In my work, I think a lot about Monarch butterflies and how it takes them approximately five generations to migrate from Canada to Mexico. This is what generational work looks like - they fly and carry the mantle for future generations. It is sometimes hard to have hope when confronted every day with the harsh realities of the racial wealth and income gaps in this country. However, my hope is encouraged by seeing my colleagues and our partners in efforts like The Integration Initiative (TII) fighting for long-term impact toward economic inclusion and racial equity.

In the three years I have been here, I have been fortunate to learn from the work of TII and am excited to apply those lessons as Living Cities begins to explore a new challenge and opportunity: regionality.

Historically, there has been little effort to foster inclusive growth at a regional level even though the American economy is comprised of regional markets and laborsheds—the geographic areas from which employees are drawn by area employers. We see an opportunity for philanthropy to support regions to grow inclusively towards closing racial wealth and income gaps.

Regions are critical

75% The top 100 urban centers represent 12% of land mass and generate ¾ of GDP per Brookings.

Source: Brookings

The work of driving regional inclusive economic growth is too big, complex, provocative and long-term to expect any one institution to take it on individually. It’s too big because it seeks impact at a national scale, too complex because it demands a change in leadership and narratives, too provocative because it puts race at the center, and too long-term because we know that the change we seek will take at least a decade to begin to reveal proof points for actual systems change.

Given these realities, Living Cities has convened a subset of nine of our member institutions—a mix of philanthropic and financial institutions–to explore what it takes to intentionally foster inclusive economic growth at the regional level. This effort is aimed at shifting the standard national practice to put racial equity and inclusion at the center of regional economic activity. This working group can yield impact that is greater than the sum of its parts in terms of expertise, lessons from grantees, sponsored research, dissemination networks, convening power, national platform, business leadership, and funding/investment.

For a long time, Living Cities was a race-neutral organization, which we have since recognized was to the detriment of our mission of ensuring that all people in US cities are economically secure and building wealth. In the last seven years, sparked by internal organizers and learning from our grantees and partners, we have been on a journey to embed racial equity at the core of everything that we do. Our historical collective impact approach is evolving into what we now call collective action, in which we deepen collective impact principles by embedding an anti-racist framework.

Reducing unemployment

$132 million The amount that 20 corporations in New Orleans have committed to spending with local firms owned by people of color, through the work of the Private Sector Procurement Advisory Council & NOLA Business Alliance.

Source: NOLABA

With an ongoing commitment to deepening our racial equity practice, we seek to learn from three regions’ inclusive economic growth efforts: 1) Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, 2) Minneapolis - St Paul, and 3) Greater New Orleans. These regions were chosen due our member institutions’ place-based work and what they have learned from Living Cities’ initiatives. We have deep roots in Minneapolis-St. Paul and New Orleans with The Integration Initiative and we are excited to build on the relationships and the work seeded there. We also look forward to testing principles in Charlotte where a few of our members are working on the ground.

Increase in Employment

10% Black residents in Minneapolis/St. Paul have seen an almost 10% increase in employment since 2013.

Source: Center for Economic Inclusion

We understand the challenges of working at the national level and how important it is to be clear on our role as a national player in relationship to local players. We won’t always know the dynamics in a specific place, but we are ready to listen. We will ground ourselves in the history and culture of the place and rely on building a network of local players who we convene to connect dots across their work. We are not looking to be prescriptive on the process or about local partners’ priorities. We do believe that we have tested processes and principles, such as our collective action approach, which can support regions to work toward more inclusive results. We have seen these principles assist local partners in taking new risks and pushing beyond their current comfort zones. We know that racial equity is both an outcome and a process, and we believe that there is tremendous opportunity for cross-sector institutions to work together towards a set of shared results that center racial equity.

The Living Cities working group will map what’s already happening in these regions to understand who the players are and where collective impact tables already exist. We hope to overlay the local work currently happening with the work of our member institutions in order to see what philanthropic alignment in regions might look like.

A year from now, we hope to see a working group that has a clear sense of each other’s work in the regions and an understanding of how they can work in greater alignment. We want to show up differently in place. And we want to seed a new way for philanthropy to work toward regional inclusive economic growth. A year is a blip in the timeline when we’re talking about systems change, but we are in it for the long haul so that one day all people in US cities really are economically secure and building wealth.

I must believe that our seeds in this work will contribute to a greater future outcome, even if I never see it during my lifetime.