Economic Security and Mobility

Network for Southern Economic Mobility (NSEM)

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Project Overview

Launched in 2016, the Network for Southern Economic Mobility (NSEM) is a group of Southern communities committed to increasing upward economic mobility for youth and young adults in the lowest income brackets.

NSEM cities include Athens GA, Chattanooga TN, Greenville SC, Jacksonville FL, Little Rock AR, Savannah GA, and Spartanburg SC.

NSEM is guided by four assumptions about the Southern context and effective ways to help people move up the economic ladder:

  1. Current outcomes are rooted in regional history: The odds of upward economic mobility are the lowest in the U.S. for those born in the South; historical and continuing patterns of discrimination and disinvestment in the South make stalled mobility particularly intractable in our region.
  2. Talent development is the place to intervene: Improving Southern mobility patterns requires restructuring the systems that connect economically stranded young people to postsecondary credentials, family-sustaining wages, and economic security.
  3. Change local systems to change local outcomes: Different outcomes require leadership that can inspire culture shifts and realignment of policies, practices, and resources that expand access to opportunities.
  4. Challenging community work is better together: it is important to approach the challenge of stalled economic mobility with intellectual honesty and willingness to act; the Network will be a safe place for communities to learn from each other and uncover unsuspected truths, even if those truths are uncomfortable.

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

Leadership teams in communities examine how well their existing systems are reaching 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 learn together to implement improvements in the talent development system in the Southern economic and political context.



Each participating city 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 sessions 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 working to build stronger organizations with the culture, skills, and management capacity to refine existing programs, aggregate and realign resources, and spur innovation.

If you are interested in more on this program, please contact, Senior Program Director, Ralph Gildehaus.

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Contact the Project Team

Ralph Gildehaus, JD, Senior Program Director

Email Ralph Gildehaus, JD