About a year ago this month, a small group of local city leaders had a conversation about the future of our region. They talked about the New Economy and the barriers to that kind of growth in Metro Detroit. They agreed on the need for better cooperation to address these challenges, and resolved to launch a new regional effort to improve the status quo.
And then someone had a thought. "What about the Millennials? Their preferences drive New Economy growth."
Heads around the room began nodding in agreement. "They seem eager to make an impact," responded one leader. "And they are our next generation of leaders," said another. "They need to be at the table."
And with that, this visionary group of leaders pioneered an intergenerational approach to regional cooperation, a project that would later be named the Millennial Mayors Congress.
Of course, I’m paraphrasing and oversimplifying. One year ago, I had no idea this conversation was taking place. I was living in Rajasthan, India, learning from women village leaders about their panchayat raj, or village governing system. During the long trips between villages, I contemplated where I might go once I completed my work in Rajasthan – Nepal, Thailand, maybe China? Or, I thought, I could go back to the U.S. and find a job in New York or D.C., somewhere new and exciting, something different than what I knew and grew up with in southeast Michigan.
As it turned out, Detroit was my land of opportunity. The Millennial Mayors Congress needed a point-person, someone who could understand both Millennials and local government with a willingness to work long hours for nonprofit wages. That’s me. I am now helping a growing network of mayors and rising leaders organize the launch of this partnership.
For someone who wanted something new and different, it is a perfect fit. The Millennial Mayors Congress is a unique approach to regional cooperation—one that is inherently collaborative and forward-looking. Each participating community will send a 2-person delegation to serve on the Congress, their mayor (or chief executive—i.e. the supervisor, in the case of a township, or the president, in the case of a village) and a resident young person (aged roughly 18-34). These leaders will together tackle a regional issue that impedes our ability to attract new economy investment and, over the course of several months to a year, develop actionable goals to address it. They will adopt these measures by consensus and action plans to meet adopted goals will be designed and executed at the local level. Think Kyoto Protocol adapted for a metropolitan area.
Delegates to the Millennial Mayors Congress won’t work in a vacuum; there’s room for pretty expansive participation from anyone who wants to make this region stronger. Existing research and data will guide the Congress’ decision-making, and technical experts and thought leaders from across Metro Detroit will wrangle with the details of metrics on task forces and advisory committees.
Additionally, young representatives will have the support of a network of their peers, whom they will be responsible for engaging, both online and on-the-ground. The driving motivation behind it all? Our belief that engaging the next generation of leaders is essential to the future of this region.
Metro Detroit desperately needs transformational outcomes: a system to address greater-than-local concerns; innovative, intergenerational leadership; an enhanced capacity for cooperation. In short, governance that enables 21st century economic growth. Michigan’s next economy must recognize the importance of concentrating talent, and what better way to institutionalize that than by bringing those voices to the table and giving them a clear stake in their own future?
I know I’m leaving unanswered questions on the table, but I’ll be back tomorrow for a deeper dig. In the meantime, read up on the Millennial Mayors Congress at www.suburbsalliance.org. Think about regional governance, new economy talent, sense of place and the kind of leadership that it takes to transform a rust belt economy into a robust icon of the new millennium.