Forward Cities: Four Cities Come Together in Detroit to Learn and Take Lessons Home
From June 24-26, over 200 business and community leaders gathered in the Motor City to discuss how their respective cities can increase entrepreneurial activity and connectivity in distressed neighborhoods so that the local innovation economy does not leave anyone behind. The convening is part of a multi-city collaborative called Forward Cities that includes Detroit, Cleveland, New Orleans, and Durham.
Over three days, business entrepreneurs, social innovators, elected leaders, and donors across the four cities came together to learn from Detroit's local efforts to drive inclusive innovation to every neighborhood. The themes of this convening were selected based on their relevance to Detroit and the other cities: a) Working with Immigrant Entrepreneurs in their Neighborhoods; b) Food Entrepreneurship: A Strategy for Neighborhood Revitalization; c) Teaching Entrepreneurship in our Public Schools; d) Developing Women Entrepreneurs; and e) Innovative Solutions to the Blight Problem. In addition to the daytime panel discussions moderated by the Aspen Institute, there were field trips and visits to different parts of Detroit such as the visit to a commercial corridor in Southwest Detroit organized by Southwest Economic Solutions, the walking tour of the East Jefferson neighborhood led by TechTown, a pop up market and lunch at Detroit's Eastern Market with food entrepreneurs from Food Lab and Build Institute, and face to face meetings with immigrant entrepreneurs in Cody Rouge arranged by Access Growth Center.
“For cities to come back stronger than ever before, they need to accelerate local entrepreneurial activity while ensuring that the rising tide lifts all boats,” says Christopher Gergen, Co-Founder of Forward Cities. “Forward Cities offers a tremendous opportunity to share best practices and find opportunities for collaboration.” Key outcomes that this multi-city learning collaborative seeks to achieve include: 1) developing more businesses, innovative leaders and entrepreneurs from the city's low income, minority neighborhoods; 2) creating a strong support network between these four cities which are going through tremendous transformation; 3) developing strategies to further leverage the work that Detroit's social innovators and entrepreneurs are doing; and 4) highlighting the great work that is happening in Detroit now, while serving as a knowledge resource/model for other cities that are looking to increase the diversity and inclusivity of their innovation ecosystems. As Deb Hoover, President and CEO of the Burton D. Morgan Foundation put it: "Through this initiative, our Forward Cities council members in Cleveland have shared perspectives, expertise, and networks in dynamic ways, with a goal of energizing neighborhoods and connecting residents to the resources they need to build sustainable businesses and livelihoods."
Detroit's Forward Cities gathering was the second meeting for these four participating cities which kicked off their conversation about inclusive innovation last December in New Orleans. The third and next meeting will take place in Durham (December 2015), and the last convening will take place in Cleveland (June 2016). National partners involved in this work include the Urban Institute, the Aspen Institute, Issue Media Group, the Case Foundation, IBM and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, as well as key local donors and data partners in each of the participating cities, such as the New Economy Initiative (NEI), the Skillman Foundation and Data Driven Detroit.