Are there two Georgias? If so, Georgia Forward wants to bring them together. How else can we compete and thrive regionally, nationally or internationally?
Georgia Forward has a successful track record for being a catalyst for cross-sector conversations. This nonpartisan nonprofit hosted its very first event – the Georgia Forward Forum – in Macon in 2010. At that time, I was part of the redevelopment team transforming downtown Macon. Although I was not familiar with the organization, my boss encouraged me to go and see what this statewide group was all about. Not only did I quickly engage with the attendees at the first forum, but I attended the next and the next. In 2012, when Georgia Forward announced the creation of its leadership action program, Young Gamechangers, I eagerly applied and was accepted into the inaugural class that worked in Americus/Sumter County.
The next year brought a transition for the young nonprofit, and that same boss – Mike Ford - signed on to become a “core partner” with Georgia Forward and loaned me to the organization to help run the second Young Gamechangers program that would take place in Dublin/Laurens County. During that program I took the next step in my career, and Georgia Forward entered into a phase of restructuring that would ultimately lead to a phone call in the summer of 2015 asking me to take the reigns as executive director.
Since August of 2015, we have hosted four Young Gamechangers programs, with each bringing 50 young professionals from across the state to one Georgia community to develop big-idea recommendations to some of their area’s persistent challenges. We have worked in Douglasville/Douglas County, Augusta, LaGrange/Troup County and are currently in Milledgeville/Baldwin County. The 2018 program will work in Albany/Dougherty County.
Roughly one-third of each Young Gamechangers class is from the host community, one-third from metro Atlanta and one-third from greater Georgia. We have found the more diverse the group, the richer the resulting recommendations.
The idea for Young Gamechangers came from the Georgia Forward forum, which is a gathering of statewide thought leaders and idea generators who convene annually to share information, collaborate in interactive workshops and talk about the future of Georgia. The Forum was on hiatus for a couple of years, but this past September we reinstated the annual event, hosting 200 people at the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta and focusing on defining Georgia’s future prosperity.
Georgia Forward has been successful over the past seven years in bringing leaders together who do not normally interact, to encourage conversation and collaboration. So often we find ourselves in silos, whether it is only working with people within our profession, within our community or within our status class, that we are limited in our thoughts. When you put a young farmer from South Georgia, a seasoned banker from Middle Georgia, an enthusiastic nonprofit leader from West Georgia and a thoughtful college professor from metro Atlanta in the same room and ask them to solve a problem, the creativity is endless. They each bring a completely different perspective to the table, drawing ideas from their own communities, professions and experiences. This is the model that Georgia Forward uses to examine and solve problems across the state, whether at the annual forum or with the Young Gamechangers program. This is strengthening communities across our state and uniting us – idea by idea, project by project, city by city.
Georgia Forward was founded to combat the issue of “two Georgias” – Atlanta and the rest of the state. Some would argue that there are even five Georgias or nine Georgias, but I like to think of us as one Georgia.
Kris Vaughn is the executive director of Georgia Forward. She and her family live in Forsyth.