Working Cities Challenge Teams are rolling up their sleeves

The six winning teams from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Working Cities Challenge gathered in Fitchburg last week for a brainstorming session. Each team—from Fitchburg, Lawrence, Salem, Holyoke, Chelsea and Somerville—was awarded a grant from the Fed in January to fund their proposals to innovate government services in sectors from adult education to workforce development among youth. We got to sit in on the day-long session, which gave project leaders from each community a chance to share ideas and strategy.

Listening to the interactions between the teams It was clear that each of the winning teams is deeply absorbed in the task of figuring out how they can make good on their ambitious proposals, from performing “relentless outreach” to stabilize families in a highly transient neighborhood of Chelsea to creating new spaces in Holyoke where new immigrants can find integrated support that will place them on a more certain path to economic success. It was also clear that there is a high level of buy-in from the diverse range of community leaders who devoted the entire day to hashing out outcomes and measurers of success.

Social innovators have talked about how competing for change can inspire community leaders to come together, think in new ways, and establish stronger relationships. Competitions that foster collaborative engagement can have benefits that persist well beyond the initial project. The interaction we saw in Fitchburg was indicative of these kinds of benefits. Supporting the development of this kind of community capital could be invaluable to Gateway Cities in the long term. As Ben Hecht, the CEO of Living Cities, a key sponsor of the Challenges has artfully articulated, collaboration is the new competition.

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