January 6, 2019

A select group of Up to Us alumni were given the opportunity to attend the Clinton Foundation’s Domestic Policy Conference on Economic Inclusion and Growth in Little Rock, Arkansas this past November. In this blog series, hear from the inspiring individuals who attended the event. Our alumni always make us proud as they continue to take advantage of the incredible opportunities and motivational network within the Up to Us community. 

In Partnership by Fiorella Riccobono, Up to Us Alumni

A program from the Clinton Foundation’s Domestic Policy Conference on Economic Inclusion and Growth.

This past Wednesday, I had the thought-provoking experience of attending the Clinton Foundation’s “Economic Inclusion and Growth: The Way Forward” Conference. The Clinton Foundation brought together leaders and bipartisan representatives from state and local municipalities, nonprofits, and the philanthropic and private sectors to discuss the evolution and successes of Community Development Financial Institutions, proven approaches for urban and rural economic revitalization, supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses and how to further economic growth in underserved communities. 

As President Clinton so eloquently stated: there needs to be better alternatives to critical moments and gaps in service. It is with that notion, that we were all gathered in that room. The unconventional knowledge, and how it is being implemented to disrupt suboptimal systems, created an environment that is hard to replicate. It was humbling to see what happens when you put money in the hands of people who can create inclusive economics. When you hear the stories of the people who are inspiring this shift there is a common theme regarding the sentiment behind poverty: feeling stuck is the worst aspect of economic injustice. It is the stories of these people, their narratives, that change the world. It is the people receiving the hand up, not the hand out, who remind us about why this effort is necessary. 

How can we, as global citizens, business leaders, and elected officials, provide better alternatives in critical life moments?  What happens when someone who lives pay check to pay check suddenly loses their job or is faced with a medical emergency? How do we stop that from being the life event that keeps them “stuck”? How do we craft a policy where the benefited parties do not lose interest in people who are negatively affected by it?

The “de-concentration of poverty” is not place based, but rather person based. There is a solution in attempting to move people to the opportunity. There is a blatant linkage between education and equity. For example, Mayor Stephen Benjamin of the City of Columbia, South Carolina, implemented $5 uber rides to food markets that sell fresh food versus opening a grocery store in the food desert. The solution lies within collaboration, none of us have all the answers but the answer is within our collective work. This partnership with uber is a step in the right direction for rural development.  There needs to be an accessible curriculum at every stage of life to keep national education mobile. 

Fiorella Riccobono with fellow Up to Us alumni Hafez Karimi.
Fiorella Riccobono with fellow Up to Us alumni Hafez Karimi

So much of the dialogue reminded me that there is no politics in creating a solution that works. Inclusion should not be viewed as a political risk. There is a layered relationship with access to healthcare, education, and jobs, we cannot look at these topics independently. This is a lesson I began to learn when I devoted my studies to social enterprise, and it was reinforced at the conference.  There is no trade off in doing well and doing good. 

Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton has a point when she says that the future is not getting enough attention. It is time to abandon the one-dimensional notion of community development. As innovators, it is our duty to lead with technology to change the way institutions deliver outcomes. Leaders must anchor changing technology into their missions.  

Here are some resonating points I want to share with social entrepreneurs and change agents everywhere.  Be present and witness the change you are trying to implement. Have clarity on what you are attempting to accomplish, let the mission drive your decisions. Recognize that you do not have to be satisfied by how success is being measured and create your own metric that is more relevant. Allow the deep questions of inequality drive us together. And finally, never lose that “ok, what now?” mentality, it is that type of restlessness that changes the world. There is something to be said about the power of solution-oriented people.