This week marks the fourth and final convening of Forward Cities. Hosted by the rock 'n roll capital of the world, Cleveland is a perfect venue to reflect on where we started, where we are going, and the promising practices that we can build on to get there.
When we kicked off Forward Cities in New Orleans, in December 2014, five specific goals were driving us: 1) Identify ways to develop/support more business entrepreneurs, social innovators and neighborhood change-makers from low income communitiesof color, and working in them, in addition to ensuring that there is a vibrant pipeline for the next generation of local entrepreneurs and citizen problem solvers, including opportunity youth; 2) Figure out best strategies for harnessing the talent and creativity of our local entrepreneurial/innovation ecosystems in order to address the most critical issues/challenges that exist in our cities' most distressed neighborhoods/communities; 3) Strengthen existing networks and accelerate entrepreneurial activity within the participating cities, and their surrounding areas; 4) Foster best practice sharing, relationship building, and entrepreneurial activity among the participating cities, and their surrounding areas; and 5) Serve as a dynamic knowledge resource for others that are looking to build out their innovation ecosystems.
After two years of multi-city collaboration, two additional convenings in Detroit (June 2015) and Durham (December 2015), and through the hard work carried out by our local Forward Cities' council members, , significant progress has been made towards achieving these goals.  Examples include:

  • Collaboration among local organizations –In Cleveland, the 17 organizations participating in Forward Cities worked together to develop a comprehensive list of more than 1,200 minority businesses in the city.  This list is being provided to public and private sector entities, in addition to projects, conventions and events, that are seeking to hire minority entrepreneurs;
  • Sharing of best practices among the four cities – Detroit tripled participation in its 2016 Entrepreneur Week based on lessons learned from the successful New Orleans Entrepreneurship Week (NOEW).  Following the New Orleans model, Detroit planners expanded outreach beyond current business owners to include those with a business idea looking to get started, in addition to moving the event to later in the year, and enhancing marketing efforts.
  • Technology sharing – New Orleans' Fund 17 will be using mapping technology developed by Detroit-based Loveland Technologies to identify home-based businesses, in New Orleans’ 7th and 8th Wards.  That information will be used in a Forward Cities New Orleans led effort to provide technical assistance and support for place-based minority business owners.
  • Introduction to donors and investors – Durham-based iNvictus, which provides mentoring, consulting and office space for local entrepreneurs of color, recently launched the Masters of Fate Fellowship Program through grants the organization was able to secure from relationships developed through Forward Cities.
  • Coordinating services to help local entrepreneurs – Detroit Forward Cities Council members coordinated programs to assist Detroit-based Posh Fashions.  Through their efforts, owner Aisha Warren was able to secure technical support, obtain a loan for façade improvements and participated in a local entrepreneur program to expand her business.
  • Having honest discussions on race – Forward Cities has generated honest and open discussions about race among local leaders.  One such discussion took place in Durham as a result of a training led by the Racial Equity Institute last December.  Thanks to Forward Cities, this Racial Equity Institute training has subsequently been held in Cleveland and New Orleans to create more open and productive dialogue, and strengthen working relationships, among local leaders and funders involved in the innovation ecosystem.

This week we will be learning from the great work happening in Cleveland’s neighborhoods to accelerate inclusive innovation. On a tour with Jeff Epstein, Director of Cleveland’s Health Tech Corridor, we’ll hear from local entrepreneurs from Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen, the Women's Business Center and Bad Girl Ventures. With Michael Fleming, Director of the St. Clair Superior Development Corporation, we’ll check out the country's first Urban Grazing Program, we will learn how UpCycle Shop has created art from recycled materials, and we will see how food and beer can bring different people together at Hub 55

We will meet with Victor Ruiz and other Latino leaders and entrepreneurs at the San Lorenzo Social Club, in the heart of the Puerto Rican neighborhood. We will visit Ohio City Farm and learn from Darren Hamm how refugees from the other side of the word have gotten a new start to life in Cleveland.  And at our first dinner, Peter A. Reiling, head of the Aspen Institute Global Leadership Network, will lead a conversation with experts from Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans and Durham, about how globalization and immigration can be used as effective strategies for urban rebirth. This will be followed by visits of Cleveland's East 105th Street and Opportunity Corridors, where local leaders such as Freddy Collier and Marie Kittredge will show us both the challenges at hand as well as the opportunities that exist in these parts of town. 

On the last night of our convening, we will be treated to a presentation by Aspen Institute's President and CEO and best selling author, Walter Isaacson on his book The Innovators. And on our last day, we will explore how our cities' local innovators are making a difference.  In short, our Cleveland convening promises to be an amazing finale to a truly remarkable journey.
But as reflected in this newsletter’s interview with Cleveland’s Innovation Council co-chairs, Randy McShepard and Deb Hoover, there is much to do and our work has really just begun…  Our sincere hope is that the conversations coming out of Cleveland – and the Forward Cities shared learning, newly developed working relationships, and outcomes over the last two years – fuel a national conversation and lead to collective commitment and action in cities around the world.  After all, we’re all in this together.  So rock on Cleveland, and show us the way!

To see the bios of everyone that is attending the Cleveland Forward Cities convening please use this link. 
You can follow the unfolding conversation @forwardcities. Use the hashtags #forwardcities and #roadtogrowth to share your insights and happenings during the Cleveland Convening. 

Don't forget to like Forward Cities on Facebook for exclusive Cleveland convening content!


Christopher Gergen, co-founder of Forward Cities
Denise Byrne, co-founder of Forward Cities