Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba remembers his recent trip to Iceland well.
“We left on March 30. It was my wedding anniversary. I told her I was going to Iceland to try to bring resources to the city,” he said. “She was gracious enough to forgive me.”
Lumumba and Chief Administrative Officer Robert Blaine recently attended the 2019 Social Progress Imperative (SPI) “What Works Summit” in Reykjavik, Iceland.
The trip, which was paid for with a grant from SPI, allowed the duo to connect with leaders from across the globe, including those who could provide funding and technical support for city initiatives.
“The World Bank was there. I was interviewed by the director of the Rockefeller Foundation. Deloitte was there. The prime minister of Iceland was there,” Lumumba said.
“Any time I can sit across from the World Bank and the Rockefeller Foundation and talk about how to deal with (Jackson’s) challenges, I’m in the right place.”
Jackson was one of two U.S. cities represented at the conference. San Jose, Ca., was the other.
Lumumba and Blaine left the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport March 30. From there, the two caught a connecting flight from Atlanta to New York and flew the final leg of the journey to the Nordic state.
“It was a six-hour flight from JFK,” Blaine said.
The meeting was held at the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center in Reykjavik, the nation’s capital.
Reykjavik is located on the Icelandic coast and is home to about 122,000 people.
Nearly 2.2 million people visited the country in 2017 to take in the sights and enjoy the culture, according to Reykjavik Grapevine.
The event marked the first time Lumumba and Blaine had traveled to the tiny nation. Even so, the two had little down time.
“We were in meetings most of the time,” Blaine said.
The morning after arriving, the mayor gave an update on his plans to implement a “dignity economy” in the capital city.
Lumumba also fielded questions from Matthew Bishop, SPI co-founder and business editor for the Economist news magazine.
“We got to engage with delegates from various countries and got to meet people doing interesting things in all parts of the world,” Blaine said.
He estimated that 250 people attended the gathering, with every continent except Antarctica represented.
“We were at the convention center every day until we left. (Delegates) went on a tour of the Northern Lights, but neither I nor Dr. Blaine went,” Lumumba said.
The two did go to the conference reception, which featured a performance from an Icelandic comedian. The two also took in some local shops and “found some good fish and chips” at a local fish house.
“It’s a beautiful country and the people are very friendly, but Iceland has never been on my list of places for leisure travel,” the mayor said. “But it was nice.”
The three-day summit wrapped up on April 3.
SPI is a non-profit organization based in Washington D.C. The group established the “social progress index,” which provides a new framework to look at an area’s economic health.
Lumumba initially met with SPI officials at a National League of Cities or a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting.
“What the group works on is a new index for identifying the success of local and national economies,” he said. “(Typically,) when we look at success, we look at GDP and how it’s performing.
GDP is the gross domestic product, or the “total value of goods produced and services provided in a country (in) one year.”
The mayor, though, said GDP doesn’t provide a total picture. “You have to look at the social progress index – people’s access to education, access to fresh water, access to food and healthcare, jobs – all the things that go into how people are doing in their daily lives,” he said. “People don’t look at the GDP when they go to the grocery store.”
Lumumba said SPI has been working with Jackson to help build an index, which will be used to better deploy city resources.
Among things, that data will be used to help Jackson launch its universal pre-kindergarten program. Earlier this year, Jackson received a $1.2 million grant from the Kellogg Foundation to launch a pilot program.
Said Lumumba, “The city has many voids. There are food deserts, no movie theaters.”
A food desert is an area where people have little access to healthy food.
“The question is how to fill those voids and leverage city (resources) for the benefit of all of us.”