I had the privilege of being one of hundreds of leaders from more than 250 entities—representing government, education, private industry and community-based organizations—that took part in the second White House Community Partnership Summit at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia last Friday.
With 12 planned across the country, these summits connect administration officials and federal agency staff from diverse policy areas with community participants to discuss issues critical to each particular region and the nation.
Most conference agendas are created weeks, if not months, in advance and usually allow for only a handful of topics to be covered. Summit organizers took a more unique approach by allowing the agenda to be created in real time by summit attendees, using the open space process.
This process afforded every attendee the opportunity to create their own breakout sessions that focused on pressing, current issues facing their organizations and communities. In the span of four hours, community leaders proposed and participated in more than 50 different sessions on topics including college and career readiness, programs for women veterans, fair housing, immigrant integration, discrimination in hiring, greening schools and the Affordable Care Act.
Representatives from many federal agencies used their organizational and personal knowledge to contribute tremendously to breakout sessions. I was part of a team from the Department of Labor that participated in more than 20 sessions that helped connect the community with our various worker programs and protection agencies. For example:
- The Federal Program Officer from Region 2’s Employment and Training Administration took part in a breakout session on Comprehensive Training and Employment Services for Ex-Offenders to discuss the department re-integration programs and grants;
- Representatives from our Wage and Hour Division’s Northeast Region and Philadelphia District Offices participated in sessions about Keeping What You Earn to talk about workers’ rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act;
- In a session about Immigrant Worker’s Rights, staff from our regional and district Occupational Safety and Health Administration offices discussed the agency’s prolific work in reaching out to traditionally- exploited immigrant communities and received great feedback from community members on how to expand those efforts to even more communities where worker safety is a continuous concern. In this session, staff from both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and WHD connected with a nurse practitioner who served farm workers and plan to work with her to identify injury and illness trends in the industry she serves every day;
- Staff from our regional Veterans Employment and Training Services and other DOL employees involved in contracting and hiring took part in a session about How to Help Veterans in the Use of Educational Programs for a Successful Transition.
It is this ability to directly respond to local needs that made this summit so powerful. Successfully connecting college students, housing and education advocates, non-profits, small businesses, union members, local elected officials, faith leaders, chambers of commerce and retiree groups with each other and appropriate federal staff in one day is both a testament to the dedication of this administration to reach outside of Washington for ideas and answers, and the passion that front line federal employees have for fulfilling their respective agencies’ missions to help create an America Built to Last.
Robert Asaro-Angelo is the Northeast Regional Representative for Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis.