Greetings! As many of you know, I was out most of last week attending a conference. It was a fascinating week! Specifically, I joined approximately 50 other U.S. citizens (most of us were from the Minnesota employer/government/nonprofit community) in attending the 5th World Conference on Remedies to Racial and Ethnic Economic Inequality, in Vitoria, Brazil, September 26-30, 2018.
I learned that Brazil as a country is in the midst of real struggles for gender and racial/ethnic equality. Both women’s groups and Brazil’s Black Alliance were represented in substantive discussions on how to advance equality within that country. The struggle is undeniable.
Minnesota’s representation was orchestrated and hosted by Dr. Samuel Myers, Director of the Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. I learned that this conference originated within the Humphrey Institute back in 1996, hosted right here in Minnesota.
Our East Metro delegation was sponsored by The Saint Paul Foundation, and included me on behalf of SPACC, Deputy Mayor Jaime Tincher and Dr. Bruce Corrie on behalf of the City of Saint Paul, County Manager Ryan O’Connor on behalf of Ramsey County, and Emma Corrie, from the office of Governor Mark Dayton.
This delegation led a plenary during which we presented a coordinated message about how we are driving diversity, inclusion, and equality efforts in our region. This should not be news to you: SPACC’s Board updated our strategic plan in late 2017 to include specific language around diversity, equity and inclusion. We understand that equity must be the lens through which we do all our work; that said, in order to provide particular emphasis – and accountability – in this area of work, we have called it out as a specific area of focus.
Participants at the conference appreciated how the East Metro delegation functioned as an effective team at the conference. They were particularly glad to have a business voice present and to learn that inclusion and wealth creation is a big value for SPACC. The East Metro delegation at the conference also was the first step of a collaborative effort to build a vibrant and inclusive East Metro regional economy. We hope to continue this effort in the years ahead.
This declared commitment to equity – and equal opportunity – is particularly relevant for an organization like ours. Chambers of Commerce are powerful representatives of the business voice, and are uniquely positioned as an access point, a connection, between the employer community and government. We also are an access point for business opportunity itself. Our network, so often one that is informal between connections and friends, can be unintentionally exclusive or “closed” to businesses not in the membership or not engaged.
The Greater Minneapolis Saint Paul Region has a strong and vibrant community of minority owned businesses and professionals of color. This sector of business is under-represented in chambers overall, and certainly in SPACC specifically. Consequently, they do not share in the business opportunities that develop through professional relationships developed here. As part of our strategic plan, we have begun our work to change that. We understand very clearly that our future truly depends on this work. We must further develop our economic engine to fully engage the broadest business community, building a future that, in the words of Saint Paul Mayor Carter, “truly works for all of us.” Indeed, the world is waking up to the corrosive effects of inequality, on society itself and as a drag on further economic growth.
Deputy Mayor Tincher said it best: “If we are serious about addressing the economic and opportunity inequities in our city and state, leaders need to approach the work as integral and core business operations. In my opinion, the public sector needs more Chief Equity Officer roles, more professionals driving career pathways efforts, more funding for trainings for all levels of the organization, and more intentional efforts and tactics aimed at increasing retention of diverse employees.”
Of course, we explored some of the beauty of Brazil as well. We explored both Vitoria and Rio de Janeiro. What beautiful cities and lovely people! And, of course, we HAD to experience the authentic Brazilian food, Fogo de Chao-style.
I am so grateful to our partners, the Roy Wilkins Center, and the Saint Paul Foundation for sponsoring this tremendous opportunity and experience!