To prepare our residents for careers that not only provide jobs today, but will continue to support them and their families for decades to come, a collective effort—spanning government, education and industry—is required. – Jim Kenney – Mayor, City of Philadelphia, In Advanced Manufacturing

Collaborative support of FCDI, SOFWERX and local public schools bring more resources and real workforce skills development to area youth.

We’ve got a long name: the Foundation for Community Driven Innovation.  We know it’s a mouthful, but we believe our long name is a good name that says it all.

Innovation, we know,  is a word that’s tossed around a lot and can vary by degrees and quality, depending on who is using the word and where it’s being applied.  I once sat in on a conference that featured a session titled something along the lines of “Innovators Innovating Innovatively”.  Innovation can be one of those words that loses all meaning from repetition and overuse, not to mention misuse.

A lot of things that are described as “innovative” these days, from business or educational practices to apps or other tech creations, are simply old ideas cloaked in a new vernacular. In our case, it’s the qualifier of “Community Driven” that we believe differentiates our purpose and goals, and hopefully does drive or inspire creative solutions and resources for community needs.

Touring Center for Manufacturing Innovation with reps from Spartanburg Community College, Greenville Technical College and the SC Manufacturing Extension Partnership

Our recent visit to Greenville, SC got us thinking about these things, and especially about collaborative community, which Greenville seems to have in great abundance. During our daylong visit, we heard from a manufacturer who regularly passed on work to other manufacturers that may not have been a good fit for his company, visited with two colleges sitting in the same conference room and praising each other’s accomplishments, heard from the state Manufacturing Extension Partnership, who is obviously well regarded and goes out of his way to help connect people, and learned about a variety of cross county, and mixed public-private-government programs and facilities all focused on the common goal of making Spartanbarg a better place to live and work.

Companies come together at ROBOTICON 2017 to share academic and career pathways for students.

Closer to home, we’ve got some great examples with things like Code for Tampa Bay Brigade, the local affiliate of Code for America, which tries to bring everybody to the table to help improve government services through shared expertise, and Homebrew Hillsborough, an offering from Hillsborough County Economic Development that seeks to bring entrepreneurs across the county together to help them learn from one another and encourages companies to share their work and expertise.   Our own ROBOTICON Tampa Bay event certainly wouldn’t be possible without a collaborative spirit that brings together FCDI, with the University of South Florida, the Florida High Tech Corridor, local companies, and organizations like SOFWERX ,  STEM program coordinators and volunteers across a wide range of fields and careers.

But in the course of our work, we also run into an over abundance of corporate and academic silos, protectionist obstacles, suspicion, and innovation-killing, progress-halting, economy-stalling gate keeping.

This week, showcased the work being done in the City of Philadelphia, in an article by Mayor Jim Kenney, where he described the city’s initiative, launched earlier this year, called “Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine. Key to this effort is a shift from short-term job placement to long-term career planning and advancement via career pathways resources.

“This kind of realignment requires intentionality from all involved,” said the Mayor. ” Employers and employees must consider long-term planning for themselves and the company. Education and training partners must be willing to incorporate feedback from industry in order to meet their needs and build a workforce prepared for jobs of the future. And most importantly, all of these individuals, organizations and systems must work together.”

The Mayor’s initiative leverages existing resources like Philadelphia Works , and also brings together the city’s Chamber of Commerce, Human resources, industry partners and business, academic and workforce leaders.

In Connecticut, the entire town of Wallingford has come together in support of  “STEM Town Wallingford.” Wallingford’s Superintendent of Schools, Salvatore Menzo Jr., feels that launching a community-wide initiative will help meet the needs of employers as well as students. The effort, something we’ve been advocating for a long time right here at home, connects local businesses with schools in an effort ” to build a permanent pipeline between the district and local employers.”  One aspect of the effort involves weekly design challenges  open to students at all grades, where they’re given a series of clues connected to visiting different manufacturing and STEM focused businesses participating in the program.

Over at our AMRoC website, we recently reported on yet another collaborative effort called, called MakerMinded, in which schools in Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee visit local manufacturers and using MakerMinded’s online platform – the LIFT Learning Hub –  identify classes and after-school club activities that they can earn points for participating in. Schools and participating states earn public recognition and and useful prizes like programmable robots at the end of each school year, making STEM related career pathways a top of the mind issue that seamlessly brings together public school with future employment opportunities, familiarizing youth early on, about ways they can apply their interests and skills when they’re older.

All of these initiatives have some important things in common, namely they’re collaborative, and they’re community driven. Instead of gate keeping, these communities are bridge building. It’s one thing to talk about innovation, and to show how others are doing it well. It’s another to do the hard, collaborative, inclusive work real innovation requires to make good and useful things happen here at home.  Guided by the common cause of community, no one will lose by working together. Competition is not eroded by cooperation towards everyone’s success. There’s room for all at the table of shared progress, and if we run out of chairs and table space, we just build more chairs and add more table leaves.

Look for FCDI hosted Community Building opportunities throughout the year, and please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have ideas or resources to share. No gates, no tolls – We’re Open!

-Terri Willingham, Executive Director, FCDI