Northside Economic Opportunity Network

Report date
February 2016

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

Meeting with Employment and Training providers and other stakeholders
Our work began by meeting with employment and training (E&T) providers to establish relationships and find out how they could service African American (AA) man in north Minneapolis. We conducted 21 meetings. We learned about the challenges the organizations have experienced placing African American men in jobs as well as with reporting on the outcomes. We learned about what the E&T providers offered and their efforts and progress working with African American men to date. The information obtained from the meetings with stakeholders helped us develop a robust understanding of the indicators and barriers to employment for AA men. We narrowed the list down by selecting the most critical indicators and barriers and they were access to employment/education resources, lack of experience/education, family support, health, criminal background, demographics profile. We also identified areas for opportunities which were, a updated inventory of job available in radius with matching criteria of employee pool.
Partner on completion of broader measurement strategy
During conversations with stakeholders, we learned that the Northside Funders Group, a larger collaborative of funding organizations, was doing similar work impacting employment of AA men in north Minneapolis. We knew that working together, in partnership, we could do better, more efficient work. We began building partnerships with organizations doing similar work like the Northside Funders Group, LISC, and CURA. We’ve been able to share our learnings with these partners, build connections, improve processes and build the momentum for the work supporting employment disparities among AA men compared to their peers of other races and genders.
Shift focus on what we do best
When NEON began this project, we saw an opportunity to measure employment disparities among AA men. There was no singular focus on AA males and employment disparities in north Minneapolis. We believed that through our our ability and willingness to engage the community, we could develop a measurement tool as well as connect the resources to drive change and improve employment inequity for AA men in north Minneapolis.
We’ve reviewed and assessed NEON’s internal capabilities and identified key partnerships to pursue for long-term positive impact in this area. We’re committed to being a part of the north@work program led by the Northside Funders Group. NFG is producing a dashboard as part of the north@work. While we intentionally shifted our work away the measurement dashboard, we kept our focus on the overall opportunity and importance of creating employment opportunities for AA residents of north Minneapolis.
In 2016, NEON will extend its programming to meet the demand for solutions for employment inequity in AA men in north Minneapolis.

Key lessons learned

We knew partnerships were important and critical to this work. We learned valuable information from E&T, stakeholders and partners that we met and collaborated with on this project. Identifying the partners doing similar work in the community was important. It uncovered that there is a deep need for more collaboration and cohesion between the groups in order to increase employment of AA men in north Minneapolis. Each stakeholder group is invested AA employment to a certain extent, however the organizations were not always able to connect or leverage resources, knowledge and skill sets to better serve AA men in north Minneapolis. NEON is even more committed to collaboration and partnership with like organizations to improve outcomes for AA men.
Alignment to strategic priorities
We made progress on this project however we believe additional advancement could’ve been made if the work was aligned to NEON’s overall core strategies and competencies from the beginning. This would’ve allowed us to use our existing business assets, resources and strengths to advance the work in a more efficient manner. Entrepreneurship can be part of the solution to creating employment equity among AA men in north Minneapolis but we also know the equity work is much bigger than NEON’s niche focus. We’re proud to have worked and will continue to work with other organizations that are strategically focused on employment of AA men.

Reflections on the community innovation process

Collaborative: It would’ve been difficult to make much progress on this work without collaboration and partnerships. Key partners include the Northside Funders Group, LISC and CURA. Each organization is doing similar but unique work and we had to first understand what’s being done and then determine what we can and want to do together. If we’d worked in a silo, we could’ve created a measurement tool that was redundant and lacked an appropriate audience to use it. The redundant reporting would’ve further perpetuated the issue of more resources being spent and spread across similar initiatives but garnering little return or impact.

Progress toward an innovation

I believe we made significant progress to implement this innovation through or various partnerships. Though the dashboard is still in development we are a contributor to the final product to be released by the end of 2016. Through this process it has allowed us to be able to understand the needs of our community and further develop our programming and collaboration to better serve our clients. Through this grant we were also able to better align our strengths as the business and entrepreneur development provider in north Minneapolis. Also, we better understand the measurements of what are barriers to achieving stable employment creation of wealth for African American men in north Minneapolis positioning the organization to be a stronger resource for the greater movement to address the barriers.

What it will take to reach an innovation?

Though we are very close to that breakthrough of innovation we have learned quite a bit through this process.
1. There is a direct need to further collaborate with education and training (E&T) organizations within our community to gather and share information and deliver outcomes. This will allow greater transparency as well as synergy of programming that’s available to AA men in north Minneapolis.
2. There are great partners in Northside Funders Group, LISC and CURA to collaborate with to improve outcomes. The organizations compile employment measurements and develop and implement the strategies to solve the problem of AA male employment in north Minneapolis.

What's next?

The next steps for the dashboard is to be further refine through the Northside Funders Group collaborative in which we are a member of the steering committee. Through this process we’ve developed and began to implement a strategy regarding business incubation. In Jan of 2016 NEON launched the Business Incubator a program that will provide targeted resources and services to entrepreneurs with businesses who have potential to grow and create job opportunities for unemployed and underemployed north Minneapolis residents. The new and/or growing businesses will become assets and open up accessibility to goods and services in the community. We look to expand this program with partnership with Appetite For Change in 2016 into 2017 to have a focus on food entrepreneurs and businesses.

If you could do it all over again...

Develop partnerships well in advance. This grant was awarded before I began as executive director of NEON in Sept. 2015. A newer priority for NEON is to collaborate with other organizations to create a common thread between our programs and divide up shared work, where appropriate. The employment dashboard is a good example of the type of work that like organizations should come together to work on and deliver. If I started the project again, I would start to build the partnerships earlier and make the employment dashboard a shared deliverable that could serve many purposes for all of our respective organizations.