Moving $3 Billion Boulders to Invest in American Communities 
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Moving $3 Billion Boulders to Invest in American Communities 

The third season of “Profiles in Public Service” is off to an exciting start as we highlight all that our federal government does to strengthen local communities across America. 

In our first episode, Craig Buerstatte, a program and policy leader at the Economic Development Administration, shares how he and his team managed to equitably distribute $3 billion in American Rescue Plan funding to 780 projects that assist local communities in creating more robust and resilient regional economies. These efforts included the EDA’s $500 million Good Jobs Challenge, led by Lauren Starks, and benefited organizations like the Illinois-based nonprofit, Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, led by Patrick Combs.  

Buerstatte, Starks and Combs discuss why they work in public service, what they have learned about enabling economic development at the local level, and how they have built community-informed projects that bring together diverse partners to support the U.S. workforce. 

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Rachel Klein-Kircher: From the Partnership for Public Service, this is Profiles in Public Service—a podcast that shares the stories of the public servants who work on our behalf every day to make our country safer, healthier and more prosperous. 

We talk to career public servants, emerging leaders and others to better understand what it means to be a public servant… the incredible variety of careers possible in government… and how public service impacts all our lives.  

I’m your host, Rachel Klein-Kircher. Whether you are already a subscriber from last season or a new listener to our show, we are excited to be back this spring to highlight the impact that our federal government has on individuals and communities across the country.   

Transition Music 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: This season I’ll be joined by guest hosts from across the Partnership who will join me on this journey of sharing stories that highlight what federal services and support can mean for local communities.  

Our upcoming series of episodes will include both public servants and those who have directly benefitted from their leadership and innovation. The accomplishments of our guests demonstrate what it takes for our federal government and its wide network of regional partners to effectively serve the public. 

Bola Akinola: I’m Bola Akinola, your guest host for today’s episode and a senior manager on the Federal Workforce team here at the Partnership.   

Rachel and I are joined by two public servants from the Economic Development Administration who worked tirelessly to deliver for communities across the country over the past year. 

At the Economic Development Administration, Craig Buerstatte led a team that awarded $3 billion [dollars] in American Rescue Plan funding to 780 projects across the country that aim to build more robust and resilient regional economies.   

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Lauren Starks also joins us as a program lead for the EDA’s $500 million Good Jobs Challenge, which uses American Rescue Plan funds to expand career opportunities for American workers and build a 21st-century U.S. workforce. 

Lauren previously served at the White House Domestic Policy Council, where she helped shape programs that increase opportunity for underserved people across the U.S. 

Bola Akinola: We also have the privilege of hearing from a Good Jobs Challenge grant recipient, Patrick Combs, the interim CEO of the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, an umbrella organization operating the largest public workforce system in the country.  

Patrick will speak about how working with the EDA enabled his organization to deliver on its mission of creating sustainable pipelines to good-paying jobs with a focus on communities on Chicago’s South and West sides. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Let’s turn now to this wonderful conversation. 

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Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, I want to welcome everyone to our show. We have Craig, Lauren, and Patrick. Thank you so much for joining us. 

Craig Buerstatte: Pleasure to be here. Rachel. Thanks so much for having us. 

Lauren Starkes: Great to be with you. Thank you so much. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: I am excited, and I know for Craig this is a continued welcome for you because our organization, we have the privilege of working with you also as a member of our Federal Innovation Council. We would love to talk with our guests today who are all dedicated to public service, and they managed to move mountains. I’d like to first ask you, Craig, and then Lauren, what inspired you to pursue public service work for the federal government, and how did you get to be doing the work that you’re doing now?  

Craig Buerstatte: Thanks, Rachel. It’s an exciting question for me to answer because my path, like so many other civil servants, started in a very far off different world. For me, my first foray in public service was actually as an Army officer. I started my career post-college serving in the Army as a Logistics Officer, where I’ve focused on supporting supply chains, infrastructure development, resource security. Over time that pushed me into building businesses in entrepreneurship, but after a stint in technology entrepreneurship, I was pulled back into public service, but this time on the civilian side focused on building infrastructure businesses and workforce development in the economic development space for the federal government. For me, it’s really come full circle, and throughout my career, I’ve been humbled and lucky to help communities build and scale things for the sake of community development. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And how about you, Lauren?  

