Background and Challenges

For many North Carolinians, the American social compact seems broken. Even with a low unemployment rate and parts of the state thriving, families struggle to put food on the table, afford a decent place to live, cover basic health care expenses, provide adequate care for their children, and otherwise enjoy the basic elements of a decent life. To address this central challenge, Duke University’s Center for Political Leadership, Innovation and Service (POLIS) and three North Carolina foundations—the John William Pope Foundation, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, and The Duke Endowment—launched the North Carolina Leadership Forum (NCLF) with CBI’s support.

The CBI Approach

The NCLF’s coordinating team identified 32 leaders who represented a range of experiences and perspectives statewide. The framing question posed to them was simple but essential: How can we enable more North Carolinians to earn enough to support their families? The forum met five times over a year—three times for a full day and twice for a day and half. CBI helped design the ground rules and agendas, on-boarded individual members, and facilitated sessions.  As the forum began, members considered the nature of the problems facing North Carolinians. In addition to discussing statistical data gathered from a wide range of sources, members watched a series of short documentary films commissioned by NCLF about individuals struggling to make ends meet. A cost-of-living calculator (developed by NCLF staff) enabled members to explore how much workers need to earn to support their families. The forum then focused on understanding the underlying causes of the problem. Discussions centered around five topics:

  • Inadequate compensation
  • Unavailable jobs
  • Lack of skills
  • Personal obstacles to work
  • Financial vulnerability

Finally, members attempted to identify possible solutions to these problems and explore whether the group could find common ground on how to address them, including the role of the minimum wage, tax credits, apprenticeships, licensing requirements, and barriers to employment for people with criminal records.


NCLF issued a final report in the spring of 2017 that included a common set of “facts” on the issues and suggested actions that might be taken from the local to the state level. Members reported that the process left them better informed about the complexity of the issue and gave them a better understanding of perspectives with which they disagreed. They also said they were at least open to persuasion based on evidence and, in some instances, some participants modified their views. NCLF members were near unanimous in believing that the network of connections made among North Carolina leaders will be an asset as the state comes together to confront the challenges it faces.