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Network for Southern Economic Mobility


The South boasts centers of fast growth, technological innovation, and educational excellence. However, set against this economic vitality are the nation’s lowest mobility and highest poverty rates. By one calculation, more than 50 percent of Americans living in high poverty neighborhoods live in the South. The picture for Southern youth and young adults is especially stark: it is harder in the South than anywhere else in the U.S. for young people in the poorest households to move up the economic ladder as adults. For too many, high poverty schools and low postsecondary attainment, tenuous links with the labor market, the South’s historically low investment in human capital, and an overreliance on low-wage, low-skill jobs, translate into stalled upward economic mobility.

The Network for Southern Economic Mobility is a group of Southern communities--Athens, Ga., Chattanooga, Tenn. Greenville, S.C., and Jacksonville, Fla. in the first cohort--committed to increasing upward economic mobility for youth and young adults in the lowest income brackets. Through on-site coaching, expert programmatic technical assistance, and facilitated peer-learning, the Network is designed to help communities deepen, accelerate, and align strategic investments for systemic change that position these youth and young adults for economic success. Leaders in selected communities will examine how well their existing systems are reaching those young people facing the most difficult barriers to advancement; analyze the policies, systems, and culture that impede their progression; and adapt or build the pathways that connect institutions and social supports, from school to rewarding employment. Communities will learn how others are implementing structural reforms in the Southern economic and political context.

Each participating city will form a small, imaginative, high-level leadership group that includes individuals who can leverage policy and operational changes in the critical systems that directly affect youth mobility within their community. The design and delivery of the Network’s two-year program will be done with full collaboration of member cities and will include:

  • Customized coaching to tackle deep-seated institutional and cultural practices that create barriers to youth development and upward mobility
  • Focused technical assistance and peer-learning related to systems and data analysis, institutional policy reform, innovative program strategies, youth and employer engagement, and funding strategies needed to connect economically disadvantaged youth to postsecondary credentials and rewarding work
  • Cross-city knowledge development with expert policy-makers and practioners in integrated systems and programs proven to help young people 

At the conclusion of the two-year commitment, Network members will have a:

  • Detailed systems and data analysis of those youth in the lowest income brackets and the principal barriers to economic mobility
  • Powerful, informed leadership group, equipped to challenge institutional inequity and implement an integrated action plan that fosters a dual-customer system (youth and employers), accelerating youth mobility efforts
  • Set of actionable priorities to build stronger organizations with the culture, skills, and management capacity to refine existing programs, aggregate and realign resources, and spur innovation
  • Cross-region peer group of leaders working together on a cutting edge issue of national significance 

Go Deeper:

For more information on MDC and Network for Southern Economic Mobility, contact: Abby Parcell.