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Closing the Wealth Gap: Reflections from Interise

From March 9-11, 2020, Karp Strategies’ Rebecca Karp and Cheryl Lim attended the Interise 2020: Close the Gap conference, held in Boston, Massachusetts. The Interise 2020 conference brought together visionaries, practitioners, small businesses, and anyone who was interested in actively changing the model of economic development in America in order to close the wealth gap and end systematic inequality.

The conference featured “SolveIt” speakers, “Solvers”, like Cheryl McKissack Daniel, President & CEO of McKissack & McKissack, Jen Faigel, Executive Director of Commonwealth Kitchen, Jeremie Greer, Co-Founder of Liberation in a Generation, Karp Strategies’ very own CEO Rebecca Karp, and other dynamic speakers from around the country.

In his SolveIt Talk about the Liberation Economy, Jeremie Greer opened the conference with particularly poignant points about the oppression economy that still exists today; an economy that deprives people of color from wealth and opportunity, and depresses low income communities of color of the ability to thrive. In a panel discussion titled SolveIt: Inclusive Economy, Bob Rivers, Chairman and CEO of Eastern Bank, Wendy Guilies, President & CEO, Kauffman Foundation, Tracey Wiley, Director of the Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity, Darrell Byers, CEO, Interise, Gary Cunningham, President & CEO, Prosperity Now, and Dr. Nika White, Best Selling Author, discussed the importance of reframing the narrative where those who have access, power and privilege leverage their tools to create systematic change.

Jen Faigel, Executive Director of CommonWealth Kitchen, spoke candidly about the barriers small business owners in the food industry face, like access to an affordable licensed kitchen, access to capital, and access to a market to sell their products. In a panel discussion about Patient Capital Models for Diverse, Small-Scale Manufacturers, participants discussed the inherent bias language present in procurement processes, which prevents M/WBEs from entering on a level playing field.

Karp Strategies CEO Rebecca Karp presented a deeply personal talk that showcased two sides of her thinking: as an economic development practitioner, she spoke to opposition of growth, systemic racism, and lack of access to good data and engagement that she sees in the system that prevents many M/WBEs from reaching full participation, and offered tangible ideas toward addressing these challenges. As a small business owner herself, she spoke to how several of these challenges have shown up for her directly as she has grown her firm to success in New York City, often fighting against the tide, and with the support of key sponsors and champions.

A theme we heard across the conference is that for many communities, there are two distinct paths to success in America. You either have to gain access, or you are given access. Success should not depend on income, education level, where you were born, or the color of your skin. Yet too often, it is. The systems we, as a society, have created, are structured to prevent access, opportunity, and resources from those who need it the most. Disadvantaged communities in the United States have historically been left out of the picture, and while they continue their fight to gain access to success, we must reflect upon and strive to reframe these narratives.

As planners and policy professionals, we left the conference with these questions searing in our minds:

  • How can we utilize data to critically inform our processes?

  • How can we improve procurement processes to ensure that no inherent biases exist within them?

  • How can we reframe our understanding of pathways to success?

  • How can we restructure top-down processes to ensure increased inclusivity?

And as community economic development and real estate professionals at Karp Strategies, how do we use our power and voices as consultants to move this conversation forward? We look forward to continuing to explore these questions with our colleagues and through our practice.


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