Jeremy Nowak visits the Kauffman Foundation, 2014.
On a personal note…
This past weekend, the Kauffman Foundation lost a dear friend – Jeremy Nowak.
We are sad... we are in mourning. My thoughts turn to the last time I saw him, just a few weeks ago, when Jeremy was completely energized at a gathering in Los Angeles focused on the Investing in Opportunity Act.
For those who knew Jeremy, his enthusiasm for comprehensive community development knew no bounds, beginning with his work with the Reinvestment Fund in 1985 in his beloved Philadelphia. The Investing in Opportunity Act was right up his alley, establishing Opportunity Zones that have the potential to address gaps in entrepreneurship and create a more inclusive, entrepreneur-focused approach to economic development.
He was truly one of a kind.
You might not know that Jeremy served as the key advisor and architect for the Kauffman Foundation's strategic plan a few years back. He also was source of support and inspiration to me for the year I served as acting CEO. I got to know him. Learned from him. Heard his stories of work and family – not necessarily in that order. I am honored to call him my friend.
His approach to thinking about the future of the Foundation and Kansas City both affirmed and refined our commitment to Mr. Kauffman's legacy as we aspired to eliminate barriers so that every person – regardless of their background – can take risks, achieve success, and give back to their communities.
The recent gathering on Opportunity Zones brought out the best in Jeremy. We talked about the Kauffman Foundation's approach of working together with communities in education and entrepreneurship. How that work could leverage the zones to create uncommon solutions that result in a more inclusive and equitable economy. We talked at length about what was emerging in Kansas City and what we as a foundation could do to support the work alongside our community.
We were enthusiastic about bringing both Jeremy and his business partner Bruce Katz into Kansas City to help convene, and provide support to, all the various groups and city agencies working within the Opportunity Zones.
Many cities already have plans in place. The plans were created with the best of intentions and with speed. Our approach in Kansas City has been more fluid, more messy, and with a lot more inputs. Jeremy believed that was the kind of approach that was necessary to help find the right focus.
Opportunity Zones are exactly the kind of challenge that I know Jeremy would have tackled with his usual gusto. It's so similar to things in the past that have been tried and failed. But, maybe, just maybe we can get it right this time.
I'll miss him on this project. I'll miss his insights, passion, wit and pragmatic optimism in the face of all of it. But, we'll do our best to model the type of work he loved most – inclusive, messy and, ultimately, focused community building that has long-term and sustainable impact.
When I last saw Jeremy, he gave me a quick hug and we said we'd see each other soon. If I would have known it was to be our last meeting, I would have held on a few seconds longer... and let him know how awesome I think he is.
Over the last days, I've been thinking about how to give a meaningful tribute to Jeremy. Turns out, I can think of no better way than to continue the work that he loved.
First, listen to the community; understand not only the problems, but make sure we are all asking the right questions and listen to residents about the potential solutions.
Kansas City is on a path to practice entrepreneur-centric economic development, but it needs to accelerate to be competitive in the changing economy.
Opportunity Zones present an organizing principle to support the new economic development model, much in the same way our community used the Amazon HQ2 bid to accelerate conversations about the need to think more aggressively about our talent pipeline and supporting our schools.
Economic development that support areas of our community that have been historically left behind is fundamental to the growth of Kansas City.
Focusing on coordinating all avenues of investment – charitable, private, government – across all types of infrastructure, both capital and human, will make the longest-term impact.