How do we create a strong support environment for local innovators and entrepreneurs? How do we do this  in communities where trust has been eroded and there are years of under-investment? How can we engage local entrepreneurs as problem solvers and how do we harness resources from across a city to contribute and be part of the solution?
These are the questions and challenges that all cities face. Forward Cities Innovation Councils in Detroit, Cleveland, New Orleans, and Durham have identified specific neighborhoods where they want to focus their important work.  And each of these neighborhoods is majority minority, with under-developed commercial corridors and under-utilized assets. So the potential to help foster local ownership and new economic opportunity is tremendous. But it’s going to require a significant commitment of time, energy, resources, and patience.
The guiding framework for this work is the concept of collective impact. Popularized in an article by John Kania and Mark Kramer, collective impact is “the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem.” Within each Forward City, leaders from the government, business, non-profit, and philanthropic realms are coming together to think through how to accelerate entrepreneurial activity and connectivity in target neighborhoods.
Critical to this work are the five conditions necessary for collective impact to take place: a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and strong backbone support organizations.
Within Forward Cities, progress is being made on each of these fronts. By participating in this two-year national learning collaborative project, each city has agreed to the common agenda of inclusive innovation. And collectively they have agreed to achieve the targeted outcomes, namely:

  1. Increased awareness, engagement, and subsequent social capital, among emerging entrepreneurs/leaders and local citizens as they gain the confidence and competence to work with others in order to drive change in their own neighborhoods/communities and the world;
  2. Increased entrepreneurial activity resulting from the enhanced capacities and connections;
  3. More business and social entrepreneurs coming from, and working in, low income communities, and communities of color, in each of the cities.
  4. Increased private and public financial investment in the emerging entrepreneurial economy;
  5. Increased jobs and economic growth in diverse sectors;
  6. Measurable social impact in neighborhoods/communities/cities – such as increased access to health care, improved high school graduation rates, decreased poverty rates, etc. – that is driven by local entrepreneurial activity. 

To achieve these, we have partnered with the Urban Institute and other local research partners to map existing assets in the target communities and, through a set of interviews, we are starting to understand their needs. Though we are making good progress, this has not been an easy process and we are far from settled but we’re heading in the right direction.
Given that the work on the ground is still relatively nascent, there is a lot of collaboration taking place right now through monthly local Innovation Council and committee meetings. The focus of these meetings is on developing a coordinated, mutually reinforcing, set of strategies that will uplift local entrepreneurs in these targeted communities.
The drive now is  to help accelerate a collective effort within each city, leverage what is working and address where there are gaps. This is an effort that will live far beyond our final Forward Cities convening in Cleveland in June of 2016. But as the other articles in this newsletter suggest, there is a lot of exciting work underway that is making a difference on the ground and is worth paying close attention to in the spirit of collective impact.
Christopher Gergen, Co-Founder of Forward Cities
Denise Byrne, Co-Founder of Forward Cities