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Inclusive Growth Feature: Impacting policy through collaboration

Jackie Hutchinson, director of advocacy at the Consumers Council of Missouri, sat down with the Social Policy Institute to discuss her career in advocating for equity and inclusive growth. Throughout her career she’s found her greatest impact through policy action and collaboration. This inclusive growth feature is one of a multi-part feature on how to support inclusive growth in St. Louis by our advisory committee for the Inclusive Growth in St. Louis Event Series.

What does inclusive growth in St. Louis mean to you?

For me, inclusive growth in St. Louis means that there is racial equity, economic equity for low and moderate-income people, and equal rights and access for all individuals in our community to all of the benefits of economic stability. This would include equal access to employment, healthcare, housing, utilities, banking and opportunities for wealth building. 

It also means that the generations beyond me won’t continue to deal with the inequities that exist today. That my grandkids, who are already on their way through young adulthood, don’t have inequities as barriers to opportunity. 

Tell us a little bit about the work you do in St. Louis.

I’ve worked with St. Louis area Community Action Agencies throughout my career, and have managed programs that provided much-needed direct assistance to families. Equally important to direct assistance is the advocacy work that I have done because for every unmet social need in the community, there is usually a policy issue that allows that condition to exist.  My work with Consumers Council of Missouri, as a board member since 2008, and more recently as executive director, has given me the opportunity to address policy issues related to utilities, healthcare, banking/financial access and more.

I love having the opportunity to provide vision, leadership and strategic focus to efforts that improve the lives of communities by fostering collaboration and advocating for policies that have a lasting impact. This collaborative work over the years continues to have a positive impact on achieving economic stability and equal access to goods and services for all community members.

Where do you think your work intersects with inclusive growth?

Inclusive growth intersects all of the work I do. I’m particularly excited about the work I’ve done in banking and housing with the St. Louis Equal Housing and Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). We are definitely thinking about inclusive growth as it relates to the CRA, especially the lack of banks in our community and how they provide services. Over the last 10 years since we started doing financial access work, the community has seen a great benefit. There have been billions of dollars in reinvestment to the St. Louis Community. Working collaboratively, we have influenced 17 new bank branches opening in areas that previously didn’t have banks. We have also met with bank leadership to bring attention to the disparities in their practices and policies and to make suggestions for new products, services and economic investments, and to improve those disparities.  My work with the St. Louis Regional Financial Empowerment Coalition has also been an opportunity to make positive changes in our community. The Coalition is a diverse group of community stakeholders who are dedicated to increasing family self-sufficiency and prosperity through financial education and asset-building. You can find out more about our work at the coalition through our 2020 annual Outcomes Report.

What are your favorite projects that you worked on that supports inclusive growth in St. Louis?

My favorite project as a member of the Inclusive Growth in St. Louis Advisory Committee was the Supporting Inclusive Households event. The panel discussed the current state of financial inclusion in St. Louis by looking at both historic and current policies and practices limiting or excluding households from gaining financial assets. This was my favorite event because it is representative of the banking and financial access work I have done over the past ten years.  The panel was made up of community leaders who are doing the difficult work of addressing disparities, many rooted in historically racism and discrimination. If you were not able to attend, it is still available to view here.

 I also had the opportunity to speak during the 2030 Jobs Plan event, on behalf of the equity and inclusion committee. It was such a great opportunity to bring attention to the area of employment, this is a very important part of inclusive growth in St. Louis and an issue we must give considerable thought to as we continue our Inclusive Growth in St. Louis initiative.

What do you think are the biggest barriers to inclusive growth?

I think St. Louis is way behind on racial equity. In order to reach the vision of inclusive growth, we have to address the racial equity issue, which is at the core of all other issues. Though there have been improvements, this continues to impact families of color, no matter the income level. For example, I can point to the banking industry and the fact that African Americans at the same income level and with the same ability to pay are denied loans at a larger rate than whites.

You talked earlier about collaboration. It sounds like collaboration is important to the work you do. As someone who has experience working in multiple disciplines, do you have any thoughts on how we can work better to collaborate across different sectors and different disciplines?

I think that’s a complex question with many answers and places to start.

It is very difficult to make meaningful community change without collaboration. You have to have people on all different levels who understand the plight of people who have typically been denied equal access. I have worked on policy issues mainly in finance, housing and energy, and also to a smaller extent, healthcare and employment. However, it is very difficult to become proficient in policies and their impact around so many issues. This is when the need for collaboration becomes apparent. Having groups with multiple subject matter interests around a common problem come together makes it possible to identify the intersections where they can support each other.

The challenge is, how do we collaborate and advocate for equity and inclusion when there are so many inequities in our community? Can we figure out a way that organizations working on the same issue know each other exist and have an opportunity to share information and work collaboratively on all issues of racial, social and economic equity? I think our voices will be more powerful and our work more meaningful when there is understanding of all the issues and room at the table for those who want to be involved. 

I think it is really meaningful that the Social Policy Institute and the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth formed the Inclusive Growth in St. Louis Advisory Committee and created a platform to bring the community together to discuss these important issues. It is my hope that the workshop series will continue providing opportunities to build the necessary collaboration it will take to build an inclusive St. Louis.

Do you have any advice for aspiring policy change-makers and organizations? 

When I think about conditions of inequity that exist in our community, I always try to think up from that condition that I am working on. I’m thinking, where is the policy or historical inequality that allows this condition to continue to exist? There’s not a bank in my neighborhood? What’s the policy that allowed that to happen or continue? Who are the other people that think that’s not right? Is there an existing group I can collaborate with to change this? Homelessness is still prevalent in our community. What are the root causes? Why does this continue to exist in our society? Is it policies around housing, high utility cost, mental health, veteran’s affairs, employment, child support or some combination of the above?

Every issue could have an overwhelming list of potential causes and you cannot impact everything alone, so choose a few changes you are passionate about working on, then find or create opportunities to increase your capacity to do great work that has positive impacts, through collaboration. Do the research, understand the condition you want to address, and then find others with who you might have some common ground and desire to work on any portion of the complex issues that we all as a society have a responsibility to solve.

Join us for Investing in Inclusive Neighborhoods on July 14 and 15 to learn about strategies for community-driven, place-based investments that support equitable housing valuations and small/minority-owned business growth that leads to long-term wealth.

About Jacqueline Hutchinson

Jacqueline Hutchinson works as the director of advocacy for Consumers Council of Missouri (CCM) and represents CCM as Co–Chair of the St. Louis Equal Housing and Community Reinvestment Alliance (SLEHCRA). She has recently retired as VP of Operations for People’s Community Action Corporation of St. Louis, after more than forty years with Community Action Agencies in St. Louis. She has given a voice to low-income consumers by being actively involved in utility policy advocacy, personal finance and health issues that impact the lives of low-income families and the elderly. 

Jackie has a BS in Business Administration from Washington University in St. Louis and an MS in Policy Analysis, from Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville IL.