Nadia Owusu Senior Associate, Knowledge & Organizational Development
As a Senior Knowledge & Organizational Development Associate, Nadia works closely with the CEO and Chief of Staff on organizational development, strategic planning, and special projects. She also manages and supports a variety of activities to advance Living Cities' knowledge and communications strategy focused on fostering the spread of experimentation and adoption of promising approaches to move the needle for low income people in US cities.
Before joining Living Cities, Nadia served as the Program… Read Full Bio >
Living Cities is very excited to announce the release of a new paper “State of the City: 5 Trends Impacting America’s Cities” that outlines some dominant trends that we believe will impact America’s cities and their low-income communities in the coming years; explores the trends’ interconnectedness, and offers our thoughts on how to address some of our most serious challenges.
Over the last several years, Living Cities has been committed to fundamentally adapting how we work in an effort to keep pace with the changing world. Through new partnerships and initiatives, we’re actively learning what drives our cities and what creates enduring systems change. In 2012, as we looked towards the next three-year round of our work (2013-2016), we began earnestly talking to our problem solving network—from our 22 member institutions, to our grantees, partners, and other influential individuals and organizations—to better understand the social and economic climate in which we are working.
In addition to these ongoing conversations, we partnered with McKinsey & Co. to conduct an environmental scan. This analysis was designed to feed into our strategic review process, and to synthesize and crystallize existing knowledge about the state of American cities that could be shared with the field as we develop next generation systems change approaches.
After analyzing the results of the scan, it was evident that continued municipal fiscal strain, inadequate infrastructure, poor educational outcomes, the much discussed skills/jobs mismatch, and the struggling housing market are issues that will greatly affect our cities, and low-income communities in particular, over the next four to five years. The full analysis can be found here.
We are dedicated to sharing what we are learning, and as part of our problem-solving network, we know that you have an important role to play in that. So, we would love for you to share this paper and to join the conversation on social media about these and other trends and responses that you are seeing.
There is a lot in the news these days about the U.S. criminal justice system, from protests of ‘stop and frisk’ policies to a much discussed new study from The American Civil Liberties Union that found that while marijuana use between blacks and whites is about even, blacks were almost four times more likely to get arrested for possession in 2010. Despite the volume of information and chatter out there, the extraordinary burden that this places on us as a nation is not often clearly articulated.
In 2012, Living Cities began asking ourselves and our problem solving network—from our 22 member institutions, to our grantees, partners, and other influential organizations, practitioners and innovators—what the big ‘levee issues’ of our time are. The question was originally posed by Ronn Richard, President & CEO of the Cleveland Foundation, at a gathering of our Board of Directors: “If the nation had identified and addressed the weaknesses of the levees in New Orleans before they broke, we wouldn’t be working so hard for the past six years to address the fallout from their failure.” We committed ourselves to working to identify those issues that unless addressed would leave all of our efforts to create opportunities for low- income people and improve the cities where they live ‘under water’.
Today, the U.S. incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world, both on a per capita basis and in terms of total prison population. More than 500,000 of the 2.3 million people in America’s prisons are behind bars for nonviolent drug offences. And, this reality disproportionately affects communities of color and low- income people. Sixty five out of every hundred men of color in America face incarceration during their lifetimes. On their own, these are sobering statistics. When you unpack them to reveal how mass incarceration is ravaging families and entire communities, it quickly becomes clear that this is a levee issue, and that the levee is crumbling fast.
While social change organizations like ours are working to increase access to quality education and connect people to economic opportunities that are pathways out of poverty, incarceration can impede and sometimes reverse the trajectory of a low- income person. A recent Pew report shows that ex-offenders get stuck in the lowest earnings bracket and see annual earnings reduced by 40 percent. Further, a criminal record, even for nonviolent offenders, restricts access to opportunities such as jobs, education, housing, social services, and even the right to vote. In this way, boys and men of color are being excluded from economic, social, and political life in shocking numbers. These issues are compounded when you consider the residual impact that incarceration has on children. These children have higher rates of social-emotional issues, higher dropout rates, and are more likely to become offenders themselves. This trend is a huge contributor to multi-generational poverty. In short, much of the work that is being done to address inequality and reduce poverty will never reach these families because even people with minor convictions, such as for marijuana possession, must check a box on applications for jobs, student loans, and food stamps that will in many cases render them ineligible.
Mass incarceration is a levee issue because it leaves too many low-income people and their families, under water. It is a levee issue because failure to address it will have severe implications for the social and economic future of our country. Living Cities has joined a philanthropic alliance dedicated to addressing this and other problems facing boys and men of color. And, next week, our Admiral Center is bringing together artists and cultural leaders to discuss the issues at a strategic convening in New York. Stay tuned for ideas and insights from this early exploration.
