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Friends of New Orleans Announces Launch of Forward Cities in Partnership with Aspen Institute and Urban Institute


A National Learning Collaborative Among Cities of Innovation

Forward Cities is a national learning collaborative project that Christopher Gergen and Friends of New Orleans have launched in partnership with the Aspen Institute and the Urban Institute. Forward Cities brings together donors and key stakeholders, involved in New Orleans, Detroit, Cleveland and Durham's innovation/entrepreneurial ecosystems, in a multi-city network in order to achieve the following: a) map and measure entrepreneurial and social innovation activity to determine where there are gaps and strengths (specifically determine where "deserts" of innovation exist); b) share lessons learned, best practices, models and tools, across all 4 cities; c) explore issues of economic inclusion so that the current entrepreneurial boom in these cities does not leave the most vulnerable behind; d) develop more businesses, innovative leaders and entrepreneurs from low income communities and minority communities; e) identify and support entrepreneurs and change-makers in distressed neighborhoods that have demonstrated leadership and talent. The key outcomes that this project seeks to achieve include: 1) increase entrepreneurial activity and connectivity in traditionally disconnected and distressed neighborhoods; 2) create a strong support network between these 4 cities as they go through tremendous transformation; 3) develop strategies to further leverage the work that social innovators and entrepreneurs are doing in all 4 cities; and 4) highlight the great work that is happening in these cities now and, through this multi-city collaborative network, have an impact on national policy and funding decisions.

This two-year collaborative process will include the following components:

  • Formation of Local Innovation Councils and Innovation Teams: Local advisory councils will be formed in each of the participating cities in order to ensure local input and ownership by the key stakeholders and donors in that city's ecosystem.

  • Mapping and Research: Map each city's entrepreneurial/innovation ecosystem, while gathering data on the economic and social impact that local entrepreneurs and change-makers are having. This will be done in partnership with the Urban Institute and local research organizations in New Orleans, Detroit, Cleveland and Durham.

  • Cross-City Convenings: Each city will have the opportunity to host a convening so that learning, networking and relationship building can take place. The Aspen Institute will moderate these convenings, in addition to using what it learns from these local donors, entrepreneurs and innovators to inform its new national policy program, the Aspen Institute Center on Urban Innovation. The NOLA convening will be the first convening and that will take place on December 15, 16 and 17 of 2014. Detroit's convening will be taking place at the end of May or in early June of 2015.

  • Entrepreneurial Collaboration/Networking and Advocacy on a National Scale: This multi city network, in partnership with the Aspen Institute and the Urban Institute and in collaboration with other national organizations and donors that will be involved, will prove to be powerful advocates for sustainable systems change by influencing key economic policy and funding decisions on a national scale.

  • Open Knowledge Platform for Shared Learning: To facilitate shared learning across a national network of cities and regions, Forward Cities is creating an open knowledge platform in partnership with Issue Media Group that will document lessons learned from the collaborative including multi-media profiles of each of the participating cities.

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