Leaders for Equitable Local Economies Leaders for Equitable Local Economies

One of the Boston Fed’s key responsibilities is to promote a strong and sustainable regional economy. Our long commitment to the Working Cities Challenge, which we created to help strengthen economies in New England’s smaller cities, has taught us that when leaders work together toward a shared vision, they can strengthen their civic infrastructures and change systems in ways that make local economies work better for all people. Today, we also know that the fiscal and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic were disproportionately severe in New England’s smaller cities and in communities of color. This means that economic recovery efforts will only work to the extent that recovery strategies—and the leaders deploying them—are racially equitable and inclusive.

Leaders for Equitable Local Economies, or LELE, is an initiative aimed at supporting and strengthening the leaders taking on the critical work of rebuilding economic systems in Massachusetts’ smaller cities. It’s about making those systems work better for residents who have been excluded.

What will LELE accomplish?

LELE invests in leaders from every part of a community. It aims to strengthen the influence of those taking bold action on behalf of their cities. It will help them achieve tangible results through new insights into how to increase racial equity across sectors and circumstances. A successful pilot program will create a cohort of representative leaders with increased individual and collective impact. It will inspire projects that lead to real, measurable improvements. It will encourage institutions that support smaller cities—including the Boston Fed— to adopt new practices and make investments that more effectively assist leaders working toward racial equity


LELE will select pairs or trios of leaders from four to five smaller Massachusetts cities to work together over 18 months, starting in the summer of 2021. These 10-15 leaders will receive coaching, stipends, and access to flexible grant dollars to develop and test local strategies to advance racial equity and inclusion in their cities. Through “community of practice” exchanges, the leaders will share lessons and insights that strengthen local efforts. This community will build cross-city networks and influence thinking and action among peer cities and prominent institutions - including government agencies, philanthropic organizations, and the Boston Fed.

Who is LELE for?

LELE is for leaders already working to build a more racially equitable and inclusive local economy. It provides support that can take their efforts to the next level. This is an opportunity for emerging and mid-level leaders to elevate and amplify their influence and test concrete ideas in their communities. Through an application process, prospective participants will identify ways LELE can strengthen, sustain, and deepen the racial equity focus of existing community investments.

LELE encourages a collaborative approach, because it recognizes that leaders cannot successfully advance racial equity and inclusion alone. The model calls for 2-3 leaders from a given city to apply as partners. They, in turn, will enlist at least 3-5 senior-level leaders from their city as “champions.” These champions commit to using their own influence to open doors, unlock opportunities, and advance critical conversations around racial equity in their communities. Champions will also be given learning opportunities, potentially extending LELE’s influence to a network of 40-50 leaders across Massachusetts.

A robust community of practice requires diversity of backgrounds, strategies, city contexts, and experience levels to generate insights and make a difference. Therefore, LELE encourages leaders to apply from across sectors, organizational affiliations, ages, and racial and ethnic backgrounds.

We also encourage leaders who apply to offer a range of strategies. These can include traditional, explicitly economic levers – like small business development, neighborhood revitalization, workforce development, and community investments. Or they could aim to strengthen civic engagement or child and family well-being, which are just as foundational to racially equitable economies. Building and sustaining pipelines of leaders who are representative of a city’s residents is essential to economic inclusion and equity, so LELE will select at least one team that adopts this strategy.

What cities are eligible?

LELE is rooted in lessons from the Working Cities Challenge. Teams participating in the WCC learned how essential it was to give voice and power to community members. They moved away from programs and toward changing local systems that keep obstacles in place. They embraced a mindset of continuous learning and adaptation and built coalitions around a shared, long-term vision. These lessons will be essential to the success of LELE. That’s why LELE participation is restricted to leaders in the 16 cities that won a Working Cities Challenge implementation grant or took part in MassDevelopment’s Transformative Development Initiative, which is also built on collaboration and community engagement. Those cities are: Brockton, Chelsea, Chicopee, Fall River, Fitchburg, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lynn, Lowell, New Bedford, Peabody, Pittsfield, Revere, Springfield, and Worcester.

How do I learn more?

The Boston Fed is hosting information sessions so prospective applicants can learn more about LELE and how to apply to be part of this pilot cohort of leaders. Please register for an information session. You can also contact Ines Palmarin to schedule a conversation and get answers to your questions.

How do I apply?

We’ll start by having conversations with all prospective applicant teams (the 2-3 leaders who will participate in the cohort) after they participate in an information session or connect with Boston Fed staff. We’ll discuss your local context, the project or initiative you’re tackling, the champions and community members engaged in and supporting your work, and how you can both benefit from and contribute to the community of practice. You can schedule that conversation by contacting Ines Palmarin.

Read the LELE FAQs

If that initial conversation suggests your team and effort are aligned with LELE’s goals and resources, we’ll ask you to complete a brief written application, which will be reviewed by a selection committee. The selection committee may follow up with a request to interview your full team (including champions). They will then select a cohort of participants/cities based on the following criteria:

  • A committed team of practitioners and local champions who are representative of their city’s diversity and have clear roles in the applicant team’s work
  • Alignment with existing initiatives or investments
  • A strategy focused on racial equity and inclusion and which recognizes the need to shift local systems
  • Clarity around what success will look like and what it will take to achieve it
  • Experience with and commitment to working collaboratively
  • Representation of community voices and perspectives

Key dates:

  • LELE info sessions are being scheduled for dates in July. Click here for current options and to register.
  • Aug. 20 – Deadline for conversation with Boston Fed and your applicant team
  • September 17 – Deadline for application submission
  • Late October – LELE participant selection finalized

LELE application checklist

  • Attend or watch an info session
  • Visit the LELE website and read the information posted
  • Meet with prospective co-applicants and champions, ensure they understand what LELE is and why/how it could advance your work
  • Book a pre-screening call before Aug. 13 with the Boston Fed to share your ideas and determine whether LELE aligns with your goals, needs, and schedule
  • Draft your application, working closely with your co-applicant(s) and champions to ensure everyone understands the approach. Line up some friends or colleagues to help you sharpen your narrative.
  • Submit your application via email no later than Sep. 17.