Lauren Starkes: Thank you for the question. There are a lot of inspirations in my past, but I want to start with the personal, which is that I grew up in southwest Atlanta, Georgia. I was raised by my mom, who was the first person in our family to go to college. She’s someone who always worked very hard to make things better for other people, even as she overcame adversity and taught me these early values of service and service-centered leadership, which has been deeply meaningful as part of my life. 

My mother also retired from teaching at a Title One school, and I saw how she helped put a network of support around these students. These were some of the most vulnerable students in the entire school system, and I saw how much that meant to them. It made them feel seen. And it was an example for me that part of service is actually seeing others. It’s seeing their needs. It’s seeing their potential, their experiences, and I think there’s also a great degree of optimism. It’s seeing what’s possible – and so doing whatever we can, whatever is able in the place that you are to make all of that real.  

I carried that perspective into very early volunteer work with anti-poverty organizations, and eventually into law school and clinics that provided direct service in the community, and really took away from all of these early examples that you have to meet people where they are. It takes a village and that’s something that’s really stuck with me. I think that’s been part of my DNA as a public servant today, and it’s really a part of what we’re doing in the Good Jobs Challenge Program as well, which I’m excited to speak more about. 

 I also want to say that in terms of my professional path here, I have reflected on these experiences, and I note that I have been asking my entire life how do we help people reach their full potential, and how do we make a difference not only today, but also in a longer-term way? And so, public service for me is a path to do that, and I’ve really been drawn in, along that journey, which in my first federal experience brought me to the Obama administration in 2012.  

But much of the work that I’m doing now at Commerce connects back to that and really designing and leading policy programs that are focused on how you bring different parts of our ecosystem together, how you create better alignment across education and workforce, and really how you create opportunity for more low income people across the United States with the government as a lever – a lever for that impact and investment.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Your origin story certainly makes sense now that we’re about to hear the, the actual work that you’re doing. And I’ll let Bola follow up with the next question.  

Bola Akinola: Thanks Rachel. We are excited to have all of you on today. And this question specifically is for Craig and looking at how you have, while working with the EDA, how you’ve effectively distributed $3 billion to communities and projects across the country through the American Rescue Plan. How do you go about doing this work? Share with us some of the challenges that you’ve had to overcome to get to this accomplishment. 

Craig Buerstatte: Thanks Bola, it’s a really great question because it was one big tough challenge. To put it into perspective, $3 billion is roughly 10 times our recent average annual appropriation. As we know the coronavirus created unprecedented economic challenges. The Biden administration set forth an aggressive proactive strategy which for EDA meant that we were elevated to a level that we hadn’t seen in a number of decades. The resources that we were deploying were an incredible opportunity for us to not only respond to and help communities recover from the pandemic, but also recover in a way that was future focused: creating better economic conditions on the ground, more inclusive, equitable conditions on the ground. EDA really had an opportunity at hand, and we did our best to squeeze every opportunity out of it. I’d like to share, to answer your question, how did we do this, what did it require? An incredible amount of program implementation innovation. How we designed our six program portfolio was extremely deliberate across the $3 billion. We had different verticals of work that enabled us to support specific types of economic development outcomes, but it also created some operating efficiencies that enabled us to deploy the resources in an expedited way. That was really important because we more or less had about 14 or 15 months to deploy this, and again nearly 10 times our normal annual appropriations. 

 The program design not only was maximizing community outcomes and some of the economic development objectives that we had, such as increased economic resiliency, increased economic inclusion, it also improved our operating processes and performance. To do that, one of the most important pillars of our success, as is in almost any organization: collaboration and communication. 

A fun aspect of this experience for EDA was, like many organizations, we were experimenting with new technology. Our workforce was largely remote for the majority of the implementation, which allowed us to experiment with communication tools, new collaboration platforms, and that resulted in new tools for us and new processes internally, but that benefited our communities as well because we deployed a number of new customer support tools, technical assistance tools, and aids and resources that helped our communities prepare for and participate better in the programming in an accelerated manner. 

The theme of the year, the theme of the game, if you will, certainly was impact first followed by efficiencies and modernization. I’m really pleased to share that we knocked it out of the park, and we had an incredible impactful portfolio of 780 investments across the $3 billion portfolio. 

