What Role Will the Innovation Economy Play in Disrupting Economic Inequality?

By Ben Hecht

Ben Hecht has been President & CEO of Living Cities since July 2007. Prior to this, he co-founded One Economy Corporation, a nonprofit organization that leverages the power of technology and information to connect low-income people to the economic mainstream through broadband in the home and public-purpose media. He received his JD from Georgetown University Law Center and his CPA from the State of Maryland. For 10 years, he taught at Georgetown University Law Center and was awarded Georgetown’s prestigious Charles Fahy Distinguished Adjunct Professor Award in 1997. He serves as chairman of EveryoneOn and is a member of the U.S. National Advisory Board of the G8 Social Impact Investment Task Force.

A call to dialogue with fellow attendees of Meeting of the Minds 2014

At Meeting of the Minds 2014, we’ll be treated to a look at some of the Innovation Economy’s most extraordinary achievements. From data analytics to self-driving cars, capabilities that were once the subject of science fiction now border on commonplace. Simply put, the public, private and nonprofit leaders represented at Meeting of the Minds are advancing the frontier of human achievement.  While we are together at Meeting of the Minds, we have an opportunity to dialog about how we can advance this frontier further: by harnessing the greatest wave of innovation the world has ever seen to expand economic opportunity for all.

There has never been a greater urgency for this conversation.  The U.S. is poised to become majority-minority within the next 25 years.  And yet, according to research from the Pew Center, median wealth of white households is roughly 19 times that of African American households and 14 times that of Hispanic households — and that gap is growing, not shrinking.  While, on average, Americans with college degrees earn 234% more over their lifetimes than Americans who didn’t graduate high school, just 36% of whites, 19% of African-Americans and 14% of Hispanics hold college degrees.  Even the long-prized American value of upward mobility is under threat today: A child born into the bottom 20% of America’s income distribution has less than a 1-in-20 shot at making it to the top. (These facts and more, along with their sources, can be found in Living Cities’ 2013 Annual Report, “Disrupting Inequality.”)

For too long, conversations about the innovation economy and those about achieving economic opportunity for all have largely been divorced from each other. The vanguard represented at MOTM can be a force for disrupting the pervasive economic inequality that threatens to undermine America’s future. Doing this will require government, private companies, nonprofits, philanthropy and others to think and work together in fundamentally different ways.  In the context of Living Cities’ work, we talk about this as a new urban practice focused on achieving dramatically better results for low-income Americans faster.

Meeting of the Minds will be an opportunity for all of us to reflect on what, with respect to the innovation economy, this new practice looks like. Already, dozens of attendees have emphasized how critical it is for the group to wrestle with this important issue.  The 64 bloggers who wrote for the Living Cities/ Meeting of the Minds Group Blogging Day earlier this year, for example, have already begun this crucial conversation.  We look forward to further exploring:

  • Initiatives and practices that have been effective in creating jobs, preparing people for or connecting them to good jobs in the innovation economy
  • How we can ensure that the innovations we pioneer benefit, and reflect the needs and desires of, communities at the margins, and
  • Simple things we could try, and roles that government, corporations, startups, nonprofits and philanthropy can play, to advance the frontier of practice in these regards.


Whether it’s revitalizing Detroit, putting automated vehicles on our roads, or simply building a smarter streetlight, the organizations gathered at Meeting of the Minds 2014 will have a profound impact on cities for years if not decades to come.  We look forward to engaging our colleagues at Meeting of the Minds in conversation about how we can use that influence to disrupt the economic inequality that threatens to undermine our ability to innovate, compete globally, and sustain our democracy.  We hope you’ll engage with us in this important dialogue:

  • Come find me or Tamir Novotny on my staff at Meeting of the MInds
  • Add #disruptinginequality to your tweets during or after the conference
  • Check out more on the Living Cities website about the innovation economy, job creation and economic opportunity

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