Communiqué: Back to Work

Thackston Lundy Researches Workforce Development in the Big Easy

By Kate Hoagland – Communiqué: Spring 2011, Volume 8

Despite the city’s widespread efforts to rebuild, reinvest, and reform, New Orleans continues to be a city in crisis. At 24 percent, its poverty rate is well above the national average, and 37 percent of the city’s children under the age of 18 live below the poverty line. As of September 2009, the city’s unemployment rate was at 10.6 percent.

“I think the challenges that New Orleans faces are unlike those of any other city,” said Thackston Lundy, HKS MPP 2011. “While Hurricane Katrina itself caused widespread suffering for nearly all New Orleanians, many of the obstacles the city faced in 2005 existed well before the hurricane made landfall.”

For his Spring 2011 Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE) with the Office of New Orleans Mayor Mitchell Landrieu, Lundy explored workforce development initiatives cropping up around the city and spearheaded by social innovators. Lundy identified and met with the top 20 leading organizations providing workforce training and skill building to at-risk, economically disadvantaged populations aged 16-30.

In interviewing them and doing outside research, Lundy hoped to identify the common barriers faced by such organizations and to assess how the city can realign its service offerings to better support efforts to get city residents to work. Such challenges include transportation – residents without cars or easy access to public transportation have huge difficulty getting to work on time and staying in their positions. “It may seem basic, but when you start talking to organizations, it frames what ways the system can be rethought to address these issues,” said Lundy.

Thackston Lundy’s Ash Center-funded PAE research fits into the Center’s larger focus on social innovation and in New Orleans in particular. With new support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, Center staff will engage in a year-long, hands-on effort to help a handful of mayors become effective catalysts for social innovation. The vision is to help cities expand their cohorts of civic leaders committed to advancing innovation and reform, plan a series of policy and structural shifts to break down barriers to innovation, and organize a campaign plan to mobilize citizen and community support around innovation and reform. In New Orleans, such efforts will be directed toward helping the mayor’s office address the challenge of homelessness.

2011 PAE Research Grant Recipients
Thackston Lundy is one of 22 students who received Ash Center support this year to author large-scale research reports addressing real world policy or management problems. Such reports are usually 40-pages in length and give students a unique opportunity to work for practitioners and legislators beyond Harvard’s gates. They gain valuable skills working for outside clients, while expanding upon their academic areas of interest. Four students received funding for their PAEs through the HKS Indonesia Program.