Our History

Forward Cities was co-founded in 2014 by Denise Byrne of Friends of New Orleans and Christopher Gergen of Forward Impact as a learning collaborative among four cities: Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans, and Durham. Recognizing its efforts as a test-case for mid-sized cities, support came from the Kresge and Case Foundations and numerous local funders as well as national partners including the Aspen Institute, the Urban Institute, and ScaleUp Partners. That effort yielded multi-city convenings with representative cross-sector leaders from and in each of the four cities, a national learning platform and toolkit, numerous place-based inclusive innovation efforts that continue to flourish, and ongoing connection and collaboration between the cities including a broad adoption of the Racial Equity Institute that was introduced in Durham and has now worked with over 2,000 leaders across New Orleans and Cleveland.

In its third year, Forward Cities worked with a state-wide network of partners to launch a similar learning collaborative across North Carolina in five geographically and demographically diverse communities (three urban and two micropolitan/rural) through InnovateNC. This effort produced four convenings of cross-sector community leaders, five site visits, a state-wide learning platform with community-building tools, and local Innovation Councils in each city. The Councils developed 3-year strategic plans and launched a set of pilot efforts to strengthen the local innovation ecosystems, and influenced the drafting of the proposed NC Community Innovation Fund – a publicly funded multi-million dollar grant program out of NC Commerce to stimulate and sustain local innovation economies in under-connected micropolitan/rural communities and metro neighborhoods.

The success of Forward Cities sparked the interest of CEOs for Cities, a seminal U.S. urban leadership network that has engaged some of the best urban leaders in the country since 2001. The leaders of CEOS for Cities began a series of meetings with Forward Cities and from that sprung an agreement to merge the two organizations. This new collaboration, welcomed by all parties, expands Forward Cities into a network of 33 cities nationally. Through its merger with CEOs for Cities, Forward Cities is now the largest and most dynamic city learning network in the country focused on advancing inclusive innovation and shared prosperity.

About CEOs for Cities:

CEOs for Cities was founded in 2001 as a national urban leadership network that merged with Forward Cities in 2017. Co-founded by Paul Grogan (President & CEO of the Boston Foundation and Co-Author of Comeback Cities), Richard M. Daley (former Mayor of Chicago), George Rupp (former President of Columbia University), and Charles Ratner (President and CEO of ForestCity Enterprises), CEOs was the first national urban think tank to bring leaders together from across sectors and cities to combat the outdated narrative of urban decline and promote the upside of cities and value of sharing best practices in cross-sector collaboration. It commissioned seminal research on the urban economic impact of academia, the role of BA attainment vs. population in stimulating metropolitan economic growth, and the rise of globalization. CEOs also developed City Vitals and City Dividends research products that helped cities track progress against competitiveness indicators and hosted a national talent dividend grant competition that attracted wide participation nationally. CEOs helped to inspire the creation of several like groups in the US and globally, influenced policies at city and national levels, and counts hundreds of notable alumni and dozens of cities as past members.

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