Awesome results in the communities, but equally impactful internally for EDA or colleagues or in our business processes.  

Bola Akinola: Wow. Amazing. Thank you. Thank you so much for that level of detail and, and congratulations. Sounds really fruitful and successful. For Lauren, what’s exciting for you about all of this as you lead off the $500 million Good Jobs Challenge – one of the American Rescue Plan and EDA’s six innovative grant programs?  

Lauren Starkes: What is exciting for me about this moment is that I really think this is a moment to do things differently. We’ve been coming out of this recovery, and I think it’s called upon all of us in public service to think forward, to think about what are the big concrete strategies that are going to meet people in communities all across the country where they are and bring them back into this economy. 

And so, it is a really exciting time to lead this work. We are so proud to be part of the largest investments seen in decades in place-based development and workforce partnerships. The Good Jobs Challenge is at the center of this for EDA, working to create regionally tailored projects that are bringing different players to the table and starting new conversations. 

So, coming together across our 32 awardees, I should note that we were 13 times oversubscribed, so the energy, the momentum, the outreach that Craig is describing resulted in quite a lot of demand. We have, as a result, these really incredible projects that are bringing together over 800 employers with higher education institutions, economic development organizations, workforce boards, community-based nonprofits, other critical stakeholders, and they’re executing locally tailored models that are going to place workers into good jobs. They’re doing this on a large scale, and they’re going to work to create these initiatives in their communities over five years, and 50,000 job opportunities across 31 states and Puerto Rico. 

I’ve been visiting these projects since our launch. There’s so much hard work going into it. I will tell you it’s in inspiration to us. We all know in government service that, as Craig described, when you’re doing something new and when you’re doing something that matters, you really feel that, and you feel the responsibility of it. And it takes creativity, it takes innovation, and it takes thinking broadly and doing things in a different way where you can see what’s possible. And so, I mentioned just a few moments ago that I worked at education, I was also at the White House Domestic Policy Council. What I think is important to know a bit about my story and also how it plays into leading this program is that for nearly half of that time I was working for a 40-year career civil servant. His name is Philip Rosenfelt, and he’s a former Sammies recipient from the [Partnership for Public Service]. He taught me a lot about leading in government and leading in hard times. Phil taught me the value of innovation, collaboration, and as a lawyer, I’m trained as a lawyer, to have a keen focus on the details, but also to do the analysis and to look for the yes. Look for the broad way of approaching an issue that may not seem possible yet, but with creativity and expertise and certainly drawing on the talent that EDA has across this country – not only at headquarters but across the regions – just being able to see a problem differently makes a difference. I was really lucky to work with leaders like him and so many others in my previous role in government. That is a mindset of achieving hard things. I can tell from the EDA that that’s a mindset that’s a part of the culture, of what we do, and it’s a part of why we make such an impact across the country. 

Bola Akinola: I love “look for the yes.” That’s great. Sounds like a lot of great opportunities were created across the board, especially the ability to collaborate among agencies and with local partners. Thank you. I’m going to turn this back over to Rachel, so we can have a check-in with our community partner.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Lauren mentioned about, you know, working through hard times – I want to pause and appreciate the fact that Craig talked about $3 billion, which is 10 times the amount. So I’m pretty sure that nobody then flipped a switch and gave you 10 times the amount of staff and office space and resources. 

So I just want our audience to appreciate what that means. $3 billion might sound like a windfall and amazing, but then there’s the burden of having to figure out how to spend it with the staff that you had normally and still get your day job done. So, I want to share with our listeners what an achievement this really is. 

So, now we will move to Patrick, who is one of the recipients of the programs that Craig and Lauren are talking about. Patrick works for the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership and the vision of your organization – every person has the opportunity to build a career, every business has the talent to grow and compete in the global economy. So, for you Patrick, from your perspective, what is the impact that the work that Craig and Lauren and their teams at EDA has had on your organization?  

