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Zoom collage of speakers

Two Days of Reflection and Discussion at the Student-Led Economic Development Symposium

Marisa Berry ’21, Economic Development Symposium co-chair, looks back at the annual event, which this year emphasized the degree to which the global pandemic has further exacerbated social and racial inequalities.

Over February 19 and 20, Yale SOM’s Economic Development Club hosted our annual symposium, the focus of which for this year was “Rebuilding for an Inclusive Economy.” 

Last summer, when the planning team was discussing what this year’s symposium should be, we knew we wanted to use the humble platform we have as SOM students to focus on social and racial inequities further worsened by a global pandemic, and to foster discussion about how to directly address them through inclusive development. To that end, we invited guests who could contextualize this for our attendees and speak to the work they and their organizations are doing.

In light of COVID-19, the event was held virtually this year. Although this posed some challenges (i.e., making sure the technology was able to handle our needs and our panelists were comfortable with using it), a virtual format allowed us to expand the reach of our symposium. Now that panelists, moderators, and attendees did not need to travel to New Haven to attend, we were able to bring in more diverse viewpoints to our panels and a more diverse audience – especially important given the theme of the symposium. 

We kicked off with Eric Rosengren, president and CEO of the Boston Federal Reserve, who laid out in stark terms the economic inequities of COVID. We were also joined by Bill Bynum, founding CEO of HOPE Enterprises, who gave a moving talk about the legacy of slavery and how his organization seeks to provide economic opportunities for its clients, who are overwhelmingly women and people of color in the South. John Friedman of Opportunity Insights also spoke, contributing a big-data perspective on inequality and social mobility and sharing his organization’s most recent real-time insights on the impacts of the pandemic.

We also had a series of panels that represented the breadth and interdisciplinary nature of economic development as a field. On Friday, we convened CDFI leaders to speak about how they are working to close the racial wealth gap, as well as investors from across the capital stack on the economic opportunities in transitioning to clean energy. We followed up on Saturday with discussions on the future of work and international perspectives on the role of financial institutions in inclusive development.

Personally, I have found it hard to step back from this moment we’re in and fully process the past year. By the end of these two days, though, I was grateful to have a moment of reflection through the symposium. At the same time, it underscored the staggering amount of work needed to realize an economy that works for everyone. But in working with my fellow members of the planning committee and convening thought leaders and innovative practitioners for thoughtful and reflective discussions, I was also inspired to get to work.

By Marisa Berry, MBA 2021