for elevating economic mobility through a racial and equity lens in our historically marginalized communities.

So with that, why is the Fed focusing on racial equity? So Dan, could you take… Thank you. And so we are doing it for three purposes.

  • To promote a healthy economy
  • To examine and understand events, risks, and trends that affect the economy
  • To walk the talk

With that, next slide please, Dan.

So Reinventing our Communities is sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and supports local level capacity building on racial equity. And so what is racial equity? How do we define racial equity? So in order to reinvent our communities through structural change, the CD function of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia conceptualized, how do we support local level capacity building on racial equity? Structural change requires local level capacity to think, plan, and engage on racial equity leading to community-led solutions for local challenges.

So again, how do we define racial equity? It is just and fair inclusion in an economy in which all can participate, prosper and reach their full potential, and race can no longer predict life outcomes for our communities.

So, why focus on race? Racial inequities are deep and pervasive across local policy areas, so intentional, structural and race-explicit strategies are needed to achieve meaningful and sustainable advances in racial equity, economic inclusion, and expanded employment, housing and wealth creation. This is our approach to system change, so merging racial equity training with training on a community-identified topical challenge enables our cohorts who have participated in our programs for the last two to three years to translate the theoretical to the practical and build capacity of their local communities and ecosystems to apply a racial equity framework to specific issue areas. Next slide, Dan.

So what is the ROC program? What other pillars of this community focused program design that we are discussing today? It’s a four-pronged approach. One is capacity building, meaning capacity building of local ecosystems in our communities to be able to implement strategies through a racial equity lens, whether it’s around affordable housing, workforce, small business development. So that’s one of the main priorities of this program design, and it is community led. So we reach out to communities who are already doing this work, who are the experts in these areas, and who have the pulse of the community. It has to be community led.

And then creative leveraging. This is the third leg of the stool for this program, which is the program leveraged… This new design of this theory of change actually happened as a result of our Reinventing our Communities theme, but we realized that we needed to have a more topical approach rather than working with broad topics and had to have a racial lens to this initiative.

And the fourth is this is sustainable systems change. So each cohort develops as they come into this program, they’re here for a year, and each cohort develops a multi-year racial equity plan for their communities. And that’s my sensor of my light. So with that, another slide, Dan.

So the program structure, I mentioned this a little bit earlier, but we provide racial equity training that happens towards the first part of that one-year journey, and then it’s the economic development training. So, each year we have a topical area that we hone in on. This year is workforce development, last year was small business development. And each of the cohort working groups trained with leading research and practitioners around those topical areas. Again, for this year it was workforce development, and coaching and advising, the cohort members received individualized coaching and advising for their groups. We also have liaisons for each of these cohorts who work, again, one-on-one with them, or in the group. And then, at the end of the program, the cohorts create an equity plan from all of the interactions and the trainings that they have received through this initiative, or through the ROC program. Next slide, Dan.

So with that, we have three very prominent leaders of our cohort teams that have participated in the past, and who are now participating. So with that, I would like to introduce our first speaker, Nic Steele. Nic is the Executive Director of Access Community Capital Inc, a community loan fund providing affordable capital to small businesses, located in Nevada. Access Community Capital is a minority-led, mission-driven organization directed by entrepreneurs who understand the plight of business ownership. As an entrepreneur, Mr. Steele knows firsthand what lack of access to affordable capital can adversely affect the trajectory of a business, stifling its growth potential. While also investing in other entrepreneurs, Mr. Steele is focused on changing the landscape of opportunity for underserved populations by operating Access Community Capital as a community development financial institution or CDFI compelled to a address the inequities present in the lending landscape.

Nic is most excited about his current role as both a lender and business advisor to entrepreneurs developing their own ideas into successful companies. We will hear from Nic a little later as to some of his innovative solutions to creating a more robust ecosystem of lending for our small businesses.

