By Joseph Freddoso
About 30 percent of North Carolina’s 9th graders won’t finish high school with their class.
In the last two decades, the state’s economy has undergone fundamental changes moving from a manufacturing/agrarian base to a knowledge base. This has led to mass layoffs and underemployment.
A slow erosion of the thriving middle class that truly makes or breaks an economic ecosystem has occurred. Gaps between rich and poor have widened.
This isn’t breaking news. Service nonprofits throughout our state and region deal with the consequences of these issues every day: The consequences are poverty, chronic ill health, teen pregnancy, homelessness, addiction, incarceration and violent crime.
The state and region aren’t unique and these issues are not anomaly confined to this generation. These issues are present everywhere to varying degrees across the globe and are long standing.
However, due to the seamless flow of data and information and the great pockets of wealth in our economy, this may be the first generation that can address these issues.
In the Triangle and in North Carolina, we tend to look at these issues from a disconnected perspective and try to solve them one by one not realizing their interconnectedness.
There is some wonderful work being done to address specific issues, but how do we delineate and attack root causes?
How do we build more literacy in third grade to avoid building more prisons?
How do we connect silos of service to provide an at-risk child and her impoverished family the full menu of support they need to deal with the many issues they face?
I don’t know the answer and, as I leave the Triangle region and the state after 8˝ wonderful years, I wish I did.
I do know that you have the leadership in this region to find the root causes and attack them.
A lot of analysis has already taken place. Leadership, however, only carries this analysis so far.
I encourage those doing the tough work — the daily grind of service to the impoverished, unemployed, seriously ill, hungry, victims, homeless, addicted and incarcerated — to partner with visionary leaders to create multi-year vision for economic and social prosperity for all in the region and state.
Specific policies, actions and deliverables for which we hold each other accountable need to be identified and acted upon.
This goes beyond a Rural Prosperity Task Force or a Blue Ribbon Commission on the Future of Wake County: It is a true ongoing critical analysis of the challenges, the causes, the demographics and the trends — an ongoing forum that is supported by the governments and leaders of the region and the state and led by a small cross section of citizens who credibly represent the demographics, ethnicities, interests, income and education levels of our state and region who are outside the bounds of political influence.
Once the agenda is created, the courage to advocate for this agenda must be present in the business leaders throughout the state.
These same leaders often place personal and corporate interest far above that of community health when the “real critical” decisions, like a living wage for all, are made.
It’s not just writing big checks and getting nice pictures on the evening news or the local newspaper when you help this silo of service or that.
It’s speaking with loud voices to attack root causes even when a personal interest may be hurt in the short term.
That is true ethical and responsible business leadership.
Joseph Freddoso, director of site operations for Cisco Systems in Research Triangle Park, N.C., has been named senior director of employee commitment and communications at the company’s headquarters in San Jose, Calif.