Patrick Combs:  Thank you,  Rachel, it’s been huge. Working with EDA has been such a blessing because they’ve just been really on the ground with us trying to build something better. What I really gave them credit for when they designed the Good Jobs Challenges, one – they made it a challenge from the beginning. It wasn’t just write a good proposal and hopefully you will get some funding. It was go out there, build a coalition, build a group of partners, and really present something that can make some change. They asked us to do the hard work upfront, but it was so worth it. I called all my rowdiest friends and I said, we’re doing something big, so I need you all to come with me. But to a person, everybody’s like: “We’re on board, what can we do?” Because everybody knows the importance of bringing good jobs to communities that haven’t had them before. That’s the other really impressive thing about the Good Jobs Challenge. $3 billion doesn’t come around all the time, this is really a once in a lifetime thing. And so instead of just funding us to say, give us some outcomes, how many people got trained, how many people got jobs… they said: “We are going to support you in building a better system. We are going to give you funding just to do systems building.” Which doesn’t come around very often, especially not in federal funding. 

So, It’s been really exciting to be able to build this better mouse trap about how do we actually take the good jobs that already exist in our community, and get them to the parts of our city in our region that need them the most? I talk to a lot of people and they say: “Patrick, tell me where the leakages are in the pipelines. Why aren’t these good jobs getting into the community?” And I tell people, it’s not a leak in the pipeline – it’s the pipes that were never built out there. The pipes were never built to the south side and the west side, and so what we’re able to do now is build a new way of how we do what we do to make sure that the good jobs that already exist are getting to the people that need them. 

And I’ll say, you know, Lauren and her team are right there with us. They’re not looking for us to make mistakes or us to get them wins, they’re just looking to be partners with us to do something better. And so it’s been really great working with them and you know, we’re excited for what the next few years are going to hold.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Is there a particular story that you’d like to share from one of the accomplishments because of all of this good work that’s happening?  

Patrick Combs: Sure. I’ll share a funny anecdote about the Good Jobs Challenge work so far, because we’re doing systems building, we haven’t quite got to the outcomes and success stories yet, but I will share one from kind of a previous round of federal funding we got related to the pandemic. 

And so, as the pandemic was kicking off and the federal government was rushing in resources to local areas, we were asked to kind of build this community health response corps for the region. What we wanted to do is we wanted to infuse it with workforce principles so that people could learn a new career while they’re earning, supporting their communities. 

 This is probably summer 2020, we started recruiting for this program. People were going through tough times, so we started recruiting in the communities that were hardest hit, and we found a lot of great people, but this one woman who I’m thinking of, she was down on her luck, didn’t think anything like this would be possible. We hired her to work at one of our CBOs. She started getting credentials, started learning how to do this work, and eventually she said: “You know what? Public service is for me.” So, after excelling in her role, she now works for our organization, helping lead this work because she saw that giving back to your community through public service was such a meaningful thing that she wanted to continue to do it as a career. We are really excited about things like that, but the funny anecdote so far is you know, part of the Good Jobs Challenge is building these sector partnerships where we are bringing in business leaders to tell us what they need. So, I was meeting with a group of business leaders, telling them about our Good Job Chicago Plan, how we really are building the resources around them, “Tell us what your needs are and we’re going to build solutions and get these out into community.” After the meeting, they go, “Patrick, this is great. Why isn’t the federal government supporting this?” And I was like: “About that… everything that we just talked about…” They were kind of blown away that this kind of innovative type solution could come from federal funding. So, just More kudos to the EDA team for designing something that’s really impactful.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: That is awesome because we hear from Craig “innovation,” we hear from Lauren “bringing everybody together,” and “this is how it works,” and “we come to you, and work with you, we’re partners…” Then to have you, Patrick, tell the story like here is the proof that this is indeed what’s happening that’s really terrific, thank you. I also have to say, I like the meta idea that all of this infusion of funding forced EDA to figure out an infrastructure build-better system. You are saying in turn, that’s what it also did for your group as well.  

Patrick Combs: From EDA’s perspective, at least the sense I got is that they were like: “Look, ARPA dollars aren’t gonna be around forever, but we want these investments to last longer than the money.” We really took that to heart to try to build something that even after these funds are gone, we will have built a better infrastructure to continue this work on going forward. It’s truly about building something better.  

Bola Akinola: Patrick, what’s one thing that surprised you in your interactions with the representatives of the EDA?  