Our second speaker is Laurie Girardi. Laurie is a current cohort working in within that workforce ecosystem, and Laurie is Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at the United Way of Delaware. She has been an executive leader, a seasoned business consultant, a former educator, professional speaker, and technology enthusiast. For the past decade and a half, Laurie has served as an executive leader in business consulting, consultant leading startup ventures, turnarounds, and full scale cultural shifts through integrated, cohesive, high impact initiatives. She has served as Acting Chief Operating Officer, Chief Field Development Officer, and Vice President of Sales for corporate clients embracing change. Today, she serves the community as Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at United Way of Delaware, where is able to meld her passion for education, commitment to excellence, and desire to make Delaware a leader in racial equity and social justice into an exciting career, working with colleagues and partners across the state who are making a real difference in the lives of others.

Our third speaker is from Boone County, that’s a region that we cover here in the Eighth District at the St. Louis Fed, and it has been a pleasure working with Joanne and other stakeholders from Boone County. So Joanne Nelson is the director of the Boone County Community Services Department. She has been with the department since April 2014, first as a program manager, and then as the Director. Joanne has extensive experience working with nonprofit organizations over the past 25-plus years. She understands the many nuances involved in grants. She has written grant applications, delivered grant services, developed grant proposals, reviewed grant reports, and managed grant contracts. In her free time, Joanne enjoys traveling with her husband, Doug, and their family, and pretending that she has a green thumb.

So with that, it is a pleasure to welcome all of our speakers who are committed to making our communities more equitable, and create ecosystems for economic mobility within our historically marginalized communities. So with further ado, Nic, the floor is yours, we are very excited to learn from you today. Thank you.

Nic Steele

Thanks so much, Neelu. Well, it’s a pleasure to be here. As Neelu mentioned, my name’s Nic Steele, I’m the Executive Director of Access Community Capital. We are CDFI formation in Las Vegas, Nevada. We were formed two years ago just in time for the ROC cohort to launch in Las Vegas, and I’m super excited to be here and share some best practices.

With that said, I’m going to just jump into the presentation. I look forward to any questions at the end. Next slide, please. Just to give you some background information, the Las Vegas cohort started our year-long journey with the Federal Reserve Bank in June of 2021. We met every two weeks. The cohort learned about the history of race in America, and how institutionalized policies disenfranchised large segments of the population. This learning inspired ongoing collaborations among cohort members, encouraged the sharing of best practices from other cohorts across the country, and helped set the foundation for Las Vegas and our cohort to organize around our simple principle, which is providing equitable small business recovery and capital, supporting diverse and minority business owners in Nevada.

Next slide, please. I think Neelu mentioned something that I took note of and she said one of our missions, as the cohort, was to translate the theoretical to the practical. And I really want to highlight that, because for our cohort and other successful cohorts around the country, what we noticed is that you start off high level with where you want to impact and what differences you want to make in your community, but you really have to quickly drill down on what tangible things that you wanted to accomplish. And so for us as a cohort, we wanted to identify the key organizations that were going to be part of our cohort, but also the key organizations that we wanted to impact in our ecosystem.

As part of our cohort, our organizations that participated were the city of Las Vegas, Nevada Partners, which is a community organization, the Urban Chamber of Commerce, Promise Startups, which runs and administers entrepreneurial programming, and Access Community Capital, which primarily provides access to affordable capital to underserved communities. In identifying our stakeholders that we wanted to impact, those included other existing BIPOC organizations, the small business development center, other business development support organizations, as well as state and municipal economic development offices.

To be a little bit more specific about some of those business development organizations, we really wanted to quickly identify… So we made a list of over 40 organizations across the state that were providing business development services, and we wanted to prioritize which organizations we were reaching out to throughout our year-long process, and which programming we wanted those organizations to participate in. Next slide.

Our two goals for our cohort were to make capital more accessible for underserved communities, and to shift the business ecosystem to be more supportive of BIPOC entrepreneurs and business owners. Now, those are our high level goals, the way to accomplish those, we put together three initiatives. One was to influence the operating environment in which businesses participate. The second was to increase access to financial capital. And the third was to fast track high growth opportunities for early and emerging stage businesses. Next slide.

