No matter where we are on the political spectrum, or what we think the role of government should be, most of us would agree that something is broken in America. One of the things that defines our country -- the American Dream -- is in real danger. As Jon Meacham wrote last month, "The perennial conviction that those who work hard and play by the rules will be rewarded with a more comfortable present and a stronger future for their children faces assault from just about every direction."
The ongoing jobs crisis is the embodiment of the American Dream deferred.
More than 20 million Americans are currently unemployed or underemployed, yet 3.4 million available jobs remain unfilled because job seekers lack the necessary skills. There's no dismissing the devastating human consequences of these numbers. But there is a real danger that by focusing exclusively on what is not working, we are missing out on spotlighting what is working -- the opportunities that are available, the surpluses of creativity, ingenuity and compassion that can be poured into job creation.
That's the belief behind HuffPost's new jobs section, Opportunity: What Is Working. "Every presidential election is a renewal," the historian David McCullough told me in 1999. "Like spring, it brings up all the juices." In that spirit, we will be renewing our national focus on what is working, instead of what is broken, by using the historic moment of the national party conventions to put the spotlight on solutions. We are planning to use two necessarily partisan events -- the Republican convention in Tampa and the Democratic convention in Charlotte -- as powerful platforms for presenting what should be a fundamentally bipartisan issue: what we the people can do to accelerate job creation and fill job openings.
As Walter Isaacson put it at the Aspen Ideas Festival, the word "festival" comes from the word "feast," and a feast can "bring different tribes together, tribes that often fought," and that "when they come together, they realize they share certain ideas and certain values."
The same can be true of the national conventions. With 15,000 credentialed media present at each convention, they present an unmatched opportunity for transcending the tribal mentality that too often keeps us from realizing and acting on our shared values. There is, after all, nothing left-wing or right-wing about caring for the millions of Americans who are unemployed, or those who are unable to find available jobs because they lack the necessary training.
We have partnered with an amazing group of companies, foundations, and educational institutions -- LinkedIn, Starbucks, Microsoft, The MCJ Amelior Foundation, The Ford Foundation, The Skoll Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Startup America, Purpose.com, Valencia College, as well as NBC News.
We've also brought together a great group of leaders: There's the well-known philanthropist Ray Chambers, whose extraordinary experience leading efforts on many causes -- including at-risk youth, America's Promise and most recently, malaria -- has been invaluable in guiding our efforts to make a difference in addressing our unemployment crisis; LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, who is a passionate advocate for closing what he calls "the gap between talent and opportunity"; Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, a powerful voice for renewing our focus on job creation, most recently with Starbucks' Create Jobs for USA initiative, which has raised millions to fund small business loans; Sanford Shugart, who as president of Valencia College has steered his institution to a 95 percent job placement rate, one of the highest rates among community colleges nationwide. Jeff Skoll and Sally Osberg (Skoll Foundation CEO), who help bring about large-scale change by investing in social entrepreneurs and the innovators who work with them to solve our most pressing problems; Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, who has defined innovation as "seeing old problems in new ways" -- absolutely essential as we are looking at new ways to create jobs; Luis Ubiñas, president of the Ford Foundation, which has been focusing on next generation job strategies, affordable home ownership, and education access; Scott Case, CEO of Startup America, which has raised over $1 billion in commitments to support the growth of startups across the country and provide valuable resources to help young companies grow; and Jeremy Heimans of Purpose.com, a leader in igniting social change through technology, who is bringing together innovative organizations across America that are kickstarting job creation.
At both conventions, we will host events, including an exhibition showcasing social entrepreneurs, small businesses, and innovative ideas that create jobs and provide skills and training for our workforce; and a lunch panel discussion that will highlight concrete job creation initiatives, as well as big ideas for future job growth. As Ray Chambers put it, we will commit to "encourage everyone in the private sector, from businesses to individuals, to try and use creative and new ideas to help someone else get connected to an economic opportunity."
"We have everything we need to bridge the gap between talent and opportunity," Jeff Weiner said. "The solutions are within our grasp, but there is much work to be done. Our outdated analog approaches to preparing the workforce for the jobs of the 21st century led us into this crisis. New digital technology and creative approaches will lead us out of it. Now is the time."
I was delighted to announce our jobs initiative during a conversation with Walter Isaacson at the Aspen Ideas Festival last month. As the biographer of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs, Walter has a deep understanding of the qualities that make for true transformation. "Imagination," Einstein famously said, "is more important than knowledge."
There is an urgent need in this time of crisis to capture not only people's minds, but their hearts. Bruce Springsteen's recent hit "We Take Care of Our Own" could be our theme song:
From Chicago to New Orleans
From the muscle to the bone
From the shotgun shack to the Superdome
We yelled "help" but the cavalry stayed home
There ain't no-one hearing the bugle blown
We take care of our own
We take care of our own
Wherever this flag's flown
We take care of our own
The song is a visceral call to action for all of us. It's true that more than 20 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed. But it's also true that we have an amazing amount of untapped creativity, ingenuity, and compassion. Help is out there. But it's increasingly clear that we can't wait for Washington to send the cavalry. That's why we're showcasing solutions from every sector, and launching a larger conversation around what is working.
Contributors to Opportunity: What Is Working include our country's mayors, who are on the front lines of the job crisis. There is Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino on the potential of public-private partnerships to spur job growth; Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton on his city's efforts to alert local businesses to city contract opportunities; New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on how cities can be the new laboratories of democracy; and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett on his city's MAPS program, which uses a penny sales tax to fund capital projects.
We're also featuring daily stories on what companies are doing to create more economic opportunities. Google, for example, is challenging conventional wisdom and manufacturing new mobile devices here in the United States. And, in a phrase we hope to hear repeated by other corporate leaders, Howard Schultz said about opening a new factory in Augusta, Georgia: "We're going to spend more money, but we're going to hire Americans. I don't apologize for it."
And we are also featuring blog posts by some of the most innovative thinkers on the subject of job creation: David Zorn, president of the Art Institute of Colorado, who sees potential in "career colleges" that provide training in specific disciplines -- and lead to higher graduation and employment rates; Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter of the Harvard Business School, who proposes measuring college performance not just by the jobs their graduates get but also the jobs they create; Institute of Pittsburgh founder Stephen A. Shelton on how non-college-bound individuals can get the training they need to find work beyond the minimum-wage job market; and Georgetown Professor Harry Holzer on the need for closer collaboration between colleges and sectors where jobs are being created.
Together, we hope to act on John Gardner's belief that "what we have before us are some breathtaking opportunities disguised as insoluble problems."
So, please join the conversation about what is working, and as always, use the comments section to let us know what you think.
Add your voice to the conversation on Twitter: twitter.com/ariannahuff
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