Patrick Combs: Their willingness to problem-solve with us. They didn’t want to be top down. They wanted us to kind of tell them what our needs were and then really work with us to figure out what’s the best solution going forward? And they flowed in a lot of resources, you know, through Jobs for the Future. 

They created this community of practice where we got to meet with experts as well as our counterparts from around the country. Because unlike a lot of programs I’ve been involved with in the past where it’s very formulaic, very structured, here’s the funding, here’s what you need to do, tell us your results. 

EDA is really like, all right, we’re family now, we’re partners. Come on, we’re working together. And it’s a new kind of invigorating approach, I will say from our federal partners to really just be in it with us and say like, ‘tell us what you need, tell us how you’re going to build something great’ instead of ‘we’re going to tell you what to build.’ 

And so that kind of role reversal which I know is challenging has been really impactful from the local level, I will say.  

Bola Akinola: That’s great. And so what do you think more people should know about the federal government’s ability to make an impact on people, on individuals and communities across the country?  

Patrick Combs: I will say that when the federal government and really the great people working for the federal government partner with people on the local level, that it’s in that partnership, if people really approach it intentionally and approach it from a place of, ‘what is the best for the community and being able to uplift the voice of the community?,’ then we can make real change. 

And so you know, don’t think, oh, this is just another federal program, this is just another federal thing. Think about what is the partnership and where does the genesis of that lie. And if you see that there’s real interaction between the federal government and the people locally who know what’s needed in community, then you can see, okay, that’s something that really can make change here. 

So I would say go into it more open and believe that change can happen because there’s change makers in DC right now who are really trying to do something different. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: I love that. And for me, this really leads into this critical issue of trust in government. Uh, so question for you, Craig and Lauren. How do you think that furthering your collaborative work with other agencies and with communities across the country will help continue to build trust in government? And Lauren, I’ll let you take this first.  

Lauren Starkes: So, I just want to double click on Patrick’s point that flowing resources in showing that this is ours to solve together. And having a mindset of collaboration that’s reflected in the way the process is structured, I think will flow also into the outcomes. And I think that will flow into trust. 

And, you know, I, I can’t take credit for the quote, but I heard that change moves at the speed of trust and it, it is something that certainly underscores this work. That’s a part of how we are trying to do business at EDA and we want to continue that. We want to build that foundation and we want to do it with even more partners. 

So, you know, our community of practice coming in to lead and help provide expertise and support to our grantees is just opening the aperture for what this network could look like and what we can do going forward to make sure it’s well, well supported. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And Craig, is there anything you’d want to add to that?  

Craig Buerstatte: Yeah. Rachel, I’m reflecting on my early history lessons and why the founding fathers designed and started the nation that they did. I think it’s important for us to remember that while back then there were many less states and territories. Today, the United States is comprised of 59 very different, very unique states and US territories. 

It’s a very diverse country, and with respect to EDA’s mission, supporting place-based economic development, that means there’s 59 very different economies. And we want to do our best to support the right solutions that are going to address the needs, challenges, and opportunities of each and every state and territory. 

And that means, to your point, what you’re getting at is. The best collaboration and agility in our customer service as possible because we have to recognize that the solutions themselves are going to be very diverse if we are responding to the diverse needs of our awesome, diverse country. 

And once again, just emphasizing connectivity, collaboration, and, and communication. If we prioritize that amongst our local and, and state partners as well as amongst our federal partners I think we’ll be on the right track.   

Bola Akinola: And so now for Craig and or Lauren, why might you suggest that someone pursue a career in public service? What advice might you give to someone who might be either early in their career in the public service sector or considering switching sectors to public service?  

Craig Buerstatte: Well, especially for young professionals exploring their career. I would say that public service is an incredible opportunity to learn how systems and ultimately our country works. You’re going to gain a perspective that is incredibly unique and transformative for your professional cabinet of tools. 

No matter what industry you go into, I think you’ll have a stronger capacity to communicate better. You’ll have a stronger understanding of systems and strategy in general. So, I really encourage folks that are excited to develop some of those tools at a strategic high level to pursue an opportunity. 

But first and foremost, it should always be mission driven and for impact purposes, and those who are excited about waking up in the morning and tackling issues that are going to impact our public the country as a whole it ain’t easy. It is a hard industry. The red tape and barricades sometimes can be frustrating and challenging. 

