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Diverse Group Gathers at Duke for First NC Leadership Forum

March 9, 2016

Thirty-four civic, business and political leaders from across North Carolina gathered last week at the inaugural North Carolina Leadership Forum (NCLF), a new initiative aimed at bridging partisan and ideological divides in North Carolina.

The forum hosted by Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy is the first of a four planned discussions about challenges facing both workers and employers. In a daylong, private dialogue, participants addressed the question, “How can we enable more North Carolinians to earn enough to support their families?” 

“We’re living with a steady diet of partisan rancor,” said Frederick “Fritz” Mayer, a member of the NCLF steering committee. “It’s gotten to the point that collaboration and consensus-building -- the traditional bread and butter of politics -- seem nearly extinct. “Our goal in organizing the forum is to provide a space for civil and constructive discourse.

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  • North Carolina Leadership Forum at Duke Sanford School of Public Policy

    Leadership Forum Convenes

    Patrick Field, a facilitator from the Consensus Building Institute in Boston, speaks to participants in the inaugural North Carolina Leadership Forum at the Sanford School of Public Policy. Participants discussed challenges to wage earners and employers.

“This is an important opportunity for participants to sit down across the table with someone whose views they may disagree with and seek common ground on a critical issue facing our state,” he added. Mayer is associate dean of the Sanford School and director of POLIS, a new Duke center on politics, leadership, innovation and service.

The leadership forum is jointly funded by the Duke Endowment, the John William Pope Foundation and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

'Commitment to North Carolina'

John Hood, president of the Pope Foundation and a member of the NCLF steering committee said, “There is a broadly understood sense that the public debate has become coarse and irrelevant. Debates are one-liners or tweets, not arguments based on logic, facts and fairmindedness.” Through the NCLF, organizers seek to “model and encourage” civil dialogue across the state among people of different communities, organizations and perspectives, he said.John Hood

In welcoming remarks, Duke President Richard Brodhead called the forum a statement of Duke’s “commitment to being a helpful citizen in North Carolina.” Facilitating a meeting of the minds such as the NCLF is especially gratifying for Duke, where open inquiry and learning from each other are our daily work, he said.

“People seemed really engaged throughout,” said Leslie Winner, a member of the NCLF steering committee and executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. “Nobody was checking their cell phones.” Participants spoke with others who were “not their ideological colleagues” and were able to disagree respectfully on some points while agreeing on others, she said.

Winner said it is too early to predict whether meetings in June, September and October will yield specific recommendations for civil society organizations, for business leaders or for government. The main goal of the series is to “give us the opportunity to learn to talk to each other.”

Hood noted that while some forum participants are familiar names in North Carolina business, politics and civic circles, others are up and coming.

“It can’t be the group of people who have led for the last 40 years. What about the next 40 years?”

Participants received invitations from Brodhead, joined by former Governors Jim Hunt and Jim Martin, Rick Glazier of the North Carolina Justice Center, Ann Goodnight of SAS and Art Pope of the Pope Foundation. 

In addition to Mayer, Hood and Winner other members of the NCLF steering committee are:  

  • Anita Brown-Graham, Director, Institute for Emerging Issues, N.C. State University
  • Eugene W. Cochrane, Jr., President, The Duke Endowment
  • Chuck Neely, Partner, Williams Mullen, former N.C. General Assembly member

As a part of the project, participants considered the stories of several North Carolinians, including Ian Trent. Ian is a firefighter who is working five jobs to make ends meet.