Durham’s residents are its greatest resources. But when members of our community fail to complete their educations for whatever reason – effectively disconnecting themselves from good jobs and productive lives – our entire city is negatively affected. That’s why I was pleased when IBM selected Durham to receive the first Smarter Cities Challenge grant for 2012. Our challenge: to reach and redirect 4,500 to 6,000 of the city’s disconnected youth from isolation and poverty to hope, achievement, and full participation in our community and in the economy.
Last February, community leaders from government, education, nonprofits and business united to welcome the IBM team of experts that embedded itself in our city to learn about our challenges, our resources, and our successes related to youth. Not only did the Smarter Cities team connect with community leaders, they also connected with young people who articulated their daily struggles and conveyed their perceptions of what they need to reach their goals.
The discovery phase was truly a three-way partnership among community leaders, youth and IBM – resulting in recommendations that the entire community could embrace:
- Creating a common vision among the city’s 1,500 youth-focused groups;
- Developing a service delivery model to address the challenges of a young person’s journey from early childhood to postsecondary education, work and career;
- Creating a Youth Service Care System – including a youth services portal and delivery system – centered on each individual’s journey, and meeting his or her evolving needs;
- Identifying accountable leaders to champion, own and drive efforts to connect youth to education, work and career opportunities;
- Creating an overarching governance body and representative councils, and defining their respective roles and responsibilities in the achievement of results;
- Initiating a fact-based, end-to-end approach to applying data and predictive analytics to track progress, gain insights, and drive results.
No single organization can tackle the problem of disconnected youth. The scale and complexity of the challenge required collective action, and the Smarter Cities Challenge recommendations have provided a framework that stakeholders can use to lead Durham to long-term success. After a recent meeting with community leaders about the next steps for the project, we agreed that we were positioned to follow the IBM roadmap. Some organizations already had data-collection capabilities and maps of current service providers.
The next steps will involve determining how to put the roadmap’s measures into action. For example, how will youth, parents, educators and service providers collaborate to collect and make use of vital information about a young person’s progress? How can community leaders make the best use of existing structures and resources to serve these constituents?
In typical Durham fashion, we’ll start by soliciting public input. The city has created the Durham Youth Succeeding Facebook page to invite comments and suggestions on what our community should do to improve the education, well-being and job-readiness of our youth. We are seeking input on the following questions:
- What should Durham’s vision for youth be?
- What is the best way to coordinate Durham’s youth services?
- What attributes and experiences should potential leaders have to help youth succeed in school, employment, and life?
All of us are familiar with the saying, “It takes a village.” We are true believers in Durham, where community involvement and input – combined with talent, technology, and leadership – are always welcomed. With the Smarter Cities Challenge roadmap, I believe we are now ready to create a new standard of care for a segment of our community whose future depends on us. Addressing their challenges is critical because, quite frankly, Durham’s economic future also depends on them.
The Honorable William V. “Bill” Bell was elected Mayor of Durham, North Carolina in 2001. Prior to serving as Mayor, Mr. Bell served as an elected Durham County Commissioner for 26 years, and as Chairman of the Durham Board of County Commissioners for 12 years. A retired IBM Senior Engineer, Mayor Bell has sought to maximize Durham’s economy, education and other resources, believing that government best serves citizens by partnering with them and the private sector.