The interview below provides insights into Ashley’s background and plans for the future of the EGMP.
Ashley, can you tell our readers a bit about yourself and your background?
I come to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia from the New York Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development. My role there was to oversee the connection between economic development and the workforce. I facilitated conversations with industry experts, oversaw our local hiring policies, and worked on place-based approaches to workforce development in conjunction with economically changing neighborhoods. My role was focused on addressing economic development through the lens of inclusivity and bringing best practices to bear on the ways we help connect people to quality employment with the opportunity for advancement.
You joined the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia to lead the EGMP. Can you tell us what this initiative is and why it is important?
The EGMP is unique in the Federal Reserve System for its focus on bringing research into practice. I believe the System and the Bank are particularly well-positioned to discuss the economic imperative of investing in economic mobility. Research shows that sustainable economic growth is inclusive growth and that addressing economic mobility is essential to growing our local and regional economies. I also appreciate that the EGMP focuses on Research in Action through community-driven solutions. My work in local government made me a big believer in local solutions to local problems. The collaborations being built through this Research in Action model can serve as examples for other regions.
How did you become interested/involved in these issues?
I have always been interested in the intersection of research and practice. I spent my first several years in the workforce development field providing direct services to job seekers living below the poverty line. The experience showed me firsthand how economic shifts after the recession had impacted workers. Motivated by that interest in policy, I founded a fellowship program, the Work First Fellowship, which brought young people into a year of service to work with low-income job seekers and conduct research on the barriers facing these communities. While getting my master’s in public policy, I also spent time at U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the research utilization division. I have always been interested in how research informs the often complicated realities of putting policy into practice. These experiences led me to my work in the mayor’s office and my long-term interest in providing economic stability to families that are struggling.
How can lessons learned from other communities be helpful here in the Third District?
The Research in Action Labs provide a model we hope to lift up and help other communities take on as they address barriers to economic mobility. The real takeaway from these labs is the process, because each community’s solutions will likely be different. As you can imagine, the strategy for addressing equitable transit in a large urban area versus a postindustrial town will be very different. I think the lesson from these labs thus far is that overcoming long-term barriers to economic mobility requires collaboration across sectors. The biggest success of these labs is getting everyone at the table to learn from one another, build trust, and find ways to come together around a shared understanding of problems facing the community. The research informs this process at every step of the way, from defining the problem to leveraging best practices and evaluating potential solutions. In many ways, the Research in Action Labs are a model for forming community partnerships and applying data to resolve issues around local economic equitability.
What partners will be needed for the EGMP to achieve success?
Each Research in Action Lab will need a set of core, committed partners who care about economic mobility and are ready to work together to understand and address the problem with research-informed solutions. It is important to have people represented from all sectors: private, public, nonprofit, and philanthropic. The key components of a Research in Action Lab are a committed backbone organization, a council that brings together local stakeholders, a shared understanding and definition of what is happening in the community, and a vision for what the partnership would like to achieve. Partnerships take work, time, and often commitments of resources, not to mention a willingness to consider a different perspective on a current problem. For the EGMP labs to be successful, we need partners who are willing to invest their resources into trying something different.
What can we expect to see from the EGMP in the coming years? What issues will the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia focus on?
This year we are beginning to set in motion some of the ideas generated as part of the Northeast Pennsylvania Equitable Transit Planning Council. We will also be diving into our next Research in Action Lab on workforce development in Philadelphia. The next lab after Philadelphia will look at equitable growth, and we do not yet have a community selected. The EGMP will continue to focus on building inclusive solutions as we look to expand the Research in Action Lab model to other communities in the Third District that represent the diversity of challenges faced by rural, postindustrial, and small and large urban areas. Our focus continues to be on economic mobility and tearing down barriers while we build ladders to opportunity.