I’m going to briefly talk about three of those. Actually, I’m going to highlight three initiatives that we worked on, even though the ones that I’m highlighting are three out of about 12 in total that we identified and have been working on since June of 2021. In the operating plan, we analyzed the geographic and industry focus areas for the small business development centers, and other business service organizations, and quickly determined which organizations were underserving the community. We wanted to analyze the ecosystem, and so we did that on a zip code by zip code basis, comparing the populations, demographics, income levels, and tried to parse out which organizations were targeting certain areas, and where there were deserts in providing some of those business support or organizations. That set the foundation for us, because really taking a data-centric approach allowed us to identify which organizations were operating, where they were operating and what their core capabilities were. And that way, we could address some of the deficiencies that we found in the existing marketplace. And in doing so, we created a data set with a current state snapshot of small business organizations operating in cities and municipalities, organized them by industry including data like their business size, location, ownership, the race of the owner, and then pulled in some of our key stakeholders, which were the Small Business Development Center, and some of the city and state economic development departments.

We leaned on the ROC cohorts from other parts of the country to identify some of their best practices. So we noticed in Chicago there was a small business ecosystem assessment, Next Street had a platform, and there were some other platforms out there that we sought to bring into Nevada to help us with this assessment. Next slide, please.

In looking at how to address the inequities in accessing affordable capital, we wanted to improve the way that commercial banks work with CDFIs to ensure that BIPOC business owners were able to access the funding that they needed to not only survive but to thrive as we were coming out of the pandemic. And one of our plans was to build this robust loan referral system, we wanted at least five financial institutions to participate, in which, if they received a new application, or originated a new application, and that applicant applicant didn’t quite meet the credit profile that they were looking for, we would create this robust referral system so that a decline didn’t just send the person right back out the door, a decline would actually send them over to a CDFI or another community lender that could better assess that business owner’s needs and maybe be able to provide some additional capital.

In doing so, we partnered directly with some institutions, financial institutions, but also partnered with the Nevada Bankers Association. And this allowed us to really expand our own personal network, but also expand the network of institutions that we’re looking to make a difference in the ecosystem. I’m glad to say that in January of this year, through the SSBCI program, the state of Nevada rolled out a statewide platform for business applicants in which they apply. It’s an embedded finance platform in which business owners can apply and they are matched with financial institutions that are participating. And so I think that has gone a long way to helping us address some of the access to capital needs within the state. Next slide, please.

And the third plan that I’ll talk about is one of our, what we call high growth plans. And our goal was to create and promote business coaching and training for BIPOC business owners, but to do so in a manner that really was different than what we saw out there in the ecosystem. When we read surveys and white papers, business owners were really craving for, and still to this day are craving for that one-on-one guidance, that business navigator sort of approach as opposed to accessing the business support ecosystem, and really just having access to webinars and generalized information.

And so, one of our plans was to set out and offer specific guidance to organizations providing business support services, and share our knowledge of what business owners wanted one, and continue to need. We have partnered with CDFIs, with the SPDC, with other organizations across the state, and over the last year, a number of programs have cropped up and launched providing this business navigator approach, sometimes taking advantage of the SBA Business Navigator Program, and other times being financed from city economic development offices, or from philanthropic organizations. And so that one-on-one business approach has been instrumental and very critical to the success of business owners over the past year, and a lot of those programs are expanding into 2023. Next slide.

That’s the end of my presentation. I’m glad to answer questions at the end. But for our next speaker, I wanted to introduce Laurie Girardi, the Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer of United Way of Delaware.

Laurie Girardi

Thank you so much. Super excited to be here. If you would, next slide. Today, I’m going to share a little bit about our experience. We’re being called Southern Delaware, but if you’ve ever been to Delaware, we’re a very small state, from north to south is two hours. And we focused, for our cohort on, Kent and Sussex County, so they’re our two southern counties in the state. And we were invited to apply for this program. And I just want to give a little commercial break to say, if you’re thinking about applying, you’re watching this to see what it’s like, I would highly encourage it. Often, we don’t take time for professional development for ourselves, especially in areas where we might have expertise or our organizations are known for doing certain kind of work. And I have to say this was one of the best experiences of my professional life, being able to learn from others who are forging the path and doing similar things, or very different things, and having that safe space to talk through racial equity questions, and solutions, and roadblocks and learn from the experts. Next slide, please.

