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New Orleans Convening

Forward Cities New Orleans Convening 2014

Forward Cities New Orleans Convening 2014

Forward Cities New Orleans Convening 2014

Visitors check out live music at d.b.a.

Forward Cities New Orleans Convening 2014

Forward Cities New Orleans Convening 2014

Forward Cities New Orleans Convening 2014

Forward Cities New Orleans Convening 2014

Sunset during NOLA Convening by attendee Brian Hall

Brian Hall's daughter's rendition of sunset in New Orleans

The New Orleans convening kicked off Forward Cities on December 15, 16 and 17 of 2014, and it was an incredible event and experience for all who attended.  Below is a description of what took place during the convening and the results of bringing leaders from these four cities together. View the photos and bios of key people that participated in this three day event in New Orleans here

View photos from the event here.

The first activity was a cocktail reception and dinner at the beautiful Garden District home of Matt Wisdom, the President and Founder of Turbo Squid and a very successful business entrepreneur in New Orleans.  After the cocktail reception, welcoming remarks were made by Matt Wisdom and this was followed by a 45 minute Interview of City of New Orleans' Mayor Mitch Landrieu by David Gergen, Harvard Professor and CNN Senior Analyst, on "Why NOLA is a City of Innovation."  The Mayor was originally scheduled to talk for 45 min. but he enjoyed the Forward Cities audience and questions so much that he stayed for 1.5 hours. 


After the Mayor's interview, and a great buffet dinner, presentations were given by a leader of each of the city innovation teams on "What is happening in their entrepreneurial/innovation ecosystem now", how their cities are thinking or going about "inclusive innovation," and what their team and city's local innovation council wants to learn from NOLA and the other cities.  This session was moderated by Peter A. Reiling, Executive Vice President and Trustee of the Aspen Institute.  Throughout the cocktail, interview and team presentations, it was standing room only with approximately 80+ people attending.  Those that came represented key leaders in New Orleans' government, business, entrepreneurship/social innovation, community development and philanthropic sectors, in addition to all of the leaders that came from Cleveland, Detroit and Durham as part of the Forward Cities delegation.  Day 1 was the perfect way to begin the conversation and sessions that followed on Day 2.
DAY 2 - Tuesday, December 16, 2014
For the Forward Cities Innovation Teams (24 people), Day 2 began early with a closed door Aspen Institute Mini Seminar/Leadership Session with Peter A. Reiling, Aspen Institute Trustee and Executive Vice President for Leadership and Seminars, and Executive Director of the Henry Crown Program.  To participate in this session with Peter, all of the team members had to do a selection of readings sent to them several weeks before by Aspen.  Everyone who participated in this session thought it was an incredible experience, and this in turn also helped to begin the bonding process that we hope to achieve in this 2 year collaborative process.  
While the Innovation teams were going through their Aspen session, the rest of the Forward Cities delegation participated in a coffee roundtable discussion on "Regional Economic Development and Collaboration" at the offices of GNO Inc. (the leading business/economic development organization in South East Louisiana) with Michael Hecht, President and CEO of GNO Inc. and Friends of New Orleans Board Member.  Michael Hecht did a wonderful job presenting the GNO Inc. model and the lessons that they learned including what had worked and what did not.  There was also a great exchange of ideas and questions, and most of the people who were there actively participated.  
After the GNO Inc. session, everyone went to the New Orleans Bio Innovation Center (NOBIC) at 1441 Canal St. where we joined the Forward Cities teams and participated in various panel discussions, interactive roundtables, and breakout sessions that included other New Orleans based business entrepreneurs, social innovators, neighborhood change-makers and donors plus more out of town guests.  The NOBIC sessions on day 2 were standing room only (+75 people). These day time sessions included the following:
BioTech Research & Medical/Healthcare Corridors - How are they shaping our cities' future?  What is their impact on local workforce development?  Are they inclusive? This session was sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana. It was moderated by Melissa Ehlinger, Interim President and CEO of the New Orleans Business Alliance and one of the leaders behind New Orleans BIO Corridor.  The panelists included:  Aaron Miscenich - President and CEO of New Orleans BioInnovation Center; Jeff Epstein - Director of the Cleveland Health-Tech Corridor; Teresa Lynch - Principal at Mass Economics and former Senior VP and Director of Research at the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City in Detroit; and Christopher Gergen - President of Forward Impact in Durham. 

