To celebrate 35 years of Emerging Issues Forums, we invite you to join us for ReCONNECT for the Future, four days of carefully curated virtual content sure to inspire and empower individuals and communities to come together, across lines of geography, race, income and politics, to address the biggest challenges we face as a state. The Forum concludes a six-event series focused on the “connections” our state struggles with. Over the four days, we will create a shared understanding of the many “whys” to reconnect, highlight select big ideas that have the greatest potential to help us reconnect, and build our capacity to better work together in order to move forward. 


MONDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2021     |     1 – 5:30 p.m.


How Do We Move Forward? 

A pandemic. A recession. A divisive political and racial climate. Our state has work to do. Seven in ten of us say we distrust each other more than we did 20 years ago. Nearly half of us say we are feeling hopeless at this moment. This time of disconnection didn’t begin with COVID-19: it’s been coming for a while. And it’s not a problem for others to fix. It will take us all working together to reweave the fabric of society. It’s our only hope of addressing the challenges of today and leveraging the opportunities of tomorrow.

  • David Brooks, Chair of Weave: The Social Fabric Project, and New York Times Columnist Read Bio
  • Leslie Boney, Director, Institute for Emerging Issues Read Bio  
  • Randy Woodson, Chancellor, NC State University Read Bio

Weaving a Common ‘Why’  

With significant challenges affecting our state’s long-term economic competitiveness and growing societal divisions across politics, geography, race, and income, it’s clear that the only way to move forward is by repairing our connections—to one another, to our communities, and to our state. In many cases these connections must be created anew—we may need to build bridges we haven’t walked before. This session will start to paint the picture for a reconnected NC and will focus on WHY we need to get there. Each of us will have a different idea about how to connect, but one thing is for sure. If every North Carolina took just one step forward, we could cross the state and back five times.

  • Nancy Cable, Chancellor, UNC Asheville Read Bio
  • Melanie Flowers, NC State Student Body President Read Bio
  • Harvey Godwin, Jr, Lumbee Tribal Chairman, Lumbee Tribe of N.C. Read Bio
  • Jim Hansen, Regional President, PNC Bank Eastern Carolinas Read Bio
  • Matty Lazo-Chadderton, Deputy Director of Outreach, Office of Public Engagement, Office of the Governor Read Bio

Our Ideas to ReCONNECT NC

With a clear understanding of why we need to reconnect as a state, we will pitch five big ideas for what can be done– at the individual, community, and state levels, to move us forward. A blueprint for progress, these ideas will address prior topics addressed in the ReCONNECT NC series: mental health and well-being, digital inclusion, economic opportunity, rural and urban interconnectedness, and civic engagement. We’ll also feature the secret sauce for achieving reconnection —  dialogue across difference. 

  • Cherene Caraco, Chief Executive Officer, Promise Resource Network Read Bio
  • Thomas Parrish, Acting Secretary, NC Department of Information Technology Read Bio
  • Dylan Russell, Executive Director of Lead for North Carolina, UNC School of Government Read Bio
  • Thomas Stith III, President, NC Community College System Read Bio
  • Brian Etheridge, President, Leadership North Carolina Read Bio
  • Hunter Corn, Director, Wildacres Leadership Initiative and the William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations Read Bio
  • Bronwyn Lucas, Senior Director of Leadership and Engagement, NC Rural Center Read Bio

Discussion Sessions

These active engagement sessions are a space for participants to dive deeper into each of the “ideas to ignite” shared in the previous session. Participants will share stories, information, and resources and learn from others across different sectors, regions, and perspectives to best determine how to implement these ideas in practice to achieve the greatest impact. These sessions will be lightly facilitated by IEI staff but driven by participants. The more diverse the audience, the richer the discussion.

  • $2,000 for 2,000
  • NC regional exchange
  • A wraparound support services referral program located in a 2- or 4-year higher education institution within a 30 minute drive of every North Carolinian
  • Make NC the first state in the nation where every county has a digital inclusion plan
  • Expand access to peer-operated alternatives for treatment of mental illness
  • Open space discussion


Creating Collaborative Connections

Policy, programs and strategy are important, and we believe that local communities with their traditions, willingness to work, and history of coming together in tough times to solve big challenges — are the unit of change to spark this commitment to reconnection. We see communities as the experts that can lead change and inspire others to become part of a more connected North Carolina. 


  • Anita Rao, Creator/Host of “Embodied” on WUNC and Managing Editor of WUNC’s On Demand Content Read Bio


  • Calvin Allen, Rural Forward NC Director, Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation Read Bio
  • Mark Gabriel Little, Executive Director, CREATE at UNC Kenan Institute Read Bio
  • Caroline Farmer, Executive Director of VolunteerNC, Governor Roy Cooper’s Office Read Bio
  • Jill K. Cox, President & CEO, Communities in Schools of North Carolina Read Bio
  • Christopher Chung, CEO, Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina Read Bio

Champion Spotlight:

  • Shaq Thompson, Carolina Panthers Star LB and Super Bowl Player, Founder and Creator of Thompson Legacy Fund Read Bio

    |     9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. 


