We sat down with Armeather Gibbs, director the Rhode Island Working Cities Challenge, a Boston Federal Reserve Bank initiative that aims to improve the lives of low-income residents by encouraging cross-sector collaboration focused on changing systems.
In September 2015, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston announced that the next Working Cities Challenge (WCC) competition would take place in Rhode Island. The first two rounds are already underway in medium-size, post-industrial cities in Massachusetts and this expansion is an exciting step toward more deeply understanding what it will take to scale the program. Living Cities participates in WCC as a funder and strategic partner. We believe WCC is a promising way to incentivize and support cross-sector partnerships that are focused on getting better results for low-income people, faster. The Rhode Island Working Cities Challenge will formally launch in early March. It will be spearheaded by Armeather Gibbs, a life-long Rhode Island resident who was recently hired by the Boston Federal Reserve precisely to lead this work. Armeather is a dedicated and energetic leader and has shared some of her vision for the work ahead in her responses to the five questions we asked her:
1. What three words do you think best describe you?
Passionate, reliable and fun!
2. What brought you to the Working Cities Challenge?
As a native of Providence, RI, almost my entire career has been devoted to all things “community,” especially as related to economic empowerment on behalf of or with low-income communities that do not always have a voice in determining economic development outcomes. I was excited to learn about the Working Cities Challenge coming to RI. It is an incredible opportunity to help lead a new Federal Reserve Bank of Boston initiative that focuses on collaborations, partnerships and improving economic development efforts in low/moderate income cities in RI. I’m particularly passionate about the focus on including and inviting resident participation in the challenge.
3. What experiences from your prior work do you hope to bring to the Working Cities Challenge?
I have previously worked in community development on the state level: I was Director of Community Relations for a former RI Governor; I chaired a state-level, community college commission devoted to workforce development. I was also the former chair of a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that was capitalized by local banks in RI. My early years in financial services were in community banking and bringing banking services back to low- and moderate-income communities. I spent seven years as Chief Operating Officer of the United Way of RI, focusing on helping children and families most in need. I bring all of this experience, and lessons from my past work to the Working Cities Challenge. I am well known and respected by the private, non-profit and corporate community in RI and I feel confident that my relationships in RI will be helpful to a successful Working Cities Challenge. Most recently, I spent two-years helping to implement a Governor’s Executive Order on Diversity that included helping to develop a new state-level Office of Diversity, Equity and Opportunity that includes minority business development, diversity and inclusion and equal employment. Each position or opportunity that I have had prior to joining the Federal Reserve has prepared for helping to lead the implementation of the Working Cities Challenge in RI.
4. What most inspires you and motivates you about working with small Rhode Island cities?
As the smallest state in the country, RI has about 1.06 million residents. Approximately 630,000 of those RI residents reside within the thirteen Working Cities Challenge cities. These cities have considerable low- and moderate-income communities that struggle with all levels of economic development including insufficient employment, lower quality education, high unemployment, and high levels of incarceration. In addition, many of these residents have limited abilities and opportunities to improve their individual surroundings and, therefore, help to improve RI. The Working Cities Challenge presents an opportunity for our low- and moderate-income RI cities, towns, communities and residents to be involved in economic development in a way that they have not had the opportunity to do before. Through WCC, cities and their residents can help decide what makes the best sense for their communities and build on short, mid and long-term goals that will change these communities for the better. A new, more collaborative and inclusive way of planning economic strategy, I think, will begin to change how we think and work together. It will help us better recognize that we have to “connect the dots” and do what makes the best sense for most residents–not just a few–when it comes to economic development.
5. What do you hope to see cities achieve through their WCC work?
Through the Working Cities Challenge, RI and its cities have incredible potential to be known as/become a small state that thinks big. First and foremost, WCC presents an opportunity to engage residents, corporate partners, non-profits, community leaders and people from all levels in helping to decide the economic future of RI’s poorest communities.
I am optimistic that RI cities and their residents will learn a new and different way to come together, collaborate and partner together toward more common economic goals that are beneficial for as many residents as possible.
In five to ten years, or maybe sooner, I hope we will be able to look back and see how the Working Cities Challenge was a catalyst for inclusion, effective and measurable results, key partnerships and the opportunity to make economic development something that residents understand and want to be a part of.