"Mankind Was My Business"

At this time of year, renditions of A Christmas Carol play on repeat, reminding the world that business should be about more than Scrooge’s profit or bottom line. Dickens, a social reformer, certainly was not opposed to making a profit, but he set out to remind Victorian England that business should be about filling or meeting the need of client, customer, employee, consumer, and the communities in which we live, not just about one’s own gain. As famously taught by the ghost of Jacob Marley, all of mankind should be our business.

Interestingly enough, recent research exemplifies his motto. Two reports, one by the Brookings Institute and another by the Urban Institute, argue economic growth is good for inclusion, and inclusion is good for growth. Ultimately, when cities design economic growth to affect all citizens, these cities become more prosperous overall.

“The Inclusive Recovery in US Cities” report shows how economic shifts and inclusion have corresponded in growing cities since the 1980s. The report defines inclusion as “the ability of low-income residents and people of color to benefit from and contribute to the city’s economic gains.” To show correlation, researchers measured economic health during a certain time period and then compared it to a series of factors that indicate a sense of well-being for low-income residents. It turns out that those cities ranking well on inclusion were also flourishing economically. However, a city also could be doing well, economically-speaking, but the community may still be economically and racially divided (which comes with lots of bad outcomes for the poor in the community).

So, what was the difference? When cities were both growing economically and inclusively, those cities had spent time thinking and planning for inclusion as part of the economic development strategy. As an example, a city might draft new education policies with inclusion and equity in mind. For example, the report states,

Though state and federal policies can set many of the educational standards that local areas follow, cities have strategies and policy levers that they can pull to help reinvest and level the playing field… creative solutions, like public-private partnerships, can generate funds to provide services to the benefit of disadvantaged students in schools that lack generous funding streams.”

In fact, the report has an entire section dedicated to the ways fiscal and economic policy also connect with education and housing policy.

At Environmentalists for Effective Education, this idea is our driving force. We believe that education policy should not be siloed to classroom conversations only. It is a part of a bigger city and neighborhood-wide conversation where economics and inclusion are two sides of the same coin. What does the report say cities look like without thinking this way? “...excessive commute times, food deserts, and poor schools are common.” We want to build communities that consider everyone living there. This holiday season, consider your neighborhood and your community. How can you make the business of your city “the business of all mankind?” Maybe you should consider this approach.