Capacity Building Sessions   

IEI and our partners will offer eight participatory and interactive workshops addressing a variety of topics to support the urgent and future needs of nonprofit organizations, local governments, and cross-sector community collaborations. These sessions will convene and connect stakeholders, decision-makers, and change agents from the civic and nonprofit sectors, faith communities, government, and business. Reflecting the diversity of North Carolina, these sessions will orient and equip participants to creatively tackle the present and courageously engage the future. Building off our ReCONNECT NC themes and lessons learned, these sessions will be educational, practical, and inspiring, and will catalyze action.

These sessions will range from 90 minutes to two hours and will not be concurrent or competing, so participants can attend all eight workshops if they wish. There will be multiple facilitators and workshop leaders guiding each session, as well as a mix of local, statewide, and national experts to offer a variety of perspectives and skills for the participants. Thanks to our generous sponsors, these sessions are being provided at no-charge.


Capacity Building Session 1  |  9 – 10:30 a.m.

Strategic Leadership, Bridge Building, and Stronger Communities

Successful work in communities requires crossing boundaries and social divisions – social, political, geographical, as well as across race, income, and power. We will share current examples of statewide and regional groups that build networks across those divisions and promote strategic networks for community building. During this session, they will share their tools and lessons for promoting successful networks along with the leadership needed for crossing boundaries and social divisions. Additionally, the presenters will create space for participants to explore opportunities and challenges in their own context such as asset based community development, peer learning networks, and collaborative, culturally competent partnerships.

Co-facilitated by:


Capacity Building Session 2  |  11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Community-Rooted Practices for Creating Equity

In this training, we will explore practices for engaging and partnering with organizations that are accountable to impacted community members. Partnerships between large organizations or institutions and community organizations can be effective tools for creating lasting social change and promoting racial equity. But such partnerships must be created with careful attention to power structures and accountability. This session will focus on the challenges encountered by impacted communities in such partnerships, concepts of community-rooted practices, and the recommendations for incorporating these principles as a partnering organization. This session is created on the peer-reviewed article on community-rooted processes. The article, Community-Rooted Organizations: Enhanced Accountability and Capacity Building for Community Development can be found here.

Co-facilitated by:

  • Camryn Smith, Founding Member and Executive Director, Communities In Partnership Read Bio
  • Kay Jowers, JD, PhD, Senior Policy Associate, Duke University Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Read Bio
  • Danielle Spurlock, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of City and Regional Planning, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Read Bio
  • Jen Zuckerman, MS, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Duke University World Food Policy Center, Sanford School of Public Policy Read Bio


Capacity Building Session 3  |  2 – 3:30 p.m.

Leveraging our Assets and Community Investments

When funding is tight, how do we prioritize what is most important and mission critical? How do we consider new strategies of identifying and leveraging existing assets as well as creative community investments and philanthropy? Getting beyond the basics and the usual conversation, we’ll explore the potential of new strategies and ideas for financial needs and goals.

Co-facilitated by:


Capacity Building Session 4  |  4 – 5:30 p.m.

Strategic Partnerships and Capacity Building with Local Government

North Carolina is a state of many diverse communities. Those communities experience similar challenges in different ways including preparing the next generation of government leaders across NC. This session will highlight the range of roles government is playing in responding to multiple crises while developing cross-sector strategic partnerships to support governmental organizations’ efforts to recruit the talent necessary to address challenges. Panelists and participants will explore examples of how government and non-governmental organizations can leverage each other’s assets for greater collective impact.

Co-facilitated by:

  • Sarah Arney, LFNC Fellow, Community Development Planner, City of Kinston
  • Wilson Hooper, North Wilkesboro Town Manager
  • Jenni Owen, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Office of the NC Governor, State Budget and Management Read Bio
  • Dante Pittman, Human Relations Director, City of Wilson
  • Dylan Russell, Executive Director of Lead for North Carolina, UNC School of Government Read Bio
  • Shom Tiwari, LFNC Fellow, Elizabeth City Public Utilities Department and Library Assistant at the Pasquotank County Library


WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2021     |     9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. 


Capacity Building Session 5  |  9 – 10:30 a.m.

Entrepreneurship and Creativity

We’ll explore entrepreneurship in these times; the creativity and critical thinking needed to thrive, and lessons learned from our co-facilitators. We’ll also point toward policy ideas to advance entrepreneurial ecosystems across North Carolina’s diverse communities. Participants will be encouraged to share opportunities and challenges they’re facing and discuss ways to move their ideas and work forward.