Interactive Round Tables on Inclusive Innovation - How should we be doing this?  
Everyone signed up for an area of work that interested them and discussed how inclusive innovation is happening in this area or how it could be improved.  Each Interactive Round Table had a leader for the discussion and these were: Education - Led by Peter A. Reiling, Aspen Institute Exec.  Vice President and Senior Moderator for the Pahara/Aspen Institute Education Fellowship Pgm.   Healthcare - Led by Charlotte Parent, Director of the City of New Orleans Health Department.  Greening of the City - Led by Beth Galante , Chief Energy Efficiency Officer at Posigen, former Executive Director of Global Green New Orleans , and Aspen Institute Henry Crown Fellow.  Workforce Development/Opportunity Youth - Led by Monique Miles, Deputy Director of the Aspen Institute Forum on Community Solutions.
Education Reform and the Role of Higher Ed in a City's Innovation Economy - How do we develop a growing and vibrant talent pipeline in our cities?  How do we ensure that this pipeline is diverse/inclusive?  Is education reform a strategy for keeping talent? This session was moderated by Dr. Scott Cowen, President Emeritus and Distinguished Professor at Tulane University.  The panelists included:  Michael Stone - CEO of New Schools New Orleans; Victor Ruiz - Executive Director of Esperanza Inc. in Cleveland;  Micah Gilmer - Senior Partner of Frontline Solutions and a faculty member at UNC-Chapel Hill; and Patrick Sims - Senior Research Analyst for the Cowen Institute at Tulane University.

Urban Farming and the Greening of Our Cities - How can these be strategies for urban renewal and neighborhood revitalization?   This was moderated by Kristin G. Palmer, Aspen Institute Rodel Fellow, former New Orleans Council Member for District "C" and Executive Director of Rebuilding Together New Orleans.  The panelists included:  Jeanne Firth - Assistant Director of Grow Dat Youth Farm; Randy McShepard - Vice President, RPM Inc. and Founder of the Rid-All/Green Partnership Urban Farm in Cleveland; Emily Egge - Executive Director of SEEDS in Durham; and Dan Carmody President of Detroit Eastern Market. 


After the Urban Farming panel, everyone signed up to go on guided Field trips to NOLA Innovative Organizations, Demonstration Projects and Sector Initiatives.  The field trip sites visited and the tour leaders or guides were as follows:
  •          NOLA Incubators: Visits to Propeller/ PowerMoves NOLA/Idea Village/ 4.0 Schools.  This trip was led by September Hargrove, COO of PowerMoves NOLA a new incubator that only works with minority entrepreneurs in New Orleans and included Andrea Chen - Executive Director of Propeller, and Emily Madero - COO of Idea Village.
  •          Innovative Charter Schools: Visits to Samuel J. Green Elementary School and the Edible School Yard (which was designed by Alice Waters, famous Berkeley Chef) and Sci Academy High School.  This was led by Davis Zaunbrecher, Director of Strategy at New Schools New Orleans and included Claudia Barker, Executive Director of Edible School Yard New Orleans.          
  •          Green Building and Blight Removal:  Visits to Holy Cross neighborhood (primarily an African American neighborhood and next to the 9th Ward) and Farming Coops in East NOLA (a part of the city that has the largest Vietnamese community). This was led by Kristin G. Palmer, former Executive Director of Rebuilding Together New Orleans and included Khai Nguyen, Farming Director at Mary Queen of Viet Nam CDC.
  •          Anchor Developments in Low Income Neighborhoods: Visits to OC Halley, Claiborne & Bio Corridors. This was led by Ashleigh Gardere, Director of Opportunity Network for the City of New Orleans and Senior Advisor to the Mayor and included Aaron Miscenich, President of the New Orleans BioInnovation Center and a leader in the newly developed BIO Corridor.

After the field trips, and a much needed break at the hotel, the Forward Cities delegation walked across the street to the Ferrara Gallery where they were able to see the "Guns in the Hands of Artists" show and participate in a private reception with artist and gallery owner, Jonathan Ferrara, and LaToya Cantrell, New Orleans City Council Member for District "B", former head of the Broadmoor Neighborhood Association and CDC (now a case study at Harvard University for how to do community development), a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute, and one of the most respected African American women leaders in the City of New Orleans. Click this link here to view this Ferrara Gallery art show.

