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Richard Poirier: Toward One Wisconsin conference envisions a more equitable future

Richard Poirier: Toward One Wisconsin conference envisions a more equitable future

Rich Poirier

Richard Poirier is a founder of Toward One Wisconsin. 

Forward.

That simple, no-nonsense imperative says so much about our state and about our collective determination to drive progress, no matter the challenge.

Adopted as Wisconsin’s official state motto in 1851, that spirit couldn’t be more timely or relevant today, when we urgently need the common will to move forward together. It is time for the good people of Wisconsin to live by the principles and values of diversity, inclusion and equity.

But income, education and health inequities endure. They’ve become entrenched in our state’s social and economic fabric. We cannot allow these barriers to stand if we are to move forward as a state.

Wisconsin won’t achieve its full potential until all individuals have an equitable chance to learn, earn and access health care. Those enduring challenges are the impetus behind our second statewide conference.

Toward One Wisconsin is now a virtual conference slated for Nov. 12-13. Church Mutual Insurance is proud to partner with the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service as a sponsor of this event.

Originally scheduled for April 2020, the conference was postponed because of the coronavirus. But we can no longer put off building the foundation for a cohesive society in our state. We must begin in earnest to adopt diverse and inclusive policies and practices.

The fact is, as our nation has become more racially and ethnically diverse, Wisconsin has lagged behind.

The 2020 World Population Review, an independent and unaffiliated organization, places Wisconsin in 39th place for overall diversity among our 50 states. That disappointing ranking takes into consideration each state’s economic, cultural, religious and political diversity.

As Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers noted at the 2019 Toward One Wisconsin conference, it will take extraordinary leadership to become the kind of inclusive and equitable state we need to be. 

Last year’s convening cemented our common cause and shared goals. Among a diverse, accomplished, idealistic (and understandably impatient) group of attendees were prominent public officials like Gov. Evers, the Secretary of Workforce Development and representatives from multiple Federal Reserves. It also included “everyday people” with an extraordinary belief in our state.

Together we generated ideas, made valuable connections and focused on what’s needed to make Wisconsin more inclusive. Some 84% of attendees polled said they planned to attend this year’s conference.

This year, we’ll build on that outpouring of ideas and idealism. We expect more than 500 participants and over 90 impassioned, knowledgeable and inspired presenters, including Gov. Evers, Nikole Hannah-Jones, an investigative journalist at The New York Times Magazine, and Hilary Ware, vice president and associate general counsel at Netflix.

Our lofty goals for the 2020 conference are focused on four tracks:

  • Increasing opportunities for workforce inclusion
  • Creating inclusive communities
  • Cultivating equity in education
  • Building health equity

Participants will share and advance new approaches, best practices and new research. We’ll identify how best to improve job entry, create unified, all-welcoming communities, promote health equity initiatives and get young people off to healthier starts in schools and neighborhoods.

New this year, we will offer a pre-conference session on health inequities in partnership with the University of Wisconsin’s Office of Population Health.

Above all, the spirit of Toward One Wisconsin will come to life at the conference, proving what is possible when we move forward together. We’ll pave the path for our state’s more perfect union and create the tools to become our best selves.

Wisconsin, we will go forward. And we’ll do it together.

Richard Poirier, J.D., is the president and CEO of Church Mutual Insurance Company and a co-founder of Toward One Wisconsin.

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