A Shared Community Agenda
Focus for community betterment by year 2020 concentrates on Early Childhood, Employment Skills and Innovation
by Teresa Ingram
A couple of years ago, a group of Lincoln leaders began talking about Lincoln’s vital signs, from its low unemployment and low crime rates to the growing number of children in poverty—one in five. The forward thinking question, “How can we make our city even better?” arose. The group agreed they needed to create a shared agenda for the community and an action plan that would guide their efforts to become an even more vibrant and equitable city. From that starting point, Prosper Lincoln was launched.
The backbone of this work is a collaborative report by the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center: Lincoln Vital Signs 2014 and 2015—LincolnVitalSigns.org. Funded by 13 of the community’s largest philanthropic organizations, the business community and local government, the report is a compilation of information about the community. It documents three key findings:
- Lincoln does many things exceptionally well and these successes should be nurtured.
- A growing proportion of Lincoln’s population faces real need.
- In particular, our children fare poorly on many measures.
The action steps for Vital Signs are to help Lincoln Be Informed and Get Involved. An Engagement Team of community representatives encouraged Lincolnites from all sectors, including businesses, nonprofit organizations, neighborhoods, government, faith communities, philanthropies and individuals, to share their ideas on, “What should our community do to ensure youth are successful, our economy grows and our community is strong and vibrant.” More than 2,100 ideas came from every corner of the city and were synthesized by the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center.
A Steering Committee, again representing diverse sectors of the community, narrowed the ideas to three. Work Groups then created aspiration goals for each. The Prosper Lincoln community agenda focuses on three key areas: Early Childhood, Employment Skills and Innovation. Here is the ambitious, impactful Prosper Lincoln community agenda with goals to be reached by year 2020:
The goal of Early Childhood is to nurture every child on the path to success. The focus is on having all children kindergarten ready. Research shows that kindergarten readiness is critical to help children get on a stronger path to thrive in school and, ultimately, achieve economic security. Today, almost 2/3 of Lincoln’s most vulnerable children ages 3 – 5 are not enrolled in preschool programs. There is an insufficient number of programs and long wait lists. One objective is to expand capacity so all children have access to affordable and healthy childhood development and learning opportunities.
The goal of Employment Skills is to ensure access to training and support for skilled in-demand jobs and create cross-sector initiatives to improve workforce development. Local businesses need employees to fill skilled positions. Part-time and underemployed people need help getting certifications or higher education to qualify for those positions. Employers, human service agencies and case workers are sometimes unaware of all the resources that exist. Fostering better connectivity between these groups is a priority.
The goal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship is to create a world class ecosystem for innovation where Lincoln is the epicenter. This involves a regional focus, which is broader than just Lincoln, and includes working closely with Omaha, the state and surrounding states. Mentoring programs, talent recruitment and retention, outreach programs and identifying capital investment resources are some of the strategies. The result will be new and growing businesses that create jobs and fuel our economy.
Other communities provided advice about their best practices. A primary success factor is the creation of an infrastructure to focus and coordinate action. The key to learning is to have someone who wakes up every morning and keeps the community on track, making progress toward the goals. Prosper Lincoln’s infrastructure includes:
Developers and ambassadors have been selected for each of the three focus areas. These leaders serve as the connectors in creating the strategic vision, developing and strengthening relationships, pursuing collaborative opportunities, marketing the initiative’s importance and securing resources.
A support organization for each initiative provides office space, technical assistance and general support for the developer.
A small group of practitioners and experts serves as the oversight committee to be sure progress is made. The intent is to put systems in place that will sustain and continue this work.
Prosper Lincoln’s vision is that Lincoln is a thriving community for people to live, work and play, where there is equitable opportunity for all residents to have the income, education and resources they need to be successful.
The Prosper Lincoln website—ProsperLincoln.org—keeps the community informed, connected and involved. On the website, people can learn more about each of the agenda areas, find specific actions and make a commitment, give time as a volunteer, read informational articles and reports, or make a financial donation.
“The level of community-wide input has been incredible,” said Barbara Bartle, President of the Lincoln Community Foundation. “Now it is time for every sector of our city to work together and to coordinate efforts and resources. No single institution or individual can achieve the goals of the community agenda. It will take each of us, working together and supporting each other, to Lift Lincoln Higher.”