Centering Equity, Transforming Systems: A Profile on Maia Jachimowicz

Maia Jachimowicz worked with Mayor Nutter in the City of Philadelphia, helping to shape policy and improve resident well being in the city. She initially met Living Cities through the Project on Municipal Innovation (PMI), and then later “jumped on the opportunity to learn something new” through the inaugural cohort of City Accelerator, which focused on embedding innovation in local government. Throughout our conversation about these experiences, I was struck by the ways that Maia’s engagements with Living Cities enabled her and her team to do their work in new ways that challenged the status quo of local government.

We at Living Cities have been reflecting on the characteristics of white supremacy culture. One of these characteristics that we see our public sector partners (and ourselves) struggle with is a sense of urgency. When it always feels like there is so much to do, everything feels urgent. As Maia put it, “When working in local government, you’re fighting to get through what’s on your plate that day.” This sense of urgency often prevents the intentionality and critical thought that is necessary for doing our work in a way that interrupts racism. Through her experiences in PMI in particular, Maia was able to harness the day-to-day sense of urgency toward engaging in a curated experience with “highly relevant content” and practitioners who were facing similar challenges. With that additional perspective, she could show up to her work with fresh eyes and a more nuanced understanding of how to address poverty locally.

Building on her experience in PMI, Maia’s leadership in the inaugural City Accelerator cohort supported the City of Philadelphia to disrupt norms of city government. Like most institutions, city government is very siloed, but the project that Maia’s team developed with funding and support from City Accelerator was characterized by cross-agency collaboration. Their project intended to make older, low-income residents aware that they were eligible for relief on water bills (a benefit that had been available for some time but few people knew about), and required partnership with other departments to do it well. “It was quite striking,” Maia reflected. “This was the first time we had ever done a project focused on poverty alleviation with all of those departments together. We were meeting regularly, working through interdepartmental challenges.” And they continue to grow that work today, even within a new mayoral administration.

When Maia was still working with Mayor Nutter, and since under the leadership of Mayor Kenney and the new Policy Director, Anjali Chainani-Jha, “at least a dozen” more trials have been implemented to evaluate return on investment, reduce poverty, and increase racial equity. The new team has also established relationships with local universities to evaluate the impacts of these trials on different demographic groups across Philadelphia, and they’ve continued efforts to curb a sense of urgency in their racial equity policymaking work, as Anjali recently reflected on in conversation with Living Cities’ Elizabeth Reynoso.

As Maia and I concluded our conversation, we reflected on what enabled the city’s capacity for innovation to grow, and how Living Cities can support other city governments to grow in similar ways. Maia reflected back what Living Cities had offered to her team: “Try to get comfortable with failure and increase your tolerance for risk,” she said. Being willing to test and pilot a number of different strategies means that “for all those that don’t stick, there are others that grow and blossom in ways that are unpredictable at the outset. …And it’s hard to imagine having done this project in this way if Living Cities hadn’t catalyzed it.” As we reflect on this feedback, we look toward the future of our work with city governments with hope and a belief that together we can lean into risk and behave in ways that disrupt the status quo.

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How Cleveland is Assisting Very Small Businesses with Contracting in the City

On May 16, 2019, after Mayor Jackson learned of Cleveland’s grant award from Living Cities and Citi Foundation to participate in City Accelerator’s second Inclusive Procurement cohort, he announced, “There are billions of dollars of development happening in our city. However, now it is time to take the next step. We will establish wealth creation by expanding current efforts and creating a sustained model of procuring and sourcing within the local economy.”

A strong agenda of equity has always been the foundation of Mayor Jackson’s leadership. At the conclusion of his fourth term in 2021, Mayor Jackson will be known as the longest serving mayor in Cleveland. He came into his current seat with the mission of “serving the least of these.” This focus is actualized under his prescribed philosophy of “Self-Help”; a three-fold strategy of prioritizing investing, buying and hiring within the City of Cleveland. This philosophy serves as a reminder of the importance of placing Clevelanders first through an inclusive, local workforce perspective.

Dr. Burrows, Director of Mayor’s Office of Equal Opportunity, learned about the City Accelerator Inclusive Procurement cohort and grant opportunity in the Fall of 2018. At the time, the City’s disparity study was approaching its sixth year, and Dr. Burrows was thinking of ways the department could implement remaining items from the study. She had several internal conversations with other departments and the Mayor, where she heard about upcoming contracting opportunities. It was through these conversations that she learned of the City Accelerator cohort application.