But what’s the old saying? Nothing worth doing is ever easy. So, I always find great reward in tackling hard challenges and in doing the hard work it’s incredibly meaningful and incredibly rewarding and I grow and learn something new every day in this profession.  

Bola Akinola: And Lauren, what would you like to add to that? Thanks, Craig.  

Lauren Starkes: I would say that when you see an issue you care about, when you see something that sparks your concern know that in public service there is a place for you to be a part of shaping solutions and I would say for early career professionals and even current students or others, you know, look for those opportunities to get a potential preview to do volunteer work. To really get proximity to the challenges that you’re, you’re excited about trying to solve. And to even get to know, maybe do informational interviews with current public servants, like as much as you can learn and get that perspective, I think that will continue to motivate and bring new ideas how, how to pursue the path. 

I did this, I was the, you know, first person in my family to go to law school. And from day one of law school, I was thinking about the law as a lever for problem solving for individuals but was really excited about the structural and systemic opportunities that existed through legal training and how I might be able to apply that to programs and policies at the federal level. 

Those seeds were really sparked by some early experiences, like doing an externship in DC for half a year working with lawyers over the summer that, you know, showed me the kind of impact they could have and the client meetings that we, I was invited to. Just really getting close to the issues and the mode of analysis that allows public servants and, and leaders to, to solve hard challenges and, and to think about those challenges in a really comprehensive way. 

Bola Akinola: Thank you. And to further underscore this, we were chatting a little bit before and Patrick shared some really interesting information about his family’s background in public service. Patrick, we’re going to ask you to speak through that a little bit more right now.  

Patrick Combs: Sure thing, Bola. So, I’m a recovering attorney myself. I went into corporate law and it just wasn’t for me, but I’m actually a fourth-generation public servant. My father worked for the federal government. My grandfather, my great-grandfather. I do it at the local level but if you want to help your community, and if you want to make a difference, then public service is a great way to do it. 

While it’s a great job for, you know, for you and your family. And so really think about like, if you wantmake a change and if you want to actually get in there and like Lauren and Craig, you know, we move big boulders on the local level, but like they’re moving $3 billion boulders. So if you really want to get in there and make big, impactful change, then public service is a way that you could do it, where you can really show what you’ve built. And I also said that I’m definitely the first member of my family who’s ever done a podcast talking about public service. But yeah, if you, if you care about your community and want to make a change, then public service and, you know, the federal government or even on the local level, it’s a really great place to do it. 

And it’s a great place for you and your family as well.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Lauren, Craig, and Patrick, thank you so much for joining Bola and me today. You took, you know, what is a massive, massive program and created the human story that we can all grasp and really understand how effective the government is working with communities. So just thank you for your service and, and all that you’re doing. 

Bola Akinola: Yes. Thank you.  

Patrick Combs: Thank you.  

Craig Buerstatte: Honored to do it. Thanks, Rachel.

Lauren Starkes: Thank you all.  

Transition Music

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, Bola, when I think about how massive an undertaking the American Rescue Plan is, and then listening to Craig and Lauren from EDA, talk about how they got into public service, like it made sense to me that their two combined skillsets worked. So Craig, as this army officer in logistics, which is very detailed and planning and structured, and he’s an entrepreneur, which kind of blows everything open and all the possibilities. 

And then you have Lauren talking about, you know, the people side and seeing what’s possible. And I love that she said part of service is actually seeing others and everything is about a network of support. Like it brings it all together. And what they were able to do. 

Bola Akinola: Yeah. And I think it was so nice to hear Lauren talk about her upbringing and, ending up in the law space, right? And then bringing this kind of full circle into this work. I mean, they both sounded extremely proud of the work they did and that synthesis works, but having, I think having Patrick there to actually speak to the impact that it has just as a partner in that space really brought it even more so to life for those of us who can’t necessarily see how the broad, you know, how these larger organizational efforts actually impact the partnerships and then the individuals. It was great to have Patrick in that space to bring that to light as well. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah, I thought so, and I liked that he called attention to the fact that this wasn’t formulaic like other programs where there’s usually this set script or a checklist of here grantee organization here, or. All the things you need to do. He said EDA actually came in and it was almost the reverse. Like, what do you need? 

