This letter from Ben Hecht, President and CEO of Living Cities, introduces our 2016 Annual Report. Read the full report on Medium.

Dear Friends of Living Cities,

In 2016, Living Cities made a very important pivot. While our work has always been about dramatically improving the lives of low-income people, in our institution’s 25th year, we set our sights on working to redefine capitalism for the future, and unequivocally and intentionally closing the racial gaps in quality jobs, income and wealth.

In many ways, that pivot was a response to the current moment in America. Not only is our democratic capitalism failing to provide a broad, shared prosperity but we are experiencing even greater polarization around the issue of race as reflected in the presidential election, on the streets in our cities, and at dinner tables.

As a staff, we spent much of 2016 articulating a point of view and cultivating and nourishing a robust conversation around these issues. We acknowledged that our own race-neutral ways of working haven’t worked. We brought leaders from across the country together to talk about opportunities and challenges. We asked people to contribute to a compendium, launched in September, that shared their thoughts about progress to date and that offered ideas on the way forward.

There are no simple solutions to these challenges. What I do know, however, is that we, as a collaborative of some of the world’s leading foundations and financial institutions, must be on the vanguard of this type of work. We must redefine what it means to be a disruptive leader; constantly evaluate long-held assumptions and habits; and maintain a humility and an openness to trying new things and making mistakes. We also must be willing to have uncomfortable conversations and come to terms with our own complicity in systems of oppression.

How we as a nation must work together to bend the arc on two of the most powerful forces in American history, racism and capitalism, is the central question that is guiding all our work. We are committed to continuing to wrestle with it in partnership with our member institutions, grantees, partners, thought leaders, and communities. To further that conversation, we have dedicated our 2016 annual report to this question. The pieces in the report respond to our 25th anniversary compendium and grows the conversation with more voices.

I am incredibly proud of the journey Living Cities is on, and of the company we are in as we know that many of our members and partners are also very much committed to this work. I am pleased to share this collection of reflections from a diversity of leaders about what it will take.

Thank you for all you do, and for being a friend of Living Cities.

Ben Hecht
Chief Executive Officer, Living Cities