So our cohort comprised of the United Way of Delaware, and that is where I am the Chief Strategy Officer. We are a United Way that spans the whole state, so from north to south in Delaware. And our cohort included one of our colleagues from our Stand By Me NextGen team, they provide financial literacy, in-classroom experiences for students, and also have a really robust program to make sure that kids and their families know how to pay for college, and fill out FAFSA, and really help make sure that the funds that kids need to get on that path are there for them, and they do it in a very consultative way. So, I’m very proud of that team.

And then we looked at across the state, who else could we include? So we reached out to our workforce development board, and our Kent and Sussex, Greater Kent Committee, Kent and Sussex Alliance, and then we looked at some grassroots organizations, La Esperanza and First State Community Action Agency, and then we wanted to make sure we included our department of education, and also another statewide organization, Rodel, that focuses on education in Delaware, and has been a partner in forging Delaware to have wonderful pathway options for students.

So, in the cohort experience, to me it came very fast where it was like, “Now formulate your project.” And so we were a little bit nervous at the start because we’re like, “We’re just getting to know each other really well, and learning and, wow, now we have to come up with a plan.” But things always work out the way they’re supposed to, and several of us were having lots of conversations offline and we decided to coalesce around our high school seniors. So our program that we are developing, and we’re developing it like building the airplane while it’s flying, is called Success for our Seniors. And we embrace the idea that we could plan a program and spend all the time making it perfect, and raising the money for it, and doing all the things, and buttoning it up perfectly, but we needed to move with a sense of urgency because today’s seniors are tomorrow’s workforce. Next slide, please.

And so our mission was very simple, to look at today’s graduating class, so the class of 2023, and say, “How could we help this class this year?” We looked at the data, and we have somewhere between 8,500 and 10,000 high school seniors graduate every year in Delaware, a little more than half go on to at least apply and start college, and then a little less than half either enter the workforce or might not have a path at all. And then, a startling figure for us, I mean it’s one thing when you know the data, you can see it on a piece of paper, but when you start to think these are students that we could have helped while they’re still in school, 13.1% of our youth, ages 16 to 24, in Delaware, are disconnected, or are opportunity youth. And we wanted to do something to make a change. And so we banded together and said, “What if we didn’t make it perfect? What if we started and worked to build it as we went?” Next slide please.

And so the first thing we wanted to do was to really encourage everyone across the state to celebrate our seniors for whichever path they choose. We know that college signing day is a big thing, and we always see the sweatshirts and whatever of the swag of where kids are going to college, but we don’t often have that same fanfare for our high school seniors who are choosing the workforce, or an apprenticeship, or training program, or maybe entering a two-year college program, or a certification program or they’ve decided to start a business, how exciting for them, or students are who are going into the military, or some form of service. And so first and foremost, we wanted to celebrate students for the path that they’re on. And if they don’t have a path, how can we help them identify one before they graduate so we can help put the resources in place for them. Next slide, please.

So our vision was pretty simple but really clear. First we wanted to make sure they had a clear path. And so, we partnered with one of our high schools here in Delaware, and from the first meeting to a survey being deployed for the whole senior class was about three weeks. And that never happens in the world. And we didn’t overthink it, so was the survey perfect? No, but we deployed it and we learned a lot about the kids. And I’ll share some of those results in a minute. But what we wanted to know from them is, what are your plans today? What are you thinking is your path? And then we wanted to build out the plan for how we would celebrate them, and then figure out, what are the missing pieces?