Co-facilitated by:

  • Brandy Bynum Dawson, Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy, NC Rural Center Read Bio
  • Nick Neptune, Entrepreneur and former managing director of Transfer Company Food Hall, Ballroom, and Work Hall Read Bio
  • Kim Pevia, Founder and Principal, KAP Inner Prizes and Life Coach Read Bio


Capacity Building Session 6  |  11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Regional Resilience and Innovation

We’ll explore and share examples of leadership that approach local concerns (ie: workforce training, entrepreneurship, economic development) from an appropriate regional perspective. Participants will brainstorm with others about appropriate regional partnerships and leadership needed to meet their goals.

Co-facilitated by:


Capacity Building Session 7  |  2 – 3:30 p.m.

Strong Infrastructure in Nonprofit Organizations Crucial to COVID Response

We’ll explore the importance of the nonprofit sector as an economic engine and in COVID response, what the sector needs right now for organizations, for the sector as a whole, and for the communities and constituencies they serve. Participants will learn more about NC’s nonprofit capacity building network, ways donors and foundations can support strengthening the infrastructure in the nonprofit sector, and have a chance to discuss with others how they can connect to and contribute to capacity-building resources within their region of the state.

Co-facilitated by members of the NC Nonprofit Capacity Building Network, including:


Capacity Building Session 8  |  4 – 5:30 p.m.

Leading Forward: Moving Beyond Where We Are & What’s Needed Now

We’ll envision what’s needed to lead in new ways at this time and in the future. This inspiring workshop will stretch your imagination and move you beyond your comfort zone to consider what is necessary, creative, and courageous. Who are our people? What are the opportunities and challenges? How do we learn and work together?  

A sampling of resources for discussion:


THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2021     |     1 – 4 p.m.

A State that Works for Everyone 

Governor Roy Cooper and his administration are pledging to create a state and economy that works for everyone. This session will highlight key efforts being deployed at the highest level of leadership across the state, what it will take to support more people in achieving this north star goal, and what to expect in 2021 and beyond. 

  • Jack Cecil, Biltmore Farms LLC & Chair, IEI National Advisory Board Read Bio
  • Roy Cooper, Governor, North Carolina Read Bio


Breaking Bread for a Brighter Tomorrow  

Whoever coined the phrase, the way to “one’s heart is through the stomach” was certainly onto something. But food also has the power to connect our hearts—and heads—to each other, bringing us together across lines of divide, including race, politics and geography. We connect when we grow and harvest the food, when we prepare and adjust the recipes, often handed down from generation to generation, and when we sit down with family, friends and strangers to share our meals. This session will explore the power of connection through food and highlight food-related conversations that have helped to heal both hunger and the heart.

  • Lindsay Bierman, CEO, PBS North Carolina Read Bio
  • Yordanys “Jay” Bastardo, Chef, Owner & Operator, Villa Verde in Greenville Read Bio
  • Ryan Bethea, Owner & Operator, Oysters Carolina Read Bio
  • Sheri Castle, Renowned cookbook author, food writer, and beloved cooking teacher Read Bio
  • Cheetie Kumar, Chef, Owner & Operator, Garland in Raleigh Read Bio

An Experiment in Civil Dialogue

What happens when regular North Carolinians with different viewpoints on important issues and topics related to the state’s long-term economic prosperity meet for virtual coffee to talk about those issues? This session will highlight the real and recent experiences of those who have done just that–what they heard, shared, felt, and how they left those conversations. 

  • John Hood, Co-Chair, NC Leadership Forum, Duke University & President, John William Pope Foundation  Read Bio
  • Leslie Winner, Co-Chair, NC Leadership Forum, Duke University Read Bio


  • Natalie English, President and CEO of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce
  • Leland Hyer, Middle School Teacher
  • Marquita Robertson, Executive Director, The Collaborative
  • Leonardo Williams, Educator & Entrepreneur

A Call to Step Forward: Bridging Divides and and Healing Our Communities

Communities are facing unprecedented challenges from a global pandemic to economic upheaval to political turmoil to the injustices of systemic racism. We are seeing growing divisions and a deep lack of trust and belief in one another and our institutions. Rich Harwood offers a new path forward. Drawing from more than three decades working in communities around the world, Rich challenges us to reimagine and recreate our communities, our lives, and our nation. Join this dynamic session to hear Rich share inspiring stories and practical guidance for how we can get our communities on a more just, fair, equitable, inclusive and hopeful path forward.

  • McKenzy Heavlin, NC State Student Body Vice President Read Bio
  • Rich Harwood, President and Founder of the Harwood Institute Read Bio

Rich Harwood’s appearance is sponsored by the North Carolina State University Speakers and Lectures Committee, with support from the Harrelson Fund.

*Audience Engagement will be integrated into all aspects of the forum even if not explicitly stated in this template.