The Opportunity Movement

Devoted to closing the Opportunity Divide

Nodding In Violent Agreement

After spending two days in Chicago at the Clinton Global Initiative event, I left with a sore neck.  Nope, the pillows at the hotel were just fine, thank you.  Rather, I found myself nodding in assent so many times throughout the two days that I must have tweaked a muscle!

For someone who has obsessed about economic equality and America’s skills gap for the past decade, it was like being a kid in a candy store.  Two days of nothing but discussion about jobs, jobs and more jobs; how to create them, what to do to get people skilled up for them, and what cities, companies and the federal government can do to get unemployment down and the economy up.

It was an impressive gathering, with more Mayors, Governors and former Clinton administration folks in attendance than you can shake a stick at.  Over 750 public, non-profit and private sector leaders were there, each chipping away at the fact that we have an applicant rich, skills poor country with an ever-increasing level of economic inequality.  To make it even sweeter, among those leaders were several wonderfully talented Year Up Chicago students who volunteered at the event.

Interested in learning more about the day’s event? Please click here for an agenda, and here for some interesting statistics about jobs in America.

From Year Up’s perspective, there were two interesting observations:

1. Year Up is tackling a set of “rising tide” issues:  It is clear that issues of economic justice, economic competitiveness and post-secondary education reform are becoming increasingly important issues in our country. The dialogue and the debate are shifting, and for good reason.

2. Year Up has built a strong reputation nationally:   I was floored to hear Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman explain in front of 750 people that: “In general, you get a larger return on investment in early childhood education.  Very few people have proven that you can get a return investing in older youth who are off track.  However, there have been some recent models and research from programs that offer very targeted training and support services that are disproving that theory.  One of them is Year Up.”

On a more personal note, the Year Up Chicago student volunteers were just amazing!  I had the opportunity to spend time with almost all of them, but one young man, Carl Lynch, really got me thinking.

Carl explained that he had never been at an event like this before.  You could see him absorbing information and learning, getting more and more comfortable in a matter of minutes.  We talked about how to politely wait for someone to finish a conversation before you introduce yourself, and how to connect with someone quickly so that they become engaged. Arguably small things, but not unimportant.

It struck me that there is a strong correlation between the journey that Carl is on and the goals of the CGI Summit.   CGI wants to reduce unemployment and Carl wants a good job. Policies have to link to people (like Carl) who need access to opportunity to realize their potential. The gap between the two can be bridged, and all of the people in the room that day, including Carl, can be a big part of the solution.

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