So, students know what they need very often, they’re very intuitive, they listen to everything around them. So we asked a very simple question. If you’re on the path going to college, a four-year college, what do you need help with? Have you filled out your FAFSA? Have you applied? And they were really honest in their answers. One of the pieces of feedback we’ve gotten from the school is that just the simple help of us deploying the survey, or creating the survey I should say, and then analyzing it, and delivering back to the school counselors their students’ answers, was something that they don’t have the capacity to do. So, as we started to partner with the school district in particular, we wanted the teachers, and the educators, and the school counselors to embrace the idea that we were not trying to come in and do something to them, we wanted to bring a whole army of help with us. And I have to say, the reception was amazing and we all have been rowing in the same direction since we started this work together.

And then, we want to make sure we connect the dots no matter which path they’re on. And then our ultimate goal is to stay connected with these students after they graduate so that in the summer slide, if they start to panic about things, they know who to call. As United Way of Delaware, we also operate Delaware 211, our state’s helpline, so we’re trying to figure out creative ways that we can keep them connected through technology, but also that they know they have someone to call if they need help. Next slide.

So we decided to get going and start now, and then scale as we went. And I’m going to tell you about the two separate paths. Next slide. So, as I said, we partnered with one of our school districts, capital school district in the center of our state. And we partnered with them for several reasons. One of the reasons being that Dover, where the capital school district is located, has very high unemployment, comparatively, and one of our key partners is the Workforce Development Board. And so we wanted to not only provide supports while the kids were still in school, but that they were connected to the statewide supports that they’re eligible for as soon as they graduate. And that’s often where that gap happens, where they don’t know what to ask, and then now they’re out of school, there’s no way to get in touch with them. So that’s one of the things that we’re trying to do. And then, as United Way, we work with community partners all across the state, and we reached out to them and brought them together and said, “Hey, we’re embarking on this initiative, would you like to participate with us?” And overwhelmingly, we’ve had a great response from all of our partners. And again, what we started with was deploying a survey to the community partners for them to deploy to their seniors. Next slide.

And so we started with about 600 students, seniors within our community partners, and approximately 400 in Dover High. And to date, we’ve collected somewhere around 300, 350 surveys. So we didn’t get surveys from all the students, but it’s a really good start, and the learnings that we’re getting from them are going to be invaluable, but we’re also filtering their answers through a funnel so that we make sure we’re connecting the kids and their families with the solutions that they might need. Next slide.

So our solution was relatively simple, and it’s going to be built over the next year. Survey the kids, what path are you on? Map the resources to give them the tools that they need, include the student voice, so as we move into next year, we’ll be having a student led committee who helps advise us as a vital part of them feeling like they’re our partners in their future, that we’re not doing something to them.

The equity lens was really important. We’re intentionally asking ourselves what could we do different? What could we do to make sure that it’s not just the kids who fill out a survey who we’re able to help, but what about the ones who didn’t come to school that day? How do we make sure that they’re heard, and that we put resources in place for them? And then meeting students where they are. So just a for instance, and then I’ll wrap up my section. On Monday, we’re meeting with a group of 40 students, we have about 15 adults who are going to our high school partner, and we’re going to meet one-on-one with 40-ish kids who said they want to enter the workforce, or enter a training program. And we’re going to just have a conversation with them, a guided conversation so we can find out more about what they want and what they’re hoping for, and maybe where they’re stuck. And then we’re going to work with the businesses in their community to find businesses that might have jobs for them. But we’re doing it in a real consultative way, so that the students feel supported, and the businesses are getting what they need, and we’re figuring out what those things are as we go. And there’s certainly some models that we can follow for that. Next slide, please.

So just very, very briefly, our survey results might have been how you might have expected. We had about 50% of the kids said they were on a college path, and then about 10% were in each of the other paths. But when talking to our school counselors, they said, “We’re really good at that college path, but if 50% of our kids are not going to college, we really do want your help.” And so we are working to bring more and more organizations and businesses into our initiative. And in fact, just this morning, we had a Pancakes & Progress, and we had over 100 educators, business people, entrepreneurs, government officials in the room saying, “We want to be a part of this too.” So, feel like we’ve gotten off to a good start even though we had the little sense of panic when it was like, “What’s your project?” It’s coming into fruition to really be something that is going to hopefully connect all the dots so that our students graduate high school with a clear path, and if they hit bumps along the way, they know exactly who to call and who to turn to for that help. Next slide, and I think it’s probably my wrap.

