In early March, Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy hosted a gathering of the North Carolina Leadership Forum, a group of civic, business and political leaders from across the state and political spectrum to discuss issues central to the future. The Duke Endowment is one of three funders of the forum.
The event is part of a year-long conversation designed to give voice to diverse perspectives, examine the facts with rich data and explore opportunities related to an issue of critical importance: How can we enable more North Carolinians to earn enough to support their families?
While the issue of family-sustaining employment is not a primary focus for The Duke Endowment, it is an important part of the lived reality of many individuals and communities in the Carolinas that we aim to serve. We are all connected in so many ways.
I am honored to be part of the steering committee for this forum, and was pleased to take part in its inaugural event, where leaders from so many backgrounds and interests engaged in solution-focused civil discourse on topics that matter to all of our lives. I am hopeful that this process will lead to greater levels of understanding and trust – as well as better employment solutions for the citizens of North Carolina.
We discussed the differences and similarities between issues facing rural and urban North Carolinians; the challenges of wage, employment and education disparities; and the impact of racism and structural inequalities. We explored compelling data that illustrate, for example, that half of the jobs in North Carolina pay less than $20 per hour.
We can do better. I believe that we can achieve a better quality of life and more opportunity for people across the Carolinas. Conversations like these, held with candor and mutual respect, are an important starting point.
I was struck by the analogy used by Duke University President Richard Brodhead as he welcomed forum participants to the Imperial Tobacco Company building. He described how the space had evolved from a tobacco manufacturing center to a textile facility, and then, after sitting vacant for years, gained new life as part of a mixed use innovation district, housing the university’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative. It’s an impressive witness to the progress that parts of North Carolina have experienced. We hope this can become possible for all of North Carolina when people from all different backgrounds come together to share, listen and collaborate.
Like this building project, the forum itself was an inspiration and confirmation that we can do wonders working together, openly and respectfully. This is a journey – and one that improves in good company.