Why the Business Community Should Take Lead on Economic Opportunity
By: Kyle Baltuch, SVP of Equality of Opportunity, Florida Chamber Foundation
I was reading the USA Today this week and a headline stuck out to me…“Biden Touts Efforts to Make Government Fairer, but Major Bills on Social Justice Remain Stalled.”
While we all know political discourse is nothing new, this headline actually stuck out to me for another reason. For years, we have been trying to combat challenges around inequality with policy solutions, and frankly, for years we have failed.
When looking at an issue like inequality, one can view the challenge through many lenses, but for an example, lets look at an issue like childhood poverty. 54 years ago, the Florida Chamber Foundation was founded. That same year (1968), the percentage of children in poverty across the nation was 15.6%. Today, that number sits at 17.5% (18.7% in Florida). We could also look at reading proficiency for our children across the U.S. In 1992 (the first year of available data), 29% of 9-year-olds were considered proficient readers, today that figure is 35%.
Over those same time spans, federal and state governments have sunk trillions of dollars into programs to support those in need, attempting to combat poverty and build stronger educational support systems around the nation. A recent study by the University of Michigan estimated that, today, that figure is more than $1 trillion per year.
Now, I am not here today to tell you that these programs haven’t supported those in need; they certainly have. What I am saying is, these programs have not attacked the root cause challenges that lead to poverty, inequality, and poor educational outcomes throughout our country.
That’s why our work in the Florida Chamber Foundation is so important. Our Florida Equality of Opportunity Initiative is the nation’s first effort dedicated to understanding the specific challenges facing our communities at a zip code and school level, while working with the business, philanthropic, and policy community to align efforts to combat those challenges with thoughtful interventions.
Take for example, the work of the Titusville Prosperity Project. Just this month, our partners launched their project by bringing together local business and community leaders, and literally set the table for conversation and alignment to ensure the community starts taking a thoughtful and united stance to address challenges around childhood poverty, which effects more than 3,000 children across the three zip codes the Titusville Chamber adopted.
Or, how about the $10 million initiative, the Path to Prosperity Scholarship Program, we collectively launched with the Florida Prepaid College Foundation to provide children from our state’s most impoverished zip codes the essential scholarship dollars they need for a higher education. Powered by a lead gift from Florida Blue, which through our partnership was matched dollar for dollar, this program has already provided hundreds of students the opportunity to build their path toward prosperity.
In Leesburg, there is a shining example of how communities and organizations of any size can come together and work toward a cause. The Leesburg Chamber of Commerce, with a staff of two and a community population just over 20,000, rallied their business community behind the value of early education and the work of the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Florida Business Alliance for Early Learning Project. In no time at all, they were able to work with their local businesses to adopt 17 classrooms at local elementary schools, and provide students with resources and incentives to support increased literacy outcomes.
These examples continue to pour into our office every day as the Florida’s business leaders become more enlightened on the challenges facing their communities. Through the Florida Equality of Opportunity Initiative, we want to elicit even more.
I get that this “executive brief” may feel different from the others, because frankly, it is more of a plea. As we work to ensure every child has an equal opportunity at earned success throughout Florida, I implore, join us. I know that every organization on our Board of Trustees, Community Development Partner Council and other Foundation stakeholders have a vested interest in the outcome of our state, and if you are doing great work within your community already, let us know!
Breaking down the barriers blocking one’s path toward prosperity and success is challenging, and we have a long, long way to go. But the good news is, our model is working in pockets throughout Florida. With your help, we can turn these pockets of success, into patterns of excellence.
If you or a member if your team is interested in working with the Florida Chamber Foundation to cut childhood poverty in half, supporting the path toward 100% third grade reading proficiency, or promoting the best Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion practices in the workplace, please email or call me at the contact information below.
I also invite you to join me and your fellow business peers at the upcoming Florida Prosperity & Economic Opportunity Solution Summit and Florida Learners to Earners Workforce Solution Summit to dive deep into the necessary conversations that will secure equal opportunities at earned success for all Floridians.
If your business is focused on the future of Florida, and ensuring every Floridan has an equal opportunity at earned success, connect with me via email at email@example.com, or by phone at 850-521-1218.