The Network for Southern Economic Mobility is a group of Southern communities committed to increasing upward economic mobility for youth and young adults in the lowest income brackets.

Through on-site coaching, expert programmatic technical assistance, and facilitated peer-learning, the Network is designed to help communities deepen, accelerate, and align strategic investments for systemic change that position these youth and young adults for economic success.

Leaders in selected communities are examining how well their existing systems are reaching those young people facing the most difficult barriers to advancement; analyzing the policies, systems, and culture that impede their progression; and adapting or building the pathways that connect institutions and social supports, from school to rewarding employment. Communities are learning together to implement improvements in the talent development system in the Southern economic and political context.







The first cohort of cities, which began in 2016, are Athens, Ga., Chattanooga, Tenn., Greenville, S.C., and Jacksonville, Fla. The second cohort, which began in 2017, are Little Rock, Ark., Savannah, Ga., and Spartanburg, S.C.

Minor Shaw image
Hear Micco LLC President Minor Shaw, Chair of the Duke Endowment, speak on MDC and the Network for Southern Economic Mobility on Carolina Business Review in July 2017.


Each participating city has created a leadership group that includes individuals who can leverage policy and operational changes in the critical systems that directly affect youth mobility within their community. Participating cities have engaged in:

  • Customized coaching to tackle deep-seated institutional and cultural practices that create barriers to youth development and upward mobility.
  • Focused technical assistance and peer-learning related to systems and data analysis, institutional policy reform, innovative program strategies, youth and employer engagement, and funding strategies needed to connect economically disadvantaged youth to postsecondary credentials and rewarding work.
  • Cross-city knowledge development with expert policy-makers and practitioners in integrated systems and programs proven to help young people.

Cities are developing actionable priorities to build stronger organizations with the culture, skills, and management capacity to refine existing programs, aggregate and realign resources, and spur innovation.

In 2018-19, NSEM members participated in three convenings supported by JPMorgan Chase & Co. to learn how Southern communities are supporting pathways to upward economic mobility for low-income youth and young adults. The Network convened in Atlanta, Ga., Nashville, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C. to connect with local and regional leaders to highlight strategies that support economic mobility and talent development. In Atlanta, the discussion focused on completing foundational education and the transition to postsecondary education. The Nashville convening featured efforts supporting meaningful work experience for youth, along with ways to strengthen the systems that support workforce development for youth and young adults. In Charlotte, members of the Network learned from Leading on Opportunity about a community approach to systems change for increased economic mobility.

In May 2019, Cohort 1 and Cohort 2 cities gathered in Savannah, Ga. Sessions focused on supporting leadership for systems change, peer-learning and problem solving, and reflecting on challenges and successes in the Network.


A Foundation for Systems Change: Lessons from the Network for Southern Economic Mobility
December 2019

An update on the ways that seven cities are addressing the need to change the narrative, activate leadership, create culture shifts, and realign policies, practices, and resources to improve economic mobility in the South.

Pathway Profiles: Network for Southern Economic Mobility Convenings in Altanta, GA, Nashville, TN and Charlotte NC
November 2019

This report provides an update on what community leaders in Atlanta, Nashville and Charlotte and doing to align the systems in their communities to improve economic mobility.

Moving on Up: Transportation and Economic Mobility
September 2018

This report summarizes recent research demonstrating the link between transportation and economic mobility, highlighting efforts in Southern communities to improve access in order to improve economic outcomes.

Greenville, S.C., Team Investigates Policy Levers For Youth Economic Mobility Through MDC Network

June 2018

Learn how the Greenville, SC. team used the NSEM approach to identify key policy areas, identify and interview subject-matter experts, and set priorities for action based on their team’s capacity and expertise, and the potential for impact. Action areas include addressing racial disparities in school discipline, strengthening career pathways, and applying an economic mobility lens to existing community visioning efforts.


For more information on MDC and Network for Southern Economic Mobility, contact Mala Thakur.