Yeah, thank you. I’m going to turn it over now to Joanne Nelson, who is from Boone County, and she’s going to talk to you about her experience.

JoAnne Nelson

Let’s start this over again. Hello, everyone. My name’s Joanne Nelson, and I am the Director of the Boone County Community Services Department. Our department oversees a children’s services fund tax, which is a quarter cent sales tax that allows us to purchase services from nonprofits and governmental entities to help strengthen… Excuse me. To help strengthen families and provide services to children and youth. Our department currently has a budget of $13.5 million budgeted for 2023.

For anybody who doesn’t know Missouri, Boone County’s located centrally between St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri. We have a population of about 183,000 individuals. The county seat is Columbia, where we house two colleges and the University of Missouri. The population estimate in 2020 for Columbia is 126,000 people, which is about 68% of Boone County’s population. The rest is considered rural. Next slide please.

 Now I want to give you background on the work that we’ve been doing. It started back in 2020, and there’s some background to this, and as we move forward, I’ll tie it into the work we’ve been doing with the ROC. Back in 2020, one of the county commissioners contacted our department about fund funding opportunity through the Urban Institute, which had received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help create mobility action plans. Our department had worked with several community initiatives, and she felt that this would be really a good, great opportunity for us to pursue. In early 2021, we found out that we were one of eight counties chosen nationwide to participate in the inaugural upward mobility cohort. Other communities in the cohort included Alameda, California, which encompasses the Fremont, San Francisco Bay Area, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ramsey County, Minnesota, which is in the St. Paul, Minnesota area, Riverside, California, which encompasses Riverside in areas near Los Angeles, St. Lucie County, Florida, which is Port St. Lucie, Summit County, Ohio, which is the Akron area, and Washington DC. The Urban Institute provided [inaudible] with funding, technical assistance and peer learning opportunities to help communities develop a mobility action plan aimed at improving upward mobility and reducing inequities.

The county’s engagement with the Urban Institute Upward Mobility cohort came at a critical time. Across many metrics of wellbeing, Boone County appears to be really a county where everyone excels. However, the data, disaggregated by race ethnicity, showed a very different story. White families with resources fare well with the county, they have lower poverty rates, higher scores of measures of achievement in schools, and better health outcomes. Families of color, specifically Black families, disproportionately experience higher poverty rates, poor school outcomes… Excuse me, I lost my track. Poor school outcomes, more juvenile referrals to juvenile justice, and the disparities were just overwhelmingly not good.

Basically, it meant if you were a person of color in our county, you were at a severe disadvantage for upward mobility. Those in poverty within the county are impacted by limited upward mobility across generations. Boone County sought to create a holistic approach to improving education, health, housing, and safety, and workforce to foster a generational economic success for those who are in need in Boone County. Central to the development of our mobility action plan was engaging community members with lived experience to identify results, indicators, root causes, and strategic actions.

Beginning in the spring of 2021, Boone County began the planning process. We knew that we wanted to approach this process, critically with a level of commitment to the voices of those in our community who had been historically left out. Traditional planning efforts in Boone County have solicited feedback from communities through interviews, town halls, and other venues to earn buy-in, and to add their stories to build consensus. But we wanted to approach this a little differently. This intentionality led to us using the results-based accountability in planning it and creating the upward mobility action plan. The RBA framework simply connects local trends and other data related to community health issues toward working towards a common population result.

The community engagement really began in August of 2021 with a data walk, attended by public and private members of the community. A gallery of data posters displayed mobility metrics data and locally available data from various sources. Participants in the data walk were grouped, and then they walked around the group and then they came back, and what we asked them was, “What do you want to change in the next five years?” This led to discussion, and a consensus was built on which metrics they would really want to prioritize for this project. There were several priorities identified, and they finally decided that they were going to focus on three areas. The first was improving disparities of literacy scores by third grade, which led to the formation of the Early Grade Literacy group. The second priority was reduce opportunity gaps in workforce development and employment, which led to the formation of the Jobs and Workforce Development work group. And the third was to increase available inclusive housing to reduce and mitigate neighborhood segregation, which led to the Fair and Inclusive Housing work group.

