UMSL playing leading role in St. Louis Anchor Action Network with goal of building inclusive prosperity

An SUV drives down the street through the Old North Neighborhood toward the Arch

The St. Louis Anchor Action Network aims to leverage intentional hiring, career development and spending in high poverty and majority Black and Brown communities in the St. Louis region that have faced substantial, systematic disinvestment. (Photo by August Jennewein)

The St. Louis Anchor Action Network is bringing together institutions, businesses, community leaders, and other stakeholders to address racial, economic, and spatial inequities in the St. Louis region through focused efforts to increase employment, income, health and wealth building.

The idea for the network grew out of conversations among local institutional leaders that began in December 2019 and intensified in 2020 in the midst of growing inequities due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the continued national reckoning with racial injustice.

The University of Missouri–St. Louis and Edward Jones are providing leadership and staffing for the network, whose founding members also include BJC HealthCare, Harris-Stowe State University, Mercy Health, St. Louis Community College, Saint Louis University, the Saint Louis Zoo, SSM Health, Washington University in St. Louis and Webster University.

“We are committed to building inclusive prosperity throughout St. Louis, and we are excited to continue to partner with other anchor institutions to work to eliminate the racial and economic inequality that has persisted for too long in our region,” University of Missouri–St. Louis Chancellor Kristin Sobolik said.

Stefani Weeden-Smith

Stefani Weeden-Smith has been hired to serve as the inaugural director of the St. Louis Anchor Action Network.

All of these institutions have a shared commitment to working together to drive equitable wealth building and economic development that can benefit the entire region. This will be possible by leveraging intentional hiring, career development and spending in a geographic footprint across the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County that for too long has faced substantial, systematic disinvestment.

“Business has an increasingly important role to play in driving meaningful, positive systems change that will spur inclusive economic growth,” Edward Jones Managing Partner Penny Pennington said. “Creating that kind of positive change will help all of our St. Louis regional family members to succeed. We thrive when there is opportunity for all, and the Anchor Action Network is a powerful way we demonstrate that commitment.”

Network members have held a series of focus groups with residents, organizations, and community leaders in the footprint to shape the network’s approach and the Missouri Foundation for Health recently awarded support for the network’s start-up phase.

The initial goal of the network is to increase employment and purchasing in a focused geography with higher poverty and majority Black and Brown communities. The aim is for member institutions to increase the share of Black and Brown employees in their workforces and to expand spending with businesses owned by people of color.

Network members plan to build a model of peer learning and sharing to accelerate the adoption of best practices, and they are working to create a standardized data tracking system on hiring and spending and other community metrics to monitor their efforts.

Stefani Weeden-Smith has been tapped to serve as the network’s inaugural director. She brings more than 20 years of experience in community engagement, most recently as the assistant director of community engagement at the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Stefani is a talented leader who understands the importance of the network effect and what we can achieve together when we confront the challenges and address the opportunities in creating equitable economic opportunities for every St. Louisan,” Pennington said.

Weeden-Smith officially began her new position on September 20, and she will work out of UMSL’s Office of Research and Economic and Community Development.

“One reason I found this opportunity really interesting is because I believe we can go farther together,” Weeden-Smith said. “We can do more if we are able to pool our resources together, to be more collaborative. We have a lot of separate things happening, but we’ve never come together to say, ‘Oh, you’re doing it this way,’ or figure out what the best practices are and really have measurable accountability.”

Media Coverage
St. Louis Business Journal

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