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Including More Voices in the Digital Economy

#Cities4Growth: A National Listening Tour

By Sonal Shah, Executive Director of the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation

The emerging digital economy is changing the way we live, work, communicate, and collaborate.  Energized by evolving business models like Uber and Etsy, and powered by increasingly sophisticated mobile technologies, the digital economy is transforming everything from our morning commute to our daily banking capabilities. While this new economy holds unprecedented potential to improve the lives of marginalized communities across the globe, there is an equally formidable challenge to include the voices of these marginalized citizens in policy discussions aimed at defining our new digital world.

To address these significant challenges and opportunities, the Beeck Center has partnered with the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth on a four-city national listening tour centered around how we can engage more voices in building the digital economy. The Beeck Center will convene cross-sectoral leaders in New York City, Atlanta, Oakland, and Washington, D.C. to explore and compare how each of these cities are uniquely experiencing the challenges and opportunities connected to this important question.

On October 17th, we kicked off the tour in New York City at the Rockefeller Foundation. Here we highlighted the role of a series of impact-oriented leaders who are creating and supporting viable solutions to accelerate economic opportunity and promote sustainable growth in New York’s growing digital economy. A highly interactive program, the event included a series of keynotes and panels consisting of distinguished experts drawn from a variety of sectors – public, private, philanthropy, non-profits, and academia. Throughout the event, these experts engaged in a moderated, in-depth discussion on the implications of inclusive growth for policy, business, and civic engagement.

Vast in scope and experience, our speakers included Andrew McAfee, the Co-Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy;  Matthew Klein, the Executive Director of the Center for Economic Opportunity with the City of New York; Amen Mashariki, Chief Analytics Officer for the City of New York’s Office of Data Analytics; Cheryl Dorsey, the President of Echoing Green; Leah Gilliam, Vice President of Girls Who Code; Sara Horowitz, Founder and Executive Director of the Freelancers Union; Steven Lee, Managing Director of the Robin Hood Foundation; Shamina Singh, President of MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth; and our Executive Director, Sonal Shah.

In this first event, the conversation centered around the implications of an expanding digital economy and how the outcomes of these advancements can positively impact those at the “bottom.” Panelists posited that, as the world becomes increasingly digital, we are compounding a structural exclusion that essentially imposes a “digital poverty tax.” Questions from the audience further pressed this issue, raising powerful points such as, How should we think about the future in a digital economy from the lens of democracy, not just commerce? And, Who are we within this new realm, solely consumers or citizens, too? As members of a shared society, we have both a desire and a responsibility to continue to advance this digital economy but in ways that will create gains for society as a whole.

As we move into our next convening in Atlanta on November 16th in partnership with the Center for Civic Innovation, we encourage you to join the discussion. Share your thoughts and follow the conversation using the hashtag #Cities4Growth, and help us identify solutions for how we can build a more equitable and inclusive digital economy.

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