Every year at Living Cities, we pause and reflect on all that we have accomplished and learned in the previous 12 months. This year we have shifted from the traditional annual report style to an interactive web platform that shares our work and shows the ties that bind it all together. We are thrilled to launch, today, “The Network Effect: The Living Cities Perspective in 2012”. It focuses on new, collaborative efforts to achieve large scale, population-level impact and consistently greater shared prosperity. And, we share how we are working to accelerate uptake of this work --fostering the spread of experimentation and adoption of promising approaches through intentional network building and weaving, and harnessing technology. We believe that, despite the great challenges and systems failures that our country faces, we still have the capacity to pull together to do big things. The power of the network is the vehicle that will get us there.
We know that all of you have a huge role to play in increasing the impact of all that we are learning through our work. Please join us in sharing some of these lessons and reflections by tweeting our report out to your followers and sharing on Facebook. Let’s start a conversation!
Thank you for being a part of our problem-solving network!
‘Poor’ has become a dirty word in America; and so has ‘Race’. A recent article in The Economist observed that the poor were rarely mentioned during the 2012 Presidential election, by either candidate. This despite the fact that, today, more Americans are poor than at any other time in the 53 years that the Census Bureau has published poverty figures. While this fact can partially be attributed to the Great Recession, much longer term trends are also at play. Indeed, the recession, and resulting increase in unemployment, made it shockingly clear just how unprepared many Americans are to face harsh new economic realities and meet the opportunities of the future. And, the most vulnerable--people—largely poor and of color—are falling even further behind. Despite all the progress we have made, income and race continue to play a role in people’s life trajectories and outcomes. According to a study by the Brookings Institution, a rich child is more than twice as likely as a poor child to end up in the middle class or above. And, black children from low-income families have bleaker prospects for making it to the middle class than white children from similar economic backgrounds. This issue is related to, and compounded by, the widening achievement gap that sees African Americans and Hispanics lagging dramatically behind their White and Asian counterparts in terms of attaining a Bachelor’s degree or higher. Yet, we are similarly reluctant to talk explicitly about race as a barrier to opportunity. Meanwhile, we are standing on the precipice of a demographic transformation that will result in a majority non-white population in as little as 30 years. With increasing evidence that high levels of inequality have negative effects on growth and other macroeconomic outcomes , it is clear that, in order to stabilize and secure our nation’s economic future, we must ensure that ALL of our citizens have the skills necessary to compete in an increasingly globalized, technology driven economy.
There is broad acknowledgement that addressing poverty and inequality at scale will require fundamentally new models of cross-sector collective problem solving. It is essential to bring together a diversity of leaders to define problems and goals; confront how they are contributing to systems failures; and change how their institutions work in order to produce better outcomes. This includes ensuring that the voices of the communities that are disproportionately affected by these issues are invited to the table – and heard. In short, we must engage in a very frank national conversation about the structural and systemic issues (including race) that contribute to multigenerational poverty.
There are numerous reasons for avoiding this conversation. After all, the “American Dream” holds that, through hard work, anyone can succeed—regardless of race, immigrant status, or economic background. Facing the inequity of that dream can be a tough pill to swallow. And, there has long been an unfortunate disconnect between the agendas of those focused on overall economic competitiveness and those focused on issues of equity. We need to bridge that divide with the understanding that, given current economic and demographic shifts, racial and economic inclusion must be part of the solution for setting our country back on the road to growth and prosperity. Here, the social sector can play a pivotal and catalytic role.
Much of the social sector is keenly aware of just how complex the relationships between race, income, and access to opportunity really are; as this is sadly a web that we have long been struggling to untangle. Now, with a growing number of partners, both public and private, joining our problem-solving network and being willing to work together in new ways, we have the opportunity to come to the type of shared understanding that can lead to more effective, viable solutions. Getting there will be hard, and will require all partners to challenge long-held assumptions and to disrupt the norm. Practitioners in the social sector must harness this moment to lead. With new partners, we must strive for clarity in our messages, and embed greater discipline into how we connect our activities and strategies to the broader vision for the country. In so doing, we can help private sector partners to better understand just how important economic and racial inclusion strategies are to our shared success. We are already seeing progress in this area, particularly around the growing body of work aimed at overcoming the very serious challenges facing black men.
Today, less than 50% of black male students graduate from high school on time. Black men are unemployed at a rate that is almost double the rate of white men, and they earn less than their white peers at every educational level. Add these grim statistics to extremely high levels of incarceration, and you have an enormous segment of the population that is largely being excluded from economic, social, educational, and political life. Organizations such as the Open Society Foundations, the Opportunity Agenda, Root Cause, ABFE, and PolicyLink are collaborating and working energetically to build a movement around reversing these deeply troubling trends. And, this weekend, in Houston, Texas, the Admiral Center, an initiative of Living Cities, will bring together a diverse group of thought leaders to talk candidly about this issue, and to potentially identify ways to engage in meaningful strategies that work. Hosted by NBA All-Stars Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, this ‘table’ will include private sector executives, philanthropic leaders, public sector innovators, community leaders and some of the world’s most recognizable faces.
We look forward to sharing ideas and insights from this work with you, and to contributing to the movement towards a more open national dialogue that does not shy away from words like ‘poor’ and ‘race’.