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Reader response: What systems-level change would you prioritize?

Readers said they would prioritize community-led changes designed to rebuild economic and education systems that will meet the demands of our rapidly changing world.

Rebuild better

In a recent reader response survey, we offered our readers the open-ended prompt, “If you were able to make one change in our economic or education systems that would have the greatest impact, what would it be?”

Many respondents said they believed it was important to make higher education more affordable, and to re-examine the need for a college degree to launch a career. Others pointed out how our current economic system is designed to benefit large companies and hurts small business owners. Respondents also noted the importance of allowing decisions and changes to be made by communities at the local level.

We heard from more than 100 people and are highlighting some of the many thoughtful responses here.

“We are stifling people over a ‘few dollars’ when we could be encouraging them to generate new dollars instead.”

Mishelle Denton

“I believe that if we provide taxpayer-funded healthcare and education to all citizens that it would drive our economy back to the top. Healthcare alone would allow more people to start businesses, because the need for insurance is the hurdle they can’t overcome. Invention has always been a driver of our country and we are stifling people over a ‘few dollars’ when we could be encouraging them to generate new dollars instead.”

— Mishelle Denton, Senior Systems Analyst

Carmen Iglesias

Our economic and education systems are based on old, industrial-era models and values that need to change. I would work with a team of diverse thinkers, leaders, experts, and problem solvers to introduce actionable ideas that can be implemented incrementally by local governments. There is great hunger for change at the local level, but they need ideas they can chew on and work with. Our team of idea generators could provide local governments a list of options they can use to tackle their most pressing issues in education and economics.” — Carmen Iglesias, Chief, Program Integration

Put Black and Indigenous women at the center, and build systems that work for them – then we will have systems that work for EVERYONE.

— Liz Schlegel
Executive Director, Alchemist Foundation


Tim Halbur

“Reparations would be a big step in the right direction. It would give Black people the base to invest in the types of careers that will move the needle.” — Tim Halbur, Media Producer in Los Angeles

Julio Mateo

“Invest heavily in the people, neighborhoods, and schools that are currently underserved, and allow the people in those neighborhoods and schools decide how that money is spent. Education cannot be about meeting state testing standards, it must be about educating students to 21st century careers – including systems thinking. These changes cannot be vetted by or tested against existing, mainstream systems or standards that were designed to exclude [underserved communities] and do not incorporate or understand their culture, wants, and needs into their operation.

In fewer words, I would support the creation of education and economic systems that try to achieve goals of underserved populations and whose success is measured against those goals, not those imposed from outside.” — Julio Mateo, Senior Research Scientist, 361 Interactive, LLC

Amber Ravenscroft

“Rethink the funding systems for education – local systems are funded by property taxes, creating deeply rooted inequities. Reimagine the standards on which we evaluate our schools – switch from standardized tests to artifacts of learning, from seat time to project-based learning, empower our students more. Education at large needs to be vastly disrupted.” — Amber Ravenscroft, Manager of Innovation, The EdVenture Group, Inc.

Access to quality affordable education at all levels. Quality universal pre-K, affordable college. Then, when students become independent adults, ready to participate in the economy, we must have financial systems that are fair to all.

— Patricia Macdonald
Philanthropic Advisor and Social Change Consultant

Fewer Walmarts, Amazons, and Googles. More small businesses.

Taylor Clark

“Limit company size. Crazy, I know. But once an economy has companies the size of Walmart, Amazon, or Google, you inhibit the creation of small businesses. Those small businesses are less efficient, but employ more people and directly help their community. Need proof? Look at Walmart’s effect on small town main street.” — Taylor Clark, Owner, Community Ally

Andrew Obernesser

“Educate all students – in age-appropriate manners – about the underlying causes and impacts of the racial wealth gap, structural racism, and intergenerational poverty. The ultimate goal in systems-change work is about changing mental models, particularly those held by people who hold power. Often times, mental models are formed at an early age. While they may be refined through experience, we tend to gravitate toward experiences that reinforce our mental models, rather than challenge them – which makes the work of systems change that much more difficult. We need children to understand that structural racism and the wealth gap exist, and that it will be in their power to change inequitable systems as they inherit them.” — Andrew Obernesser, Director of Community Investment, CenterState Corporation for Economic Opportunity

Eliminate senior year of high school in exchange for national or community service.

— Dan Smith
CEO, Vermont Community Foundation
Lazone Grays, Jr.

“I would recommend supporting and fostering a hybrid system that integrates youth with local small business. Students learn to provide specific services that help increase a small business’s reach, customer base, and online presence. We need to reignite the concept of enterprise among our youth, so they can become knowledgeable business and community leaders.

Just preparing youth to work for someone is not healthy, and just relying on the same traditional entrepreneurial programs, by the same entities, which has not really moved the needle, begets the same results. We need new models that address the economic disparities, skills gap, and builds a mindset for business among young people.” — Lazone Grays, Jr.

Ramona Ferreyra

“I would explore what local policies make economic sustainability difficult. In NYC, rent is more than 50% of income. That isn’t a sustainable way to provide housing, which is a core need.” — Ramona Ferreyra, Founder, Ojala Threads, Inc.

Amy Kincaid

Real, honest engagement with each other around the generational, racial wealth gap in this country and the related other wealth gaps + deliberate leadership on policy and standard practices.

“Real, honest engagement with each other around the generational, racial wealth gap in this country, and the related other wealth gaps (i.e. rural-urban, Native communities, recent immigrant populations) + deliberate leadership on policy and standard practices (in all kinds of institutions and economic structures) to close the racial wealth gap in this country. Given the current social and political climate, these may need to be pursued separately.” — Amy Kincaid, Chief Program Officer, Common Future

Lara Merriam Smith

“Significantly increase the emphasis on teaching so-called ‘soft skills’ in primary education: empathy, creativity, collaboration, and communication. The ability to be able to thrive in jobs of the next 20+ years (with more ‘gig style’ career paths, robots, AI, etc.) requires cognitive flexibility and skills for opportunity finding, problem solving, and critical thinking.” — Lara Merriam-Smith, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Services, NW Innovation Resources Center

Pay teachers at least twice what they are now getting and reduce class sizes. The profession would instantly gain in prestige. More highly qualified and motivated people would gravitate to the profession. The ripple effects would be huge.

— Michael Palmer, J.D., Ph.D.
President, Legal Risk Management

What do you think?

Do you have additional ideas about what systemic changes we should prioritize? Share your thoughts with us >

Rebuild better: Success that ensures the opportunity of prosperity for all can’t be achieved within broken systems; true success will only come from systems we rebuild better.