This week’s Insider features native Pittsburgher and former board chair for Sustainable Pittsburgh, Mark Lewis. Mark shares his insights on regional equitable development and its role in building a more sustainable Pittsburgh region.
– The POISE Foundation envisions a Pittsburgh Region in which all members of the Black Community are empowered and self-sufficient. Working towards this vision is a core tenet of sustainability. What are some ways businesses and organizations are doubling down and making real progress?
A key ingredient to sustainability is a person, family, or region’s ability to take care of itself financially. Although sustainability encompasses much more than finances, it is hard to talk about health, environment and making better choices if daily survival is the top priority.
There are several initiatives occurring in our region that are trying to address a more diverse and inclusive work force as well as community. The Corporate Equity and Inclusion Roundtable (CEIR) has worked over the last six years to bring attention to the need to have more “C-level” executive positions at our corporations as well as more diverse professionals. I am happy to say that at the most recent CEIR conference, several corporations as well as the Allegheny Conference have announced their own adaptation of the “Rooney Rule” made famous by Dan Rooney. This rule states that NFL teams will interview at least one African American for head coach positions. This is not a guarantee of employment, it is an opportunity. It also causes organizations to look beyond their traditional sources of candidates to seek qualified African Americans. Too often, in our region, we miss out on a lot of talent because of a lack of opportunity for minorities in our region to get opportunities to execute their skill sets. It is no longer appropriate to say we cannot find the talent when cities such as Atlanta, Charlotte and Washington DC have thriving African American communities and businesses.
Why is this important? Several years ago Sustainable Pittsburgh sponsored a report that stated if African Americans in the Pittsburgh region were employed at the same rate of employment and pay as white men and women, it would generate an additional $372 million (2008 dollars) annually to our region’s economy. When families are thriving, they make more long term decisions that affect the sustainability of our region.
Many of our businesses are also making educational contributions to ensure our local young people have better opportunities, whether it is through the Education Improvement and Opportunity Scholarship programs that help families with private school tuition, or contributions to the Pittsburgh Promise or NEED to assist with post secondary opportunities. These efforts increase our ability to source local talent for the many job openings that exist and will exist.
– Tell us a bit about the POISE Foundation and the importance of its role in the community.
POISE Foundation is one of the only community foundations in the country created and managed by African Americans. For over 37 years, our mission has been to assist the Pittsburgh Region’s Black community to develop self-sustaining practices. We do this through collective giving, grantmaking, leadership and advocacy.
As part of our work, we convened several neighborhoods and constituency groups to develop a vision for a sustainable Black community in the Pittsburgh Region. The vision statement that resulted is as follows:
A Community that is:
A Model of Collaboration, Partnership and Innovation,
Uniquely Diverse, Beautiful, Vibrant and Connected,
Reinvesting Culturally, Spiritually, and Economically,
Creating the Best Opportunity for Everyone to Live, Learn, Work and Play.
We believe this vision should resonate with all people within our region. We also believe that POISE Foundation has an opportunity to provide leadership to achieve this vision. Given the fact that we are independent of neighborhood, particular issue, or organization; we have the ability to convene a broad group of individuals, organizations, businesses, and neighborhoods to bring this vision to reality. This will be a key charge of the Foundation over the next several years.
– What are some key trends of which all should be aware regarding regional equitable development?
I believe it is important to think about equitable development based on its long-term impact, not just as a physical event. Too often we focus on equitable development through the lens of certain levels of minority participation on construction projects or redevelopment of certain neighborhoods that have been underserved for decades. Revitalization occurs, beautification abounds, and too often, we are pleased and satisfied with the development of physical structures without enough consideration of the individuals that were and remain underserved. Equitable development must include opportunities for those very individuals, families, and businesses to live, learn, work and play. We need to ensure that we do not dilute visible concentrated poverty to places where it cannot be seen yet still exists.
Equitable development should ensure that we are preparing and sourcing local talent and especially the underserved to ensure they have as much opportunity to be developed as the physical structure. Poverty is not sustainable nor is it desirable. Thinking differently about equitable development could help to reduce both visible and often hidden poverty.