Making Inclusive Growth a Reality in St Louis

By Sarah CowartJan. 27, 2021

St. Louis is still a segregated region. Not only by where people live—the result, no doubt, of systemic racism—but also where investments are made and opportunities are accessible. Our city has seen extraordinary growth and development over the past few years and yet, the benefits are not equitably distributed or represented throughout the region. As St. Louis grows, we have a responsibility to identify where and why these gaps exist and to work together for more inclusive growth opportunities. 

This unequal distribution of opportunity was a catalyst for the six-part Inclusive Growth event series created as a partnership between the Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis and Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. The design and content of each event, as well as featured speakers, are decisions made by a local community advisory committee—the true brains behind each event.

From the start, the advisory committee recognized that inclusive growth in St. Louis is hindered by a lack of coordinated collaboration. New organizations and initiatives often pop up in an effort to solve a problem without consulting or partnering with others in the community, such as individual residents and grassroots organizers. This depletes resources and minimizes impact. The group aimed to not only raise awareness of the challenges facing St. Louis, but to also promote action. It is with these goals in mind that the committee developed a theory of change with both short- and long-term goals that specifically involve community collaboration and moves toward inclusive growth. 

Though there are many strategies to build a more inclusive economy and community, the advisory committee identified the following topics as the areas with the greatest potential impact for inclusive growth to serve as our event focus areas:

  • Household financial security—The racial, gender and generational wealth gap continues to widen as a result of historic policies and current practices. There is a need for more equitable and inclusive access to safe, affordable wealth-building opportunities. 
  • Education, training and technology—Women and people of color are underrepresented in high-quality jobs such as those in technology, one of the fastest-growing industries in St. Louis. Employer investment in the development of a talent pipeline early and often, especially in low-income areas and in collaboration with training programs, can provide more access to these opportunities. 
  • Neighborhood investments—In addition to inequitable housing valuations and loan distributions, some neighborhoods in St. Louis do not receive the same investment and development as others. Strategies for community-driven, place-based investments, including loans for small and minority-owned businesses, need to be prioritized.
  • Leadership—People making decisions in St. Louis often do not look like or have the lived experiences of the people they serve. Amplifying diverse voices and perspectives by building meaningful relationships with, and extending social capital to, women and people of color can create a more equitable balance of power and leadership for the region.

The advisory committee has identified these four areas as important components to create a more inclusive community, however, we will only see improved outcomes for St. Louis if these areas are addressed in concert. The event series amplifies voices of individuals working towards change in these spaces, generates cross-sector dialogue, and identifies where and how policy change can make a difference.

We all have a responsibility to actively combat policies and practices that have created a physical, social and economic divide in St. Louis. Individually, change starts with personal education and understanding of how St. Louis got to this point—the inclusive growth event series is a great place to start. As a broader community or institution, change starts with intentional listening to voices often unheard, relationship building with those outside of your network, and collaborating with community partners.  

With a vision for equity and inclusion from the start, development and growth are incredible assets to our economy. Growth and development, when done in partnership with the community, are important strategies to address the economic and social gaps that plague our region. We all have the power and influence to make an inclusive economy and community a reality.   

About the author

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Sarah Cowart

Communications Manager, Social Policy Institute, Washington University in St. Louis
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Sarah is the communications manager for the Social Policy Institute (SPI). In her role, Sarah tells stories and disseminates research that lead to social change, more equitable policies and stronger communities. Prior to joining SPI, Sarah led communications and marketing for a community foundation in Indianapolis where she applied communications strategies, evidence-based research and resident engagement to generate community support that dismantles systemic racism and empowers people. Sarah earned her bachelor’s degree in public relations from Missouri State University and is happy to be back in St. Louis where she was born and raised.