As a result of the priorities identified, stakeholder facilitators began planning the process with three work groups mentioned. The three work groups were then tasked with walking through the results based accountability, Turn the Curve, model. The initial planning from them after the data walk started in November 2021, and went on for several months, requiring each of the three work groups to meet and develop a mobility action plan, which included a result statement, coming up with a list of in indicators to assess progress towards the result, find out the root causes, use it for trends in data, and finally determine feasible strategic action for work group members to pursue. Work group meetings consisted of those with lived experience, community leaders, community stakeholders, which included nonprofit, city government, and elected officials, as all is equal planning partners. This resulted in a transparent and inclusive intentional planning process built by and for the residents of Boone County.

The Improving Upward Mobility action plan was released in 2022. The picture on your slide depicts the cover of our Cliffs Note version. The full report was a little over 167 pages long. One of the community organizations that partnered with our department was Central Missouri Community Action or CMCA. Partnering with CMCA makes sense. Central Community Action’s mission is to build relationships to empower people, strengthen in resilience, and improve quality of life for all members of the community. Not only did CMCA play an integral role as stakeholder groups, but they also provided our department with expertise and assistance in the application of the results based accountability through the entire project.

While the community worked collaboratively on developing the mobility action plan, CMCA was awarded the opportunity to participate in the 2022 Reinventing our Communities cohort program focused on equitable workforce recovery. The opportunity, like the Urban Institute Upward Mobility project, offered CMCA the opportunity to engage in racial equity and workforce trainings, peer learning, and personalized coaching and advice to lead to the development of the local workforce equity plans. The role of the ROC cohort was to apply the racial equity solutions to strengthen regional economies and foster better economic outcomes. The goals of the ROC cohort and the strategic actions of the Job and Workforce Development work group of the Upward Mobility cohort were aligned in many ways. It made sense to join forces. The Boone County ROC cohort has helped us to keep the plan from sitting on the shelf, and allowed us to carry on with the project. They are assisting with a lot of work on the next slide.

In this slide, you see an example of a worksheet that we use for the Jobs and Workforce Development strategic action group, implementing upwardly mobile business practice. A similar form was used in all the groups. The form includes the name of the group, the result statement, which is, “Boone County is a flourishing community where everyone can live, learn, and grow.” The name of the strategy, what’s the story behind the curve, what’s the root causes, and who are the partners that play a role in the curve? And also, it describes the steps to implement the mobility business practice sub-strategies. Next slide, please.

So we worked through all these different groups. So, we had the Jobs and Workforce, and then they were divided into three separate areas. And another area was to enhance support for justice involved individuals. Every group, whether it’s Jobs and Workforce, whether it was Fair and Inclusive Housing, or if it was the Early Grade Literacy, worked through the RBA process, using that story behind the curve, what the root causes were, and who were the partners to play. Currently, we’re working on convening these work group groups to implement the sub-strategies identified through the mobility action.

Thank you. And if you have any other questions, let me know.

Neelu Panth

Thank you, Joanne, Laurie, and Nic, for sharing your ROC cohort stories and the work that you are doing outside of ROC. Very, very inspiring. The themes that I heard, again, were assessments of your ecosystems, access to capital, access to opportunities, and then collaboration building.

So with that, I would like to pose a question to the panelists before we open it up to the entire group for your question. We don’t have a whole lot of time, but we should be able to get through one or two questions that have come up for the panelists. So this is for all, for Nic, Laurie, and for Joanne, how has peer learning going through the ROC program with communities from across the country, like how you represent, shaped your own community cohorts racial equity work?