Let’s work together. What problems are we trying to solve and what’s best for the community within which you work? Right? Because I think, you know, Craig even talked about 59 states and territories. That’s 59 unique entities, not a boiler plate. 

Bola Akinola: That’s right. And I think one of the most powerful statements there that Patrick said, and again as a recipient of all this amazing work and really kind of specifying where these funds these millions and, and billions of dollars are going to, is looking at how the investments, right? 

So that financial investment is great, but he wanted that investment to last much longer than just that money, right? It’s really looking at building something more sustainable and building something better. I thought that was powerful. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Right, it’s not just a here’s a onetime solution. We’re going to actually fix your system, fix your infrastructure, like you said, something that will last. And it was so interesting that the same happened for EDA and I love that Craig, and this is maybe the entrepreneur in him and the innovator in him, he said, “it was really fun to experiment.” I love it when, you know, you’re faced with this huge challenge and I’m sure there were many nights that nobody slept, and to say it was that there was a fun element to it. I love hearing that somebody finds joy in their work. and they were experimenting, and this is what the pandemic did, right? 

It forced people to think how do we reimagine work? And we have to learn tech. And what was amazing was that it, it not only helped EDA improve their own systems and structures and processes, but it also then helped what they were providing to their customers that was going to benefit the communities. 

Bola Akinola: I’m always struck by how we can kind of align ourselves or call to mind the people that have the biggest impacts on us, right? When we’re having these conversations and taking a look at how we got into this space, right? So Lauren made mention of her mentor and all the people that she’s met and worked with, and then working through, you know, law school and all of those communications. 

Remembering her mentorship, I should say, with, with her leader Philip Rosenfelt. It’s always great to be able to recall the specific people who kind of bring you to the space where you are then. Right. And that aligns really nicely with Patrick’s conversation about his family background and how he came to the public service space. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah, I think so, and to have that enduring impact on somebody and how she described her mentor, first, her family, and then her mentor, but then, and she brings that into actually, seeing the people in the community. It’s not, you know, here’s a client or a customer with no face. This is not only a face that I see but it’s a unique individual face with a unique set of needs and circumstances. 

And then I think that also plays into that whole trust conversation that we were having with them toward the end. You know, this seeing people, this mindset of having collaboration and as they said, that flows into outcomes. 

Bola Akinola: Yeah. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And the phrase, even though she said it wasn’t her own, that change moves at the speed of trust, right? Like, how wonderful that is and how important. 

Bola Akinola: I like the reference to, you know, Patrick on, he’s talking about the work that they all do, and then he really kind of deferred to, to Craig and Lauren and say, you know, they’re, they’re moving these $3 billion boulders. Right. He’s kind of on the grassroots level moving these boulders from the $3 billion boulders that Craig and Lauren are moving. Right? And getting to see the impact really in his direct space. It’s really, it’s amazing to see that partnership and see it kind of in full flow. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: You know, and I was struck, you know, and I said this during the podcast, during the conversation with the others about what a big thing it is to have to spend that much money. But in just listening to you, again, Bola is really bringing it home that how much their collaboration allowed them to do this faster and to get it done and to work this way is, is really something. 

 We’re just so excited because we’re going to feature even more incredible projects for the rest of the season about federal government impact across the country through funding, collaboration, and with this focus on communities and equity. And I’m just so excited, Bola, that you were my guest host. And thank you so much for joining us and adding to this conversation.  

Bola Akinola: It was so my pleasure. It was wonderful to be in this space. Thanks for having me. 

Transition Music 

Abigail Alpern Fisch: So that’s our show, thanks so much for listening! If you haven’t already, please follow or subscribe to “Profiles in Public Service” wherever you get your podcasts.  

You can also check this episode’s show notes to learn more about today’s topic, and be sure to follow the Partnership for Public Service on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram to find out about future episodes!  

“Profiles in Public Service” is created by the Partnership for Public Service.  

 I’m, Abigail Alpern Fisch, our writer and producer for today’s episode. 

Our script supervisor is Barry Goldberg. 

And our executive producer is Jordan LaPier.  

See you next time!