Mending our nation's rampant economic inequality is becoming a central theme among presidential contenders for the 2016 race. Thus far candidates seem to believe that whomever delivers the right populist message stands the best chance to reach the Oval Office. Whether addressed through stories of the candidate's humble origins or lofty ideals, their conversations are beginning to be about how to set the economic stage for greater prosperity for all of our citizens. This is a promising trend.
Americans, especially Blacks and Latinos, face numerous and varied barriers to lasting wealth, let alone prosperity. Our system is reaching the breaking point. And it doesn't have to be this way. We are in the midst of an era of unprecedented economic opportunity that has yet to be addressed by the presidential candidates. No moment has offered more opportunity for more people to gain wealth and enjoy prosperity than the emergence of today's Innovation Economy. More than any other economic era, the Innovation Economy exemplifies three vital, economic opportunity-generating characteristics:
• It's democratic: Providing unparalleled access to information.
• It's egalitarian: Opportunities are based on "gray matter" rather than owning the means of production, i.e., land, factories, etc.
• It's meritocratic: Advancement is determined by ability rather than incumbent economic class or wealth.
In these respects, the Innovation Economy is an improvement upon earlier economies. Although it is hardly perfect, compared to previous major economic eras -- e.g., the agrarian economy, with wealth based on land ownership; and the industrial economy, with wealth based on controlling the means of manufacturing - the present Innovation Economy era offers substantially more and different opportunities waiting to be realized.
Despite the fact that America leads the most democratic, egalitarian and meritocratic economy in known history, underserved Americans (i.e. women, Blacks and Latinos) face innumerable barriers to meaningfully contribute to the Innovation Economy. These barriers inhibit their ability to derive equitable shares of empowering jobs and wealth and stifle their successful competition in The New Age of Innovation -- all of which weakens our national economic competitiveness.
It does not help that thus far our presidential contenders have kept our economic conversation mired in personal history or weak policy proposals based on a bygone era. We need our leaders to bring new, bold policy frameworks to leverage the Innovation Economy to achieve inclusive prosperity and improve our economic competitiveness. We need a new national movement.
Where the Innovation Economy expands opportunity beyond previous eras, Inclusive Competitiveness expands opportunity within the Innovation Economy. Inclusive Competitiveness is a framework by which we can capitalize on the full potential of underserved Americans to help fuel our nation's next generation economic vitality in a way that is more inclusive and durable.
Focused on new community economic narratives and education, organizational and leadership imperatives, the emerging Inclusive Competitiveness Movement promises to build dual pipelines of performance and productivity - creating more high value intrapreneurial employees and higher growth entrepreneurial enterprises from diverse communities, that in turn can help to increase America's global economic competitiveness.
We need a leader to step forward and propose a new policy framework for national prosperity in the 21st century. Our past has seen great strides from both Democrat and Republican presidents to advance our national infrastructure and improve the quality of life for all Americans. Our next president needs to reinvest directly in the economically lowest performing segments of our nation, igniting new public will and meaningful efforts to strengthen our country overall through a far broader and more inclusive prosperity. Inclusive Competitiveness is not only a framework for that reinvestment, but one with a built in roadmap to success.
The Foundations of Inclusive Competitiveness provide the specific policy framework that would help to fuel needed movement in these directions:
• Inculcation of a New Community Economic Narrative: The absence of a salient economic narrative focused on preparing underserved communities to successfully compete in the Innovation Economy is palpable. More robust efforts are needed to advance new economic imperatives, incentives and narratives to connect people and communities in need to the nation's leading economic competitiveness opportunities.
• Encouragement of New Education Leadership: Low STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) education attainment and proficiency of underserved Americans significantly contribute to low productivity in regional innovation ecosystems and, ultimately, in the Innovation Economy. New leadership from K-12 through higher education institutions should be encouraged to increase the pipeline of underserved high school and college students in STEAM.
• Promotion of New Organizational Leadership: A diverse set of leadership organizations provide direct services in our communities, often with a focus on areas such as community economic development, education, employment, health care, and social services. Promotion of new organizational leadership is required to complement incumbent services with new strategies, capacities and capabilities to link underserved Americans to the country's Innovation Economy priority areas.
• Support for New Regional Economic Competiveness Research, Model Development and Prioritization: Without an emphasis on Inclusive Competitiveness in the planning phases of regional, state and national Innovation Economy development, emerging economic opportunity challenges can become nearly insurmountable. New and complementary Innovation Economy research, model development and prioritization needs to be conducted to achieve more widespread and inclusive growth and development. National economic competitiveness depends on it.
• Adoption of New Policies, Processes and Practices: Creative policy, process and practice advancements across a diverse set of regional, state and national stakeholders - including business and community nonprofit organizations, technology innovators and economic development organizations, colleges and universities, and government and philanthropic institutions - are required to activate and sustain an Inclusive Competitiveness Movement. Innovating incumbent strategies through the adoption of new, interdisciplinary approaches can yield specific findings and scalable and replicable ways to improve the economic performance and productivity of underserved Americans.
Through these types of strategies, we can do much more as a nation to intentionally position all of our people as contributors to America's next generation economic vitality and global competitiveness. Failure to move in these directions merely invites more of what we have seen in recent years--which is not much--when it comes to shared prosperity and real opportunity for upward mobility across our nation's growing racial and class divides.
This article is the second in a series of three articles Johnathan M. Holifield and Henry A.J. Ramos will contribute to The Huffington Post over the next few months of 2015. Holifield is Architect of Inclusive Competitiveness and Co-Founder of ScaleUp Partners LLC. Ramos is the CEO of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. Their articles focus on Inclusive Competitiveness - an interdisciplinary framework of policies, strategies and practices that can be employed to improve the productivity of underrepresented Americans in the Innovation Economy - and will feature new solutions and promising practices that are emerging to address these challenges and opportunities.