Laurie Girardi

I’ll answer. I would say the word for me is “intentionality”. That, because we all often move really fast getting the work of any given day, or week, or month done, stopping to make sure that we are being intentional in any decision that we make, or any action that we take. And having that open and transparent dialogue all along the way so that we’re also making sure that, as we’re moving, we’re adjusting. And if we do something, like for instance, in our case, we were trying to move fast for this year’s graduating class of seniors, there’s certain things we can’t do, but that we’re not omitting them in the long-term, that we’re acknowledging we’re putting them in a parking lot because they’re really essential. And one of those things is our youth voice, that we aren’t convening the youth this year in the way that we want to, but we’re not omitting it in the long-term because that’s essential to make sure that we are focused on racial equity.

Neelu Panth

Anybody else? Joanne, Nic, you want to share something?

Nic Steele

Go ahead, Joanne.

JoAnne Nelson

I was just going to say, the intentionality of bringing in all the different groups of people and having them all sit at the table was really important to us, and not to come with a preconceived plan on how we wanted to move forward with the Jobs and Workforce group. So we had people who didn’t have a job who came to the meetings, we had people who helped people find jobs, we had nonprofit agencies, and we also had elected officials at the table who all came to the table to help us develop this plan, and who are being intentional with us to work through the work that we’ve been doing as the next step with our upward mobility project.

Nic Steele

Neelu, I’ll just add, for us, and for me personally, it was just a great experience to meet every couple weeks with the same group. And I think a lot of times, in business certainly, business can be a lonely game when you’re the business owner and you’re an entrepreneur, but in the business of doing good work, which we are in in all of our organizations, we often feel like we’re siloed, and we feel like we’re taking on the world’s problems and we’re by ourselves. And so being part of this cohort allowed us to share best practices, to share grievances, and to also work together over an extended period of time to solve each other’s problems. And so we found that I would often help other individuals in our group with their issues, with their organizations, they would help with my issues and my organization. And collectively, we were trying to address the goals and the missions that we put forth together through the cohort program. So it turned into this support group, and we were just able to get a lot done in a short period of time because of that.

Neelu Panth

Absolutely. Thank you, Nic. Again, community capacity seems to have been one of the forefronts of bringing all of the stakeholders to work within a cohort. So again, just stressing in the importance of creating a robust ecosystem for doing some of this groundbreaking work around racial equity. Thank you all so much.

And with that, I do have a few questions that have come in through the chat. And the first question is for you, Laurie, do you work with work-based learning coordinators in school districts/high schools?

Laurie Girardi

So, as I alluded to, we’re in the pilot year, or the pilot of the pilot, so, the first year. And yes, in the particular high school that we are partnered with, primarily we’re working with the school counselors, but as we move forward, we intend to work with their CTE coordinator, specialist teacher. And really, it’ll depend on the school who and what pathway, and that’s what we’re finding. And then in some instances in another high school that we’ve just started to start to partner with, it’s one of our partners from Big Brothers Big Sisters that is partnering in the school. And so you piggyback off of somebody else’s initiative and then you’re able to help fill in gaps of where they might need some capacity. And so I would say it’s like a game of Jenga, figuring out who belongs in what spot, and where are their resources, and then where are there gaps? And I have to say, I need to reiterate because we’re working with, in our case, high school students, educators work tirelessly, but they can’t do it by themselves. And what’s been really hopeful in this is that everyone that we talk to is wanting to say, “How can I be involved? What can I do?” From the grassroots all the way to decision-makers and purse string holders? So, that’s been refreshing.

Neelu Panth

And to me, what’s been more glaring is that cross-sector collaboration that’s needed to shift, to move the needle. We see that here in St. Louis, from Nic’s presentation, from Joanne’s presentation, it took all kinds of sectors to actually pull together their expertise to really move the needle in ways that are necessary for our communities to advance economic mobility.

So with that, I think we are coming to the end of our session. I just wanted to address a few questions that came into ROC around evaluations. We will be doing formal evaluations of our program this spring and summer, and hopefully we will be able to share results by 2024. With that, Jennie, please close us off. And thank you again for everyone for joining us today, and being a part of this robust conversation. Thank you.

Jennie Blizzard

Thanks Neelu. And thanks to our speakers for providing such insightful information and engaging the audience. And we want to thank you attendees for spending your valuable time with us today.

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