Cleveland’s acceptance into the City Accelerator cohort was an opportunity to continue working towards the City’s long-term goal of gaining a larger and more diverse pool of prime and sub-contractors for projects, along with creating generational wealth for Cleveland’s contractors.

Conversations with the City’s contractors highlighted that the biggest challenges for local entrepreneurs are the same for most MBEs, including: capital and credit issues; limited cash flow; contract sizes too large to manage; and lack of bonding capability. It was no surprise to learn of these barriers, which have been validated in various disparity studies and through a survey of local entrepreneurs.

Through implementation of the Small Contractor Rotation Program, Cleveland expands the City’s contracting ecosystem. Specifically, the rotation program builds capacity for both existing and potential businesses with implementation of the Division of Purchases and Supplies’ CGI Vendor Self Service System.

The CGI Vendor Self Service System (VSS) is for all competitive bids under $50K. This new and innovative system streamlines the procurement process citywide. It allows vendors access to bid on commodity and services electronically, and sends questions to pre-registered vendors when new contracting opportunities become available. Additionally, VSS speeds up the contracting process by reducing the time to issue purchase orders to vendors; eliminates the time buyers spend preparing routine public records request for bid tabulations as the information becomes available online; and reduces human error during the evaluation process.

The Small Contractor Rotation Program’s (SCRP) foundation is built on a race and gender-based initiatives designed to provide capacity building and assistance to small contractors. It will help subcontractors transition into prime contractors through experience with working on contracts. The SCRP provides small contractors with the ability to compete for City business, while taking a “deeper dive” into their business by taking classes in marketing, estimating, financing, bonding and more.

Prior to COVID-19, the City of Cleveland anticipated classes being taught through online, webinar style format to allow small contractors to participate remotely from any location. With the kickoff meeting held in February, no one knew how imperative it would become to go online. So far, all classes, except one, have been held with 10 to 15 attendees on average.

Celeste Lawson is one business owner that’s attended each class. The Lawson Business Group, LTD is a small general construction firm specializing in residential rehabilitation and design. Lawson is participating in the SCRP as a way of better understanding how to run her business effectively and efficiently. Ms. Lawson is interested in learning more about customer service, estimating, and bidding for both public and private sector contracts.

According to Ms. Lawson, “I am very happy I chose to apply for the program. My experiences have been great thus far. Even in this short amount of time I have been able to implement some of the strategies I’ve learned from the classes related to the importance of realizing your customer base and target market, as well as, having the right insurance company that understands your scope of business and what your future goals are for your construction business.”
Additionally, Ms. Lawson agrees that, “this program is essential for any small construction firm looking to grow and gain insight on how to be successful in the construction industry.”

Small businesses and contractors, especially contractors of color, have borne the brunt of COVID-19’s economic crisis. While we, as city and nation, work actively to pursue ways of rebuilding our economies during COVID-19, Cleveland is focusing on small contractors and strengthening opportunities for the small businesses in the CLE. Supporting small businesses and contractors is central to our strategy for recovery and long-term wealth building for entrepreneurs in Cleveland.

Photo Credit: City of Cleveland Photographic Bureau

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Need to Improve Your Transportation Plans? Try Inverting the Order of Planning

Advanced Urban Visioning offers a powerful tool for regions that are serious about achieving a major transformation in their sustainability and resilience. By clarifying what optimal transportation networks look like for a region, it can give planners and the public a better idea of what is possible. It inverts the traditional order of planning, ensuring that each mode can make the greatest possible contribution toward achieving future goals.

Advanced Urban Visioning doesn’t conflict with government-required planning processes; it precedes them. For example, the AUV process may identify the need for specialized infrastructure in a corridor, while the Alternatives Analysis process can now be used to determine the time-frame where such infrastructure becomes necessary given its role in a network.

