In many ways, despite a strong economy, 2018 was a tough year for people looking for better economic opportunities. While people can find jobs or “gigs,” can they find work that supports a family? While people are free to start businesses, can they access financing on terms that support business success? We know that for far too many the answers to these questions are no and no. We continue to see widening economic inequality; economic disadvantage exacerbated by gender, geography, race and ethnicity; and declining economic mobility.
But in the face of these headwinds, we also saw innovation and determination, among community development finance institutions and workforce development organizations that have renewed their focus on job quality, equity, and inclusion, and from a range of institutions – from businesses to labor advocates to economic development to higher education – that are finding new ways to work together to address a shared concern for the crisis of economic opportunity facing many Americans.
In 2018, the Economic Opportunities Program had the privilege of working with an extraordinary set of leaders who are innovating to improve job quality; organizing and building new alliances to advance equity and inclusion; opening access to education and advancement; and connecting entrepreneurs to appropriate financing.
Our Job Quality Fellows are developing new approaches to improve the quality of work. These include the launch of Alia, a platform that will help millions of domestic workers access health benefits; Optimax, a leader in precision optics that shares profits with employees; and Coworker.org, which has helped workers find their voice in businesses across the country.
Our Microfinance Impact Collaborative engages innovative leaders from leading microfinance organizations who are finding new operational approaches to accelerate access to capital, particularly for women and entrepreneurs of color, and to contribute to building inclusive and vibrant economies in the communities they serve. We also co-convened the Nonprofit Leaders in Financial Technology (nLIFT), supporting their development of shared vision for the future of this sector that expands opportunity to all.
Through our Workforce Leadership Academies we engaged a diverse set of individuals creating equitable access to education and training and reducing barriers to quality jobs in their communities. Last year we completed Academies in Toronto and Hartford and launched new Academies in Chicago and New Orleans.
In 2018, we released new tools and research to help businesses improve job quality. After several years of development and testing, the Good Companies/Good Jobs Initiative launched the Working Metrics tool. We also shared learnings from partnerships between business and worker training organizations, such as BEST and the Omni Parker House in Boston, a collaboration that supports a “good jobs” strategy in hospitality, and Pete’s Fresh Market and Instituto del Progreso Latino, organizations working together in Chicago to help food retail workers advance in their careers. We learned from a range of major corporations that are investing in upskilling their frontline workforce and creating advancement opportunities for those who need them most, and we created new tools and added to the UpSkilling Playbook for Employers so more companies can participate in the upskilling movement.
We brought diverse leaders together for private dialogues and public conversations. In Aspen, we co-hosted the Economic Security Summit with our colleagues in the Financial Security Program and we interviewed Eileen Fisher at the Ideas Festival about her human-centered approach to business and creating meaningful work. In Washington, DC, we continued our Working in America event series, convening diverse perspectives to explore the issues working people face in today’s economy and ideas to address them. Topics included worker ownership, worker-driven business social responsibility strategies, how Latinos are shaping the future of work and the American Dream, the role of the justice system in shaping job quality, and job quality in food retail.
We concluded 2018 with a renewed focus on opportunities for workers to participate in ownership, a strategy that offers promise for both improving job quality and allowing more individuals to build wealth. We took a deep dive into how employee ownership could contribute to the success of opportunity zones, and look forward to continued work on these and other ideas as we work toward inclusive economies that offer quality economic opportunities.
As we begin 2019, we plan to build on this work and hope to find more opportunities to collaboratively develop ideas and approaches to improving economic opportunity for low and middle-income Americans. Our work is urgent and requires a range of strategies, abilities and perspectives. We look forward to working together to build a system that restores the dignity of work and provides economic security and opportunity for all.
With best wishes for a peaceful, prosperous, and productive 2019.
Tweet We continue to see widening economic inequality; economic disadvantage exacerbated by gender, geography, race and ethnicity; and declining economic mobility. What can we do to advance economic opportunity in the new year?
Tweet In 2018, many organizations renewed their focus on job quality, equity, and inclusion. Let’s continue finding new ways to work together to address a shared concern for the crisis of economic opportunity facing many Americans.
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