Trust makes so much possible. When we have trust, we can take risks. We can innovate. We can upend the status quo — which is exactly what we must do in order to transform systems of opportunity and put more young people on the path to economic mobility. But when trust is lost — as it often is in challenging times — how can we reestablish it?
That question is at the forefront for me as I prepare for one of the most exciting trips of my career. Next week, I fly to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. This year’s gathering is centered on the theme of Rebuilding Trust, and I’ll be there representing StriveTogether and the Cradle to Career Network. We’ve been named one of the world’s most inspiring social innovators as a finalist for the Schwab Foundation’s 2024 Social Innovation Awards. Our fellow finalists come from 18 different countries. Together, we’re impacting 80 million lives around the world — and none of this work would be possible without trust.
The 54th Annual Gathering of the World Economic Forum will provide a “crucial space to focus on the fundamental principles of driving trust, including transparency, consistency and accountability.” Transparency, consistency and accountability are core to the work of StriveTogether and the communities we support across the Cradle to Career Network.
Cradle to Career Network members join leaders from across communities — from education, business, health care, housing, philanthropy and more — who hold collective accountability for putting more young people on a path to economic mobility. They ensure consistency in the work through sustained collaboration and communication, and they bring transparency to making decisions and measuring progress through effective data use.
Over the past decade-plus, I’ve learned valuable insights from Cradle to Career Network members about building the trust that makes this work possible with transparency, consistency and accountability. Here are a few of those stories that I’ll be taking with me next week.
Use data to create transparency.
Communities with strong civic infrastructure use data to guide decisions and build consensus. Through effective data use, strategies are grounded in evidence, not personal interests. Plans are designed to center what works for kids and families. Trust is built when data is shared so that all partners are on the same page and can measure progress.
In Ohio, Learn to Earn Dayton gained trust through effective data use in their work to improve college attendance and graduation rates for Black and Latine high school students. The team shared data and hosted listening sessions to explore strategies for closing opportunity gaps. Three postsecondary partners instituted policy changes as a result that are helping lower the financial and administrative barriers to postsecondary education.
Create consistency through communication and structure.
Patterns create trust, and communication and structure are two key ingredients to those patterns. Open, consistent communication assures partners that their voices are heard — and this includes having uncomfortable conversations.
One community that established trust through tough conversation is Kenosha, Wisconsin, with the support of Building Our Future. In August 2020, Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot and paralyzed by a police officer in Kenosha. Building Our Future was already tackling racial inequities in the county. They had established the trust needed to help the community unify and heal through a series of candid conversations between the community, public officials and partners. These conversations fostered dialogue and action.
These conversations also enabled another critical component of trust-building: a space for connection. Creating structures — whether they’re formal or informal — keeps work on track. In California, Cradle to Career Fresno County built a new structure to bridge the digital divide and connect more students to online learning. The challenge affected the whole community, but no single solution emerged, so the network member created the Fresno Coalition for Digital Inclusion. This collaborative brought together 29 government, education and community-based organizations to organize efforts, leading to expanded internet coverage for 10,000 students.
Build trust through accountability to a common vision.
Finally, trust is built when everyone knows they’re working toward the same vision — and that everyone is held collectively accountable. Establish shared goals early in the work and help your partners see how their unique contributions are critical to reaching those goals.
Cradle to Career Network members connect diverse sectors that are working toward one aim: to support the success of every child. For example, in Kentucky, Appalachian Cradle to Career Partnership is committed to a collective vision: “All Appalachian Students Succeed.” Their communitywide work spans early childhood, K-12 education, housing, workforce, community voice, business and government. Their strong focus on a shared goal helps them navigate collaboration through challenge and complexity.
In one example, partner organizations support a goal of having every 16- to 24-year-old complete a paid internship before leaving high school or college. When a partner needed business connections to expand opportunities and more funding to reach students, other partners stepped up to help. They valued collaboration over competition and trusted in their shared vision.
A few years ago, I was invited to a gathering by the Aspen Institute’s Weave: The Social Fabric Project. Trust was at the heart of the event. I reflected afterward on these words from one of my fellow weavers, the Rev. Jennifer Bailey of Faith Matters Network: “Relationships are built at the speed of trust, and social change happens at the speed of relationships.” The innovation that StriveTogether is being recognized for next week is made possible by trust. We can only move forward together. I hope that you join us.
You can explore more stories of communities that are building trust and changing systems so that young people can thrive. Follow along on X for updates and insights from my time at the World Economic Forum, and check back here for my reflections after the event.