For this art show, Jonathan Ferrara asked the City of New Orleans to donate de-commissioned guns and rifles that had been confiscated by the NOPD. The weapons were then offered to a handful of creative local artists who then used the guns to make art that would "speak to the issue of gun violence" in our cities. This show has been a total block buster (over 3000 people lined around the block to get in on opening night) and has gotten a lot of attention and media coverage nationwide. It is controversial because of the politics of gun control, nevertheless it has helped to spark conversation on a topic that is critical and highly relevant to our urban areas (i.e. how can we make our cities safer?  how can we save young black men?). The exhibit was also very moving since some of the artists incorporated the images of the young, African American residents that lost their lives to gun violence in the past year in New Orleans. After Jonathan talked about each of these artists and their work, LaToya Cantrell spoke of her efforts to reduce gun violence in New Orleans in addition to the price that the city is paying every time a young life is lost. Several members from the Cleveland Council and Team are now serious exploring bringing this show to their city.
From the Ferrara Gallery, everyone walked to the National WWII Museum for the Forward Cities and Goldman Sachs Cocktail and Dinner.  When they arrived at the cocktail, they were surprised by Chief Shaka Zulu, a local African American business owner and leader in the Treme neighborhood, who had spent the entire day with them at the Forward Cities sessions at NOBIC, and who now came out to dance for the Forward Cities guests in his beautiful Mardi Gras Indian suit which he dons on Mardi Gras Day as Chief of the Yellow Pocahontas Tribe.  The Chief danced and sang traditional songs as he led the entire crowd into the Cantina Theater for the sit down dinner and program.
The program began with welcoming remarks from Christopher Gergen who introduced Katherine Jollon, VP at Goldman Sachs Foundation.  A very brief film on the GS 10K Small Business Program in New Orleans was shown, and then the first panel discussion began.

The discussion on the "Role of Small Business Leaders in a City's Comeback" was moderated by Dr. Edgar Chase III - Trustee of Loyola University.  And included the following panelists: Aimee Quirk - Senior Advisor to Mayor Landrieu on Economic Development; Dr. Joan Davis - Chancellor of Delgado Community College; Bill Bynum - President and CEO of HOPE Credit Union and a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute; and Teresa Lawrence - Delta Personnel and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Graduate. The best part of this discussion was to hear how Teresa, a Cuban American, developed her  business and now provides employment for other New Orleanians, including Latinos and African Americans.
After the Goldman Sachs panel, there was a moderated panel session on "How to Attract and Keep Innovative Talent in a City" What are the best strategies?  Are we doing a good job of diversifying the entrepreneurial sector?  What could we be doing more of?  This was moderated by Christopher Gergen, Forward Cities Lead and Aspen Institute Henry Crown Fellow.  The panelists included:  Tim Williamson - Executive Director and Co-Founder of Idea Village;   Maria LaLonde - Director of Talent Development at Bizdom;  Cathy Belk - Chief Operating Officer of JumpStart; and Keeva Kase - Executive Director of Bull City Forward. 
The last session that evening was a conversation with Chief Shaka Zulu with Christopher Gergen on the "Importance of Culture and the Cultural Economy in New Orleans' Comeback".  The Chief talked about the history, culture and traditions of the Mardi Gras Indians, in addition to the important work that he and his wife Naimah Zulu are doing in the Treme neighborhood.  He shared with us the challenges that they face in running their business and in getting support to keep the Mardi Gras Indian tradition and culture alive and getting the younger generation to follow. This conversation was very moving and, for many in the audience, was the highlight and perfect end to a very stimulating and interesting day.  Over 100 people participated in this dinner.
DAY 3 - Wednesday, December 17, 2014
For the Forward Cities Innovation Teams (24 people), Day 3 began early with a closed door Working Session with Christopher Gergen, Forward Cities Lead and a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute.  Christopher worked with the teams by explaining the goals of Forward Cities and exploring how they want to do the work in order to accomplish these goals.  This working session helped to build the relationships between the teams and within the teams. It also gave each city team impetus to get started on their particular city.
The rest of the Forward Cities delegation had the opportunity to participate in the field trip "Claiborne Elevated Hwy - a lesson in "dumb" growth or urban decay?" This was led by Jack Davis - Friends of New Orleans Board Member, former VP of Chicago Metropolis and and Metropolitan Editor of the Chicago Tribune, and Jacques Morial, Managing Director of Enterprise Strategies, script consultant and cast member of HBO's series Treme’, and recognized lecturer on urban economics and disaster recovery.  This field trip demonstrated the unintended consequences of an elevated highway project that devastated one of the most important, historically African American neighborhoods in New Orleans.  And it showed how the strategy "if we build it, progress will come," does not always work. Below is a video that looks at the past, present, and potential future of Claiborne Avenue produced by Congress for New Urbanism.  