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How to Infuse Learning Throughout Your Organization

When I came to Living Cities four years ago, my goal was to apply design thinking and process to the organization’s research, communications, and content efforts. I started by interviewing team leads about how they were collecting lessons from our work in cities, and how those lessons were being translated into usable research and thought leadership for people in our network and beyond. Often, when I asked about existing knowledge plans or content strategies, I got a chuckle. They didn’t exist. Many teams were in the middle of overseeing huge initiatives in multiple cities and didn’t have the time or capacity to think strategically about how to gather and share lessons from their work. Living Cities was of course producing content, but it wasn’t always tightly connected to what we were learning through our programs.

Today, though, there are multiple mechanisms to support teams’ knowledge and communications efforts. All teams, including those focused on internal operations, have a learning agenda and content strategy plan in place and regularly “make meaning” of the applied research going on locally across the U.S and within the organization, in service of closing racial income and wealth gaps.

How did we go from an inconsistent practice of team learning and communications to a robust, coordinated effort to share what we know? As part of a refined process to connect learning and communications at Living Cities, we established a new role – learning liaisons – to hold and manage the process, team by team. In this blog post, I hope to share what’s special about the learning liaisons and how this informal team of six has been able to infuse learning and content strategy across all levels of the organization.

When Living Cities got serious about building rigor into our learning processes, and connecting that learning to our communications output, it became very clear very fast that we needed people on teams to “hold” those processes: to facilitate conversations about what teams were learning, to report back to the organization for measurement and evaluation purposes, and to be responsible for translating resulting lessons into content that’s insightful and useful for public sector and nonprofit practitioners who, like us, are working to close racial gaps.

The consequence of our efforts has been increased output and more nuanced thought leadership from all levels of the organization. It’s the way we’re able to produce over 150 discrete pieces of content a year, with a staff of 35.

So, how did we create and support this role?

Clearly define the role and its responsibilities

First, we needed to document the learning liaison role and what staff in this position were expected to do, both on their teams and as part of the larger, organization-level learning, communications, and results practice. Just as team leads and project managers have established roles with defined expectations, learning liaisons had a documented job description; staff who were interested in the role were assigned to individual teams. Additionally, the Learning, Storytelling and Results team created learning liaison-specific professional objectives that could be plugged into personal development plans and used to evaluate progress on an annual basis.

Give people time to do their jobs and treat them like a team

Next, learning liaisons were allocated time not only to their assigned project teams, but also to the Learning, Storytelling and Results team, which oversees Living Cities’ learning, communications and performance evaluation functions. This split team allocation allows learning liaisons the time to perform the programmatic functions of their role on their individual teams, and still come together regularly to share their knowledge with the other learning liaisons. They’re also able to refine our learning and communications processes and discuss what’s working or not – together.

Create training opportunities to build skills and competencies

Because we treat learning liaisons like a team, with regular opportunities to meet and compare notes, we create the space for the learning liaisons to build their research and communications skills and for Learning, Storytelling and Results staff to share relevant best practices. We ask learning liaisons each year what capacities they’re interested in growing and arrange related training. We onboard new learning liaisons as if they’re starting their job fresh. And we give them the tools, templates and resources to do the job.

Make it as easy as possible to do the job

Which brings me to a key component of the learning liaison work. The Learning, Storytelling and Results team believes in making it as easy as possible for learning liaisons to do their jobs. To that end, we provide meeting agendas that allow learning liaisons to lead conversations that produce lessons learned and develop team-level content strategies with a racial equity lens. We create blank “scorecards” that enable learning liaisons and their teams to track their progress. We have developed content strategy templates through which teams can plug in their own content and communications tactics for the year.

None of this work has been fast or easy. Successful execution of the learning liaison role requires the right tools and processes as well as real cultural change in the organization that prioritizes learning and communications. That comes from both top-down and down-up leadership. It’s also the result of celebrating wins and keeping all staff up to date on the team’s progress. But what we’ve seen is that the work is worth it.

The consequence of our efforts has been increased output and more nuanced thought leadership from all levels of the organization. It’s the way we’re able to produce over 150 discrete pieces of content a year, with a staff of 35. And it’s the way we can share with the philanthropic, capital, non-profit and public sector fields interesting practices to close income and wealth gaps, to build racial equity and inclusion competency at the individual and institutional levels, and to operationalize racial equity – in service of real-world results.

