American Urban Innovators are Filling Crucial Gaps

By Jessie Feller Hahn

Jessie Feller Hahn is the Executive Director of Meeting of the Minds. She is an experienced urban planner, specializing in urban-regional policy with a particular focus on sustainability and clean energy. Previously, Jessie launched the successful Regional Energy Policy Program at Regional Plan Association in New York City. She has written numerous articles which have been featured in RPA’s Spotlight on the Region, The Hartford Courant, Urban Age Magazine, The Record, NPR, among others.

May 2, 2016 | Smart Cities | 0 comments

Together, Meeting of the Minds and Urban Innovation Exchange launched the Urban Innovator Series just 25 weeks ago with the support of the Kresge Foundation. Each week, we feature an “urban innovator” handpicked from around the United States.

But what do we mean by urban innovator? The common thread that connects each of these leaders is simple: they fill a void where society has failed to address an urban ill. It’s clear that too often, for one reason or another, the systems in our cities aren’t working, and these urban innovators have created organizations and agencies to step in and develop solutions.

Michael O’Bryan works from a trauma-informed care model and uses the healing power of arts with youth affected by violence. Devone Boggan also addresses youth violence, engaging the young people most at-risk of firearms-related violence and death to be a part of the solution. Gregory Heller bridges the disconnect between private investment and community building, and Rose Broome devised a way to give the homeless a HandUp through smartphone technology.

We launched this series as a direct response to the lack of inspiring, call-to-action stories in U.S. media. At Meeting of the Minds and Urban Innovation Exchange, we encounter incredible change makers having an impact every day in cities across the country. We have developed and added numerous new platforms in the last four years to spotlight and tell those stories – all in the hope that it ignites a revelatory moment for a like-minded peer sitting in another city.

We’ve added monthly webinars, invited urban practitioners from around the world to write for our blog CityMinded.org, expanded our annual summit, hosted pop-up events and workshops around the country, and grown our monthly Meetups in cities around the US. This year-round programming has the goal of connecting like-minded innovators to share resources, build partnerships, and scale best practices.

In an effort to do just that, several of the urban innovators featured in this series will be speaking at our annual summit, Meeting of the Minds 2016, on October 25-27th.

In addition to that, on June 8th from 9AM-10AM PT, two of our urban innovators – Andrea Chen and Napoleon Wallace – will present a free hour-long webinar, including a Q+A session.

Andrea Chen and Napoleon Wallace blend the worlds of entrepreneurship, social impact, job creation, and economic opportunities for low-income Americans. All too often, these words seem diametrically opposed to each other. How can a startup or new business create jobs and solve the food or water crisis? Their work proves that it is possible.

Andrea Chen is the Executive Director of Propeller in New Orleans, a social impact accelerator that arose from the ashes of Hurricane Katrina when government resources were not enough to rebuild the local economy and neighborhoods. Since 2011, Propeller has launched “90 ventures through its accelerator, creating 130 new jobs in New Orleans, generated $36 million in external financing and revenue and $80,000 in seed funding awarded to early-stage startups in the PitchNOLA competitions.”

Just as Andrea is creating investment opportunities for businesses that had few options in New Orleans, Napoleon Wallace is investing in Americans that the banking industry has largely turned its back on. Napoleon is part of the Executive Staff at Self-Help, a national family of member-owned, mission-driven credit unions. It also serves as a nonprofit loan fund and a policy advocacy organization that works to expand business ownership and economic opportunities for all income groups. Self-Help was instrumental in ensuring that the predatory mortgage bill passed in North Carolina – one of the first state-level bills on this issue passed in the country. Self-Help also has a “secondary markets” program, through which they have partnered with large banks that don’t want to take certain credit risks – typically in low-income communities.

Join us as we dive deeper into learning lessons from both of their organizations and methodologies during the June 8th webinar. Registration is open here.

This series is continuing and we are looking for our next 30 urban innovators. If you know of someone who is doing impactful work in the Bay Area, Detroit, Memphis, Philadelphia, or New Orleans, please suggest them here. If they are not in one of those five target areas, we will still consider the submission. We know this kind of work is happening in cities across America and we want to tell as many of these incredible stories as we can.

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