Ed. Note: This post is part of the Commerce in the Community series highlighting the work of community leaders and organizations that are strengthening the middle class and providing ladders of opportunity for all Americans.
Below is an interview with David Dodson, President of MDC. Originally known as “Manpower Development Corp.”, MDC creates programs that employ integrated, sustainable solutions that connect people with the financial supports that can stabilize their lives, the education and training they need to get better jobs and the industries that will benefit from their labors and improve the entire community. David Dodson has been with MDC since 1987, where he has directed major projects to increase student success in public schools and community colleges, address regional economic decline, strengthen community philanthropy and build multiracial leadership across the South and the nation. Prior to joining MDC, David served as Executive Director of the Cummins Foundation and Director of Corporate Responsibility for Cummins Engine Company, a Fortune 500 manufacturer based in Columbus, Indiana.
Q1: Tell us about MDC. What is your mission and main focus?
MDC helps organizations and communities close the gaps that separate people from opportunity. We focus on education, employment and economic security and believe the pathway to opportunity is cleared by creating equity—removing the social, financial, and educational barriers that make it harder for those left behind to take advantage of the opportunities America has to offer.
Our programs focus on the American South. We work with policymakers, grassroots community leaders, business people, educators and nonprofits to create a will for change by getting to know a community or organization, connecting leaders across social and political lines and highlighting gaps through historical and statistical research. We then help them identify solutions with a high potential for success and mobilize leaders to address the issues raised.
Our theory of action— Education + Work+ Assets = The Pathway to Opportunity—produces our vision that “society benefits when everyone succeeds.”
Q2: How did MDC get started?
MDC was founded in 1967 out of North Carolina Governor Terry Sanford’s North Carolina Fund, a landmark effort from 1963-1968 to go outside of government and create an organization that would directly address poverty and segregation (and became part of the model for President Johnson’s War on Poverty). The original mission of “Manpower Development Corp.” was to design job training programs to help poor and displaced workers in the transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy and from a segregated to an integrated workforce. Since then, the name has changed and MDC has developed and implemented programs in areas including youth engagement, training and employment, community college improvement, rural economic development, strategic philanthropy, workforce competitiveness, school reform and grassroots community leadership.
Q3: How are you working to promote economic mobility and community development at the local level?
MDC’s strategy is to do research, analysis and leadership development that moves communities to action. With its research, MDC presents data capturing a community’s strengths and weaknesses, and then frames it through the lens of an equity agenda that identifies the barriers keeping people from getting an equal and fair shot at success. MDC then mobilizes leaders from across the community to identify and develop innovative strategies that can help people stabilize their lives economically and get the education and training they need to find good jobs.
Examples of our work to promote economic mobility and community development include:
- The State of the South 2014 will examine the challenges facing young people and what that means for the South’s economic future. With a look at the region and states overall, and a close-up look at individual communities—large and small, urban and rural—it will look closely at generational mobility and what it will take to help all young people in the South achieve the American dream.
- Made in Durham is a public-private community partnership that is building an education-to-career system to equip youth and young adults in Durham, N.C., with the credentials and work experience required for them to connect to and thrive in the region’s buoyant economy. Led by a task force of government, education, nonprofit, community and business leaders, it is intended to create local “talent supply lines” for high-growth and living-wage employers, increasing the ability of Durham’s young people to move up the income ladder toward economically secure lives.
- Partners for Postsecondary Success was a three-year demonstration to establish community partnerships focused on improving postsecondary completion rates for low-income young adults and connecting credentials to living-wage employment in Brownsville and Amarillo, Texas, and Raleigh, N.C.
Q4: In what ways are you partnering with other organizations to increase your impact?
As you can see, our experience has shown us that systemic, community-wide change requires partnerships that reach across the entire community. For example, in the “Made in Durham” program, the 25-member task force put together by MDC includes: the then-CEO of Duke University Health System (Durham’s largest employer), the city manager, the county manager, the local school superintendent, the pastor of a prominent African-American church, a top Latino community organizer, the head of the state Institute for Minority Economic Development, the local community college president, a Superior Court judge, top officials from locally based national drug manufacturers, the head of a major ad agency, the director of a university think tank, a top banker, the CEO of a community financial development institution, a major real estate leader, the CEO of the chamber of commerce, the business dean of the local HBCU, the chair of the Workforce Development Board, the head of the state’s Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the executive director of a statewide philanthropy.
In its other programs, MDC regularly partners with local community colleges, chambers of commerce, employers, philanthropies, nonprofits, United Ways, educators, elected officials, and businesspeople to create an understanding of the economic challenges faced by many in their communities and ways to address them that work to everyone’s benefit.
Q5: If people want to learn more about MDC, what should they do?