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Leveraging Entrepreneurship to Close Racial Wealth Gaps

The latest jobs report shows that our national recovery from the COVID pandemic and its economic impact will be slow and painful for millions of Americans, particularly those who did not have the luxury of wealth before the pandemic. It is increasingly clear that the capitalist system created for our society is not working for everyone, leaving some insulated from the wreckage of our economy, while others cannot escape. Without a change to the mechanisms of how our economy functions, there is no hope for a fully equitable recovery.

In our work at both the Kauffman Foundation (Philip) and Living Cities (Demetric), we have seen that entrepreneurship can be a fundamental pathway to economic growth and wealth-building. Yet, entrepreneurship is fundamentally different for those who have access to capital and those who do not. At least 83% of entrepreneurs do not receive either venture capital or a bank loan, leaving them worse off compared to their peers who are able to tap into capital markets. More recently, we have seen how this plays out in programs like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), where those who already had relationships with banks were able to tap into the funding while those who did not were left out.

Black entrepreneurs are less likely to be approved for small business loans, and when they are approved, receive lower amounts at higher interest rates.

These challenges are even greater for Black business owners. These individuals are unusually constrained by undercapitalization and lack access to traditional advisor and investor networks. Because Black people, and people of color more broadly, have suffered decades of systematic discrimination, they have less wealth compared to white peers. This disparity leads to a “friends and family” gap in funding. While many white entrepreneurs can rely on their own networks for seed funding and funding to scale, Black entrepreneurs are unable to do so. And therefore, in a vicious cycle, they also have less collateral to use as guarantees for loans.

As a result, Black entrepreneurs are less likely to be approved for small business loans, and when they are approved, receive lower amounts at higher interest rates compared to their white counterparts. While at least 77 percent of venture capital is invested in white men, only 1 percent of venture-backed founders are Black. However, data has shown that, for most asset classes, firms managed by people of color exhibit returns that are not significantly different than those of white-managed firms.

Fewer than 1.3 percent of the $69.1 trillion in global assets under the four major asset classes—mutual funds, hedge funds, real estate and private equity—are managed by white women and people of color, and only 1 percent of total assets are managed by Black people. That lack of diversity in venture capital and private equity results in a lack of diversity in the founders funded; therefore, investors are missing opportunities for higher financial return.

Capital decision-makers need to be knowledgeable about the history and root causes of the country’s racial wealth gaps.

Because Black and brown entrepreneurs continue to be the engine of employment in Black and brown communities, an equitable recovery requires us to rewrite how capital and access to capital work. To do so, capital decision-makers need to be knowledgeable about the history and root causes of the country’s racial wealth gaps. And, we need to explore new ways of investing in fund managers of color.

To begin to solve these challenges, Living Cities and the Kauffman Foundation are collaborating on an impact investing fund dedicated to closing the racial income and wealth gaps. The fund will invest in fund managers of color, and especially Black fund managers, to fill the capital gap and help entrepreneurs of color access more capital and grow their businesses.

The proposed fund will:

  • Provide Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) fund managers access to capital as well as technical supports to promote success.
  • Reduce the time it typically takes for a BIPOC fund manager to raise initial capital.
  • Enable emerging BIPOC fund managers to establish a track record, gain credibility and be positioned for future rounds of funding. This will, in turn, create a virtuous cycle of funding for Black fund managers with positive ripple impact to Black founders.

By providing emerging BIPOC fund managers with the tools for success, and supporting them to overcome structural barriers, we are supporting their ability to pay it forward by investing in entrepreneurs of color who will then generate wealth for their communities.

This fund will build off the work for the Kauffman Foundation’s Capital Access Lab, which provides new kinds of capital to underserved entrepreneurs and communities in the US, and Living Cities’ Capital for the New Majority, which blends grant dollars, philanthropic debt and commercial debt to invest in innovative solutions for closing the racial wealth gap. Together, our two organizations will work to identify promising solutions and investment opportunities that help establish what it means to have an equitable recovery.

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Life is a Highway: Embracing Intelligent Transportation Systems

The introduction of intelligent transportation systems, which includes a broad network of smart roads, smart cars, smart streetlights and electrification are pushing roadways to new heights. Roadways are no longer simply considered stretches of pavement; they’ve become platforms for innovation. The ability to empower roadways with intelligence and sensing capabilities will unlock extraordinary levels of safety and mobility by enabling smarter, more connected transportation systems that benefit the public and the environment.

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