October 20, 2014
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RI Foundation wants to ‘make it happen’ at economic forum

It was a sense of urgency coupled with frustration that led Neil Steinberg, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, to develop the idea for “Make it Happen RI,” a forum on Rhode Island’s unemployment and fledgling economy.

“We’ve participated in panels and funded many studies,” said Steinberg. “But we never seem to get to what we should do and how we can make it happen.”

So Steinberg decided to take matters into his own hands, and has invited more than 400 Rhode Islanders to participate in a symposium on Sept. 7 and 8.

Steinberg said those that have been invited represent a cross-section of Rhode Island; people from various sectors that include CEOs, small business owners and academics, but Steinberg said the forum isn’t limited to the traditional “movers and shakers.”

“It’s more transparent,” he said. “It’s not meant to exclude. It’s a public community, it’s not closed-door.”

The forum will include seminars and panels, and will key-in on nine specific topics: attacking unemployment; marketing Rhode Island; support and growth for existing businesses; business environment; closing skills gaps; startups: helping entrepreneurs thrive; quality of place; leveraging/maximizing sites; and high potential/high impact sectors.

Steinberg said attendees can self-select the panels they attend. Steinberg isn’t sure how long it will take before the ideas generated at the conference will make their way to legislators, but he hopes to do it quickly.

“As soon as we can,” he said, though he noted they do have some leeway before the session resumes.

In an email invitation to participants, Steinberg outlined three reasons why those invited should attend. First, he said the “critical mass” of people being brought together will prove effective. Second, the goal of Make it Happen RI is to lay out “multi-faceted” actions to “rekindle” Rhode Island’s economy and jobs market.

Thirdly, “We must be positive, not negative,” he said in an interview yesterday. “We need to look forward, not backwards.”

The invitation reads: “This is not about developing a perfect plan or reaching 100 percent consensus; we want to bring to action new and old ideas.”

Steinberg said if they could have used the Nike slogan “Just Do It,” as the title of their symposium, they would have.

Steinberg believes there needs to be a concerted “commitment to act,” and if everyone convenes, plans and executes, there will be positive change.

“It’s all based around acting and doing,” he said. “It’s not just what to do but how we should do it.”

But why should this forum be different and more effective than others like it?

“Well, nothing else seems to have worked,” said Steinberg.

The RI Foundation is a philanthropic organization that aims to provide positive community contributions through forums, grantmaking, outreach and collaboration. The event is supported by the R.I. Foundation’s Civic Leadership Fund, which was created by the Rhode Island Foundation to support research and community involvement. Steinberg isn’t sure how much Make it Happen RI will cost just yet, but said it won’t be an exorbitant amount, especially since they will be using their own facility. He did say they would be feeding participants and having “all hands on deck” to facilitate, which would comprise the bulk of the costs.

For those who didn’t receive an invite, there is still a way to make a contribution to Make it Happen RI. People are encouraged to submit their ideas by emailing MakeItHappenRI@rifoundation.org. Submissions must include a name and contact information and must be submitted by Aug. 27. Steinberg said the symposium is not meant to exclude anyone; they just have limited space available.

Make It Happen RI will be held at the Rhode Island Foundation on Friday, Sept. 7 from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m., and Saturday, Sept. 8 from 9 a.m. until noon. Those invited must RSVP by Aug. 17.


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