For the remainder of day 3 we were at NOBIC, approximately 60+ people participated that day and the sessions included the following:
"Developing Entrepreneurs and Change-Makers  from Low Income and Minority Communities"  How is it happening in our cities now?  Where are there innovation deserts?  How can we scale up these activities and make them more effective?  It was moderated by Randy McShepard, VP of RPM Inc., a member of the Gund Foundation Board and a founder of Policy Bridge, a think tank and research organization that specializes in low income and minority community issues in Cleveland.  The panelists included:  Earl Robinson - President and CEO of PowerMoves NOLA; Brian Hall - CEO of Innogistics, LLC and Director of the Cleveland Commission on Economic Inclusion;  Napoleon Wallace - Executive Staff of Self-Help Credit Union in Durham; and Regina Ann Campbell - Managing Director of Place Based Entrepreneurship at TechTown in Detroit. 

This was followed by An Overview the Forward Cities Mapping and Research Work - activity which will begin in January of 2015.  This overview was given by the national research team leader, Kathy Pettit, who is a Senior Analyst at the Urban Institute.  People in the audience were given the opportunity to ask questions, provide information and make suggestions.
To end day 3, everyone in the room was asked to go into a Break Out Session Organized by Cities (i.e. New Orleans, Detroit, Cleveland and Durham).  And this included donors, innovation council and team members, local entrepreneurs and social innovators, and other out of town visitors.  During this break out session, each city group was asked to discuss: a) what they learned from the NOLA Forward Cities convening; b) what they would like to apply or take back home; c) what they would like to cover at the next convening in Detroit (June 2015); and d) next steps for their own city council and team.  After 45 minutes, Christopher Gergen asked each group to make a summarized presentation to discuss the results of their discussion.  This went really well in terms of how involved people were in each of the group discussions and how ambitious the "next steps" that they decided and presented on.  
Day 3 ended with Closing Remarks by James Carville - CNN Political Advisor and Friends of New Orleans Founding Board Member.  James spoke about the various transformations that New Orleans has undergone throughout its long history, and how the cities that were involved in Forward Cities do matter and can transform themselves and come out better and stronger than before.  He said that this is happening because of the leaders in the room and recognized and thanked them for it.


After James' closing remarks, everyone was treated to some great food when NOLA's best food trucks arrived at NOBIC.  People seemed very happy they had come but sad it was over. Successful entrepreneur and Cleveland leader, Jackie Acho, summed it up beautifully at the end of the 3rd Day in New Orleans:  "Three things were clear: 1) There is much to learn from how our 4 cities are reinventing themselves, not just among ourselves, but nationally; 2) We don’t need another Silicon Valley; and 3) We need more innovation with soul, and cities like ours (Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans and Durham) will drive it, standing on the shoulders of giants, but inviting everyone in this time...  You’ve gathered a truly diverse group of people for whom work is a vocation, not just an occupation.  Being with others who are working toward a more abundant, inclusive world helps us all be brave.  You’re designing this learning consortium with bold goals in mind.  It’s hard to predict exactly where it will head, but it will be something artful…something that channels a bit more cosmos into the chaos of our world.  We need more and more of THAT kind of work."
Key Take Away Points:
  •          Innovation isn't something you can do TO people; it has to be done with them, with understanding and empathy.
  •          The perception is strong that people of color are not yet being fully and authentically engaged by the innovation community.
  •          While strong political leadership helps in a city, the real work is done at the grassroots level by people who are deeply embedded in their community.
  •          Reformers and innovators shouldn't be too quick to declare models to be victories without real data to support it.
All this said, the real work is done by people who get things done (i.e. local entrepreneurs, social innovators and neighborhood leaders). Talk and criticism are easy. Leaders who are not afraid to start this work and who are willing to commit for the long run, while learning and sharing with others, are the real heroes.

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