Making Government Work

Improving America, One Conversation at a Time

April 21, 2015
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Improving America, One Conversation at a Time
Through the Solutions City Initiative, mayors meet up with citizens at their local Starbucks. U.S. Conference of Mayors
Starbucks and the U.S. Conference of Mayors are using coffee talk to get things done.

Is it possible to solve some of our greatest national challenges while chatting over a cup of coffee? The U.S. Conference of Mayors and Starbucks think so.

When the Solutions City Initiative was announced at the 82nd Annual Meeting of the Conference of Mayors in June 2014, the idea was that these conversations between mayors and their constituents would focus on supporting veterans, providing access to education and empowering America’s youth. But all five participating cities (Baltimore; Columbus, Ohio; Orlando, Fla; Phoenix, and Sacramento, Calif.) have focused on the fact that more than 6 million young people ages 16 to 24 are neither in school nor employed (a group that has been identified as “opportunity youth”). That’s because, when it comes to these cities and some of the issues their chief executives grapple with, “disengaged young people is at the top of their list,” Blair Taylor, chief community officer at Starbucks, tells NationSwell.

According to Taylor, Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento, Calif., and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors played a key role in making this partnership happen. “I believe strongly in the power of public-private partnerships,” Johnson says in an email to NationSwell. “The best opportunities allow us to leverage private sector resources to address community challenges. The Solutions City Initiative does just that, by utilizing Starbucks’ corporate citizenship best practices and Community Store model and combining it with the power to convene held by the Office of the Mayor.”

With just a couple months left before the 83rd annual Conference of Mayors in June 2015, NationSwell checked in on the program’s progress. Here’s how several of the cities are faring.

Baltimore
At a Starbucks in Southside Marketplace, a young man named Rashaud Dubose explained how his participation in the Hire One Youth initiative, which connects unemployed youth from disadvantaged backgrounds with work experience in the private sector, led to full time employment as a customer service sales representative at Wells Fargo.

Gathered around him, among the scent of coffee grounds and the sound of steaming milk, were Alan Fink, owner of ABC Box Company, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee Donald C. Fry, and the mayor of Baltimore herself.

“We’ve heard young people share how they didn’t even know about a particular career path,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who moderated the city’s first hall discussion last October. “So many young people are limited by what they see in their home and their neighborhoods. These types of workplace opportunities are such a great way to open people’s eyes to that experience and help these young men and women find their full potential.”

After the first event, which targeted private sector employers, the city planned separate events geared toward nonprofits and foundations, and its upcoming town hall in June will focus on training. ”There are some ideas coming out of the town halls that we’re thinking about implementing,” says MacKenzie Garvin of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Neighborhood Development.

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Columbus, Ohio
Through five town halls and one strategic planning session, stakeholders across sectors came together over fresh brews, bringing fresh ideas on how to bridge the gap between out-of-work youth and businesses in need of employees. (There are more than 20,000 opportunity youth in Franklin County, where Columbus is located, alone.) “Through our meetings, we’ve been able to discover the challenges that these groups face in addressing opportunity youth and also the challenges that the youth themselves face,” says mayor Michael B. Coleman, emphasizing the importance of young people joining the conversation.

Through the Solutions City Initiative, Coleman says that many organizations and community partners learned about each other and can now work together “to help expand and elevate their work.” Coleman and his team will now transition from a convening role to a planning role, figuring out next steps to meet the needs of opportunity youth in the city.

Orlando, Fla.
While it was announced as one of the five Solutions City partners, Orlando has yet to hold any conversations with the community. “When we were approached to be part of this exciting initiative, we explained that we had several town halls for new initiatives under way and wanted to wait to get those completed until we embarked on the Starbucks project,” Kathy DeVault, director of strategic partnerships in the Office of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, tells NationSwell via email.

The city however, says that it plans to return to the opportunity next month. “We have had several discussions with Starbucks about our desire to convene town halls that will address opportunities for youth, with a focus on the potential for bringing more STEM programming into our After-School All-Stars program which serves some of Orlando’s most at-risk middle school students,” DeVault says.

 

While the full impact of the Solutions City Initiative cannot be known until more of its ideas are implemented, the program is undoubtedly good press for the convening power of the coffee giant. As Taylor admits, Starbucks is in business at the end of the day, and the initiative is part of their bottom line. As the company looks toward the future, they want to have a pipeline of prospective employees and connections with communities that could be home to future locations.

Who knew there is that much opportunity in a cup of coffee?
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(Homepage photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

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