Enter the State of Innovation
The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation continues to accelerate shared economic success across Georgia
By Karen Kirkpatrick
Two years ago, the state of Georgia and coalition of private and civic partners launched a revolutionary organization to catalyze innovation, opportunity, and shared economic success throughout the state, with the goal of making Georgia the tech capital of the East Coast and model of inclusive innovation. That public-private organization, the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (Partnership), has succeeded beyond the founders’ imaginings.
In just two years, the Partnership has delivered technology – and more – to both rural and urban communities. Working with local governments, corporations, universities, startups, and nonprofits, the Partnership has invested in more than 30 projects in 90 Georgia legislative districts that have created new businesses and jobs, increased access to financial and social capital, deployed more than 170 technologies, and engaged students in more than 25,000 hours devoted to civic projects.
The Partnership’s unique model combines the grantmaking strengths of a foundation with hands-on operations and infrastructure. This allows the Partnership to focus on long-term investments in geographically distributed, nontraditional, underserved, and emerging areas to expand economic access to Georgians of all backgrounds.
“The Partnership believes in the broadest definition of inclusive innovation,” said founding Executive Director Debra Lam. “We work to increase access and expand geographic, racial, gender, and socio-economic equity and opportunity for all to create innovative ways to drive economic and community growth.”
The Partnership has invested $1.3 million in projects around the state that create and sustain economic success. These projects have provided a match of $1.7 million and secured an additional $6.2 million to support their growth.
In the last year, the Partnership has driven success through its four pillars:
This pillar looks to scale proven programs, services, and technologies and nurture communities of practice for knowledge-sharing and collaboration. One such project was the Conservation Fund’s Working Farms Fund (WFF). WFF, the first of its kind in the U.S., helps shield farmland in perpetuity from sprawl. Last year, the fund purchased seven farms, securing 674 acres of land for 31 farmers, 85% of whom are from underserved communities or are women. This coming year, the fund will secure six more farms and at least 500 acres for a dozen farmers. In addition, the fund will launch a companion program in Illinois and is in discussions with Texas and North Carolina about programs in those states.
This pillar aims to develop the next generation of leaders across the state in public service, innovation, and technology. The flagship program is the Smart Community Corps (SCC), a summer internship that in 2022 placed 33 paid interns, representing 11 Georgia universities and 17+ academic disciplines, working in pairs on 16 projects in communities including Woodstock, Atlanta, Albany, Spalding County, and beyond. SCC projects included The Ray, which is working to transform a portion of I-85 into a global model for sustainable transportation, and the Georgia Entrepreneurship Project, which is mapping entrepreneurship and innovation across the state with the goal of expanding prosperity more equitably.
The oldest pillar, community research, starts with the needs and priorities of the community and pairs that with multidisciplinary, applied research that is advanced with community implementation and feedback. This approach offers the community access to innovative tools and research. The Georgia Smart Communities Challenge is an award-winning program that empowers communities to meet their goals of a smart and connected future. This program has served 20 communities across the state, including Savannah and Valdosta, where projects have helped ameliorate blighted property and save critical time at intersections, allowing first responders to get to emergencies more quickly.
The newest pillar, workforce development, invests in human capital to foster meaningful careers, create systems of economic mobility, build talent pipelines for Georgia employers, and boost connectivity. The flagship program is the Workforce for Tomorrow Fellowship (WFT), a first-of-its-kind program where participants are immersed in six-month rotations in the public and private sectors in key growth sectors, such as sustainability and infrastructure, advanced manufacturing, and logistics.
With increased funding from the state and corporate partners, the Partnership anticipates significant growth of all programs over the next year. The plan is to fund at least $2.8 million in projects, double the number of students who participate in the SCC, and provide more applied, multidisciplinary research around Georgia.
“I’m honored to be part of the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation and to help define Georgia as a national leader in technology research, development and implementation. I look forward to seeing the long-term impact that the Partnership will make across Georgia in the future.” – Reed Dulany, Partnership Advisory Board Member and President and CEO of Dulany Industries
About the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation:
Launched in 2020, the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation is a public-private organization that was created to lead coordinated, statewide efforts to position Georgia as the leader for innovation, opportunity, and shared economic success. The Partnership’s focus pillars of community research, workforce development, student engagement, and economic opportunity are a powerful combination that provide technical and financial support to democratize innovation through collaboration. Since 2020, the Partnership’s work has catalyzed 30+ projects with local governments, universities, startups and nonprofits. The projects have created new businesses, increased access to financial and social capital, and deployed more than 170 technologies. More information is available at pingeorgia.org.