June 2018 Leadership Council Meeting | Recap

On June 21st, Convergence Center for Policy Resolution hosted our spring Leadership Council meeting in Washington D.C. moderated by Rich Korn, chair, Convergence Board of Trustees. The day began with an address from Convergence president Rob Fersh, followed by an expert panel discussing the progress of Building a Better Budget Process project (B3P). Next, the group heard from a panel of stakeholders on the Working Up project with an update on their recommendations to increase economic mobility for lower income Americans. Later in the day participants engaged in an interactive exercise led by the Reentry Ready team that aimed to simulate the often insurmountable challenges of those re-entering society after incarceration. The meeting concluded with productive small group discussions about strategies to grow the Convergence community and continue to build unlikely alliances for progress on some of the most critical national issues.

Watch the event below:

President’s Report
Convergence president Rob Fersh opened the meeting by acknowledging the importance of bridgebuilding work in a time of such political polarization. He emphasized that when America is divided and there is widespread loss of trust in our leaders and core institutions, we need to respond by finding ways to bring people together. This starts with building relationships and trust to help people realize that they are not as different as they might think. People may share the same fundamental goals but disagree on the means to achieving them. Rob noted that how we fight for our beliefs is as important as the beliefs themselves. He concluded with a quote from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that reflects the Convergence mission, “There is only one historically proven way for people to build community across difference. It is when they build things together.” Watch the report.

Building a Better Budget Process Panel
The first panel, moderated by Convergence Board member Stuart Butler of the Brookings Institution and B3P participant, discussed the exciting progress of the Building a Better Budget Process project with Jean Bordewich of the Hewlett Foundation’s Madison Initiative, the project’s primary funder, and Emily Holubowich, a project participant from the Coalition for Health Funding and current consultant to the project. Stuart began by noting that respect for Congress is at an all-time low because Congress does not perform the most basic duties of governing effectively. He acknowledged that this project is not only about reforming the budget process, but also more broadly it is an effort to restore public trust in the operation of government.

The panelists outlined the five elements of their plan for budget process reform. First, Congress and the President should negotiate a two-year Budget Action Plan setting two-year spending levels at the beginning of a new Congress to line up election cycles with the budget cycle. Second, a Fiscal State of the Nation should be published every four years to make the nation’s finances accessible to the American people. Third, Congress should review the performance of long-term portfolios of federal programs to evaluate their health and needs. This would be a sort of ‘stress test’ to ensure program can survive a poor economy or fiscal situation. Fourth, Congress should strengthen the Budget Committees with more powerful membership and new responsibilities. Lastly, there should be investment in agencies such as the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office so that these institutions can continue to provide high-quality and independent reports. Overall, this plan was designed to build public support, create clarity in the process, and increase the incentives for Congress to make decisions.

The panel then discussed the formation this past February of a Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Reform, a bipartisan, bicameral committee set up by Congress to make recommendations on how to fix the budget process. Since the Joint Select Committee was formed, B3P members have been working to educate committee members, as well as other interested Members of Congress, about their proposals, which were also released in February. Watch the panel.

Working Up Panel
The second panel, moderated by director of the Economic Mobility and Poverty project Russell Krumnow, featured Ellie Bertani of Walmart, Judy Conti of the National Employment Law Project, and Romanita Hairston-Overstreet from Microsoft 21st Century Jobs and Murdock Charitable Trust, all stakeholders in the project’s Working Up dialogue. Russell first provided context for the project by saying that unequal access to opportunity is the most pressing domestic challenge facing our country today. This group of stakeholders sought to address the resulting lack of economic mobility and chose to focus on the world of work as the way to frame their proposed solutions. The group concluded their dialogue in December and will issue their final report and announce future plans in the next few weeks.

Each participant was given the opportunity to emphasize a recommendation they found particularly exciting. Judy pointed to the fact that, though the group’s recommendations will leave some details to policy makers, the report will call for a basic standard across the country for paid sick leave/paid time off, which is critical for lower wage workers to access upward mobility. Ellie highlighted the recommendation for employers to provide fixed, predictable work schedules for employees. This is something that Walmart is currently implementing and she hopes that other large corporations will do so soon. Romanita said she was particularly excited about the plan to create career pathways and provide credentialing to match employee skills to employer needs.

There was then a discussion of some of the specific actions being taken by corporate leaders that are based, in part, on work done by the Working Up dialogue stakeholders. For example, McDonald’s is discussing partnering with other businesses so that employees can build skills and gain relevant credentials through tuition assistance and then have the opportunity to transition to a higher paying job at another company. Another example is Walmart’s recent introduction of a new education benefit where employees can pay one dollar a day for access to higher education including a range of options meant to increase upward career mobility. These initiatives highlight the Working Up panel’s closing point: there can be investments made that are both good for workers and good for businesses; it does not have to be a win-lose scenario. Watch the panel.

Reentry Ready Project Update and Exercise
After lunch, director of the Reentry Ready project Stephanie McGencey gave a brief update on the progress of the project. She explained that the 28 stakeholders have broken up into three working groups: education and employability, housing and community connections, and physical and behavioral health. Next, Stephanie ran an exercise to illustrate the challenges formerly incarcerated individuals face when they reenter society. During the debrief after the simulation, it was clear that the participants developed a better understanding of the importance of creating a warm handoff from incarceration back to society as well as the issues being addressed by each of the working groups. Watch the update.

To conclude the day, staff facilitated small group brainstorm sessions about strategies to continue to build and strengthen the Convergence community.

Learn more about Leadership Council meeting and Convergence projects:
Leadership Council Meeting Agenda
Building a Better Budget Process
Reentry Ready
Case for Support