Institutional, Business Leaders Form St. Louis Anchor Action Network

The St. Louis Anchor Action Network (STLAAN) is bringing together institutions, businesses, community leaders, and other stakeholders to address racial, economic, and spatial inequities in the St. Louis region through focused efforts to increase employment, income, health and wealth building.

The idea for the network grew out of conversations among local institutional leaders that began in December 2019 and intensified in 2020 in the midst of growing inequities due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the continued national reckoning with racial injustice. The pandemic had an outsized impact on Black and Brown communities, in part due to underlying health disparities related to income and other social determinants of health. The impact of these inequities and injustices in the St. Louis region has been called out by the Greater St. Louis 2030 Jobs Plan, Forward through Ferguson, For the Sake of All, and Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide, among other reports.

The founding network members include BJC HealthCare, Edward Jones, Harris-Stowe State University, Mercy Health, St. Louis Community College, Saint Louis University, the Saint Louis Zoo, SSM Health, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Washington University in St. Louis and Webster University. The University of Missouri–St. Louis and Edward Jones are providing leadership and staffing for the network.

“There is strength in numbers; this partnership will drive outcomes that are central to Webster University’s core values," said Webster University Chancellor Elizabeth (Beth) J. Stroble. "We look forward to contributing our expertise in creating pathways for underrepresented students to meaningful careers with all the members of the partnership, as well as leveraging their strengths for collective benefit. Through the shared exchange of strategies, data and coordinated implementation, we can create new opportunities that will lift up our communities and region.”

All of these institutions have a shared commitment to working together to drive equitable wealth building and economic development that can benefit the entire region. This will be possible by leveraging intentional hiring, career development, and spending in a footprint crossing the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County that for too long has faced substantial, systematic disinvestment.

The initial goal of the network is for member instituions to increase employment and spending in the footprint with the aim of increasing the share of Black and Brown employees in their workforces and to expand spending with businesses owned by people of color from the footprint.

Network members plan to build a model of peer learning and sharing to accelerate the adoption of best practices, and they are working to create a standardized data tracking system on hiring and spending and other community metrics to monitor their efforts.

Network members have held a series of focus groups with residents, organizations, and community leaders in the footprint to shape the network’s approach and the Missouri Foundation for Health (MFH) recently awarded support for the network’s start-up phase. MFH is working to build a more equitable future through collaboration, convening, knowledge sharing, and strategic investment. Working in partnership with communities and anchor instiutions was a natural fit for this work as the foundation seeks to address the social and economic factors that shape health outcomes.

Stefani Weeden-Smith has been tapped to serve as the network’s inaugural director. She brings more than 20 years of experience in community engagement, most recently as the assistant director of community engagement at the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement at Washington University in St. Louis. Weeden-Smith officially began her new position on September 20, and she will work out of UMSL’s Office of Research and Economic and Community Development.

“We are committed to building inclusive prosperity throughout St. Louis, and we are excited to continue to partner with other anchor institutions to work to eliminate the racial and economic inequality that has persisted for too long in our region,” University of Missouri–St. Louis Chancellor Kristin Sobolik said. “Stefani will help us coordinate our efforts to have maximum impact as we look to increase opportunity and build wealth for the residents of these communities.”

“Business has an increasingly important role to play in driving meaningful, positive systems change that will spur inclusive economic growth,” Edward Jones Managing Partner Penny Pennington said. “Creating that kind of positive change will help all of our St. Louis regional family members to succeed. We thrive when there is opportunity for all, and the Anchor Action Network is a powerful way we demonstrate that commitment. Stefani is a talented leader who understands the importance of the network effect and what we can achieve together when we confront the challenges and address the opportunities in creating equitable economic opportunities for every St. Louisan.”

“One reason I found this opportunity really interesting is because I believe we can go farther together,” Weeden-Smith said. “We can do more if we are able to pool our resources together, to be more collaborative. We have a lot of separate things happening, but we've never come together to say, ‘Oh, you're doing it this way,’ or figure out what the best practices are and really have measurable accountability.”

St. Louis Anchor Action

The St. Louis Anchor Action Network is a coalition of institutions and companies working with community leaders and stakeholders to collectively leverage intentional hiring, career development, and spending in communities of color facing high poverty rates to drive equitable wealth building , improved health and economic development in the region.

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