Inspirational and aspirational is how I would describe Building a More Inclusive Workforce: A National Summit to Boost Education and Employment Outcomes for People with Disabilities, held last Friday in Wilmington, Del.
Collaborating with the U.S. Business Leadership Network and Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, 2013 chair of the National Governors Association (NGA), the Council cohosted this unprecedented gathering to solicit promising employment practices and lessons on public-private partnerships from the corporate and foundation attendees. This information will be part of Gov. Markell’s policy “blueprint” that he will provide to his NGA colleagues to help increase equity in employment of individuals with disabilities. The governor’s signature initiative this past year has been devoted to raising awareness about the employment challenges people with disabilities are facing coming out of the recession, as well as what states can do as employers, service delivery stewards, and economic development leaders to increase employment opportunities for these citizens.
While labor force participation is gradually increasing for those whose jobs disappeared during the Great Recession, this is not the case for people with disabilities. The steep decline in employment of people with disabilities—one million lost their jobs during the recession—is showing little sign of improvement.
It was truly impressive to witness the serious commitments and understanding of the issues by special guests such as PBS News Hour host Judy Woodruff; Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate HELP Committee; and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), chair of the House Republican Conference. It was evident in the networking time and small table discussions that there was some personal takeaway for almost everyone who attended, whether it related to wounded warriors and veterans, youth transitioning from school, ways to support businesses, or leveraging philanthropic resources with public resources.
A number of “audacious” ideas that could accelerate leveraging of resources across the philanthropic, public, and corporate sectors were shared with Sen. Harkin and Gov. Markell. Terry Mazany, president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, and Elaine Katz, vice president of grant programs and special initiatives at the Kessler Foundation, were eloquent as they spoke about the important role that foundations can, and should, play with businesses and government in ensuring that public-private partnerships achieve real impact.
Forty-six foundations participated in the event, which was sponsored by The Chicago Community Trust, the Spencer Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Kessler Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne, Manpower, HP, and Walmart.
The big takeaway for me? If businesses and state governments are learning that people with disabilities are an untapped resource, the philanthropic sector has some interesting lessons to learn and partners with whom to engage as they explore the actions needed to address the nation’s growing diversity, equity, and inclusion issues in their communities and their organizations.
Stephanie Powers is managing director, public policy at the Council on Foundations