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When Opportunity Knocks …

February 24, 2011

It’s not only the creative class that has talent to spare.   

Which is why local Memphians from FedEx, Duncan Williams, and the Women’s Foundation for Greater Memphis spent more than two days last week with national talent experts to try and answer one question: “How can we develop all of our talent and put all of our talent to work?”

The question was the overarching theme of CEOs for Cities’ Opportunity Challenge, a 2.5-day conference hosted by the City of Memphis and designed to help create a city where all citizens lead fulfilling, successful lives.

“Why Memphis?” asked facilitator Charlie Cannon. “Memphis has a great history of talent cultivation and business innovation.”

The results largely fell into two areas: one that conference attendees called “the learning city,” a place where everyone is engaged in learning all the time, and one called “the venture city,” in which the culture encourages people to try new things and take risks, especially in relation to business and innovation.

Conference attendees called for the need for an e-portfolio, which would assess knowledge learned from real-life experience, and a focus on linking education with paid internships among 16-24-year-olds. The Memphis Talent Dividend project, which aims to raise college attainment by 1 percent, was also cited.  

Connectivity and density – especially in relation to the proximity of ideas – was also deemed important.

“Used to be, when mayors got together to talk, money was the currency of progress. The number of lanes added to an expressway was the currency of progress. The height of a new building was the currency of progress,” said Memphis Mayor A C Wharton. “What you’re doing is bringing a new value to those discussions. It’s not in miles, tonnage, or feet. It’s in people.”

“It’s not enough to talk about lifelong learning,” he said. “We need to talk about lifewide learning.”

In addition to producing “big ideas” and quick-start strategies for cities such as Memphis, results of the Opportunity Challenge will be reported nationally as part of a book underwritten by The Rockefeller Foundation.

CEOs for Cities’ US Initiative strives to reimagine the future of urban life in America with challenges based around livability, community, connectivity, and opportunity.

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