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     |     1:00 – 5:30 pm


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.

  • Leslie Boney, Director, Institute for Emerging Issues 
  • Randy Woodson, Chancellor, NC State University

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.

  • James Hansen, Regional President, PNC Bank Eastern Carolinas
  • Nancy Cable, Chancellor, UNC Asheville
  • Melanie Flowers, UNC System Student Body President
  • Harvey Godwin, Jr, Chairman of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina

Big 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. 

Discussion Sessions

These active engagement sessions are a space for participants to dive deeper into each of the big ideas 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 the ReCONNECT NC cohort teams but driven by participants. The more diverse the audience, the richer the discussion. 


  • Mental Health & Well-Being
  • Digital Inclusion
  • Economic Opportunity
  • Rural & Urban Interconnections
  • Civic Engagement
  • Open Space


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, Managing Editor and regular host for The State of Things and Embodied, North Carolina Public Radio


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

Champion Spotlight:

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

    |     9:00 am – 5:30 pm 


Capacity Building Sessions   

 Extended capacity building workshop descriptions, workshop leaders and co-facilitators, and the exact schedule will be released in January 2021.


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 Workshops 

    1. Being Accountable to the Vulnerable and Community.  We’ll explore community engagement and servant leadership in regards to DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion), cultural competence, as well as being trauma informed and healing centered.  Participants will dialogue about the opportunities and challenges in their own context.
    2. Regional Resilience and Innovation.  We’ll explore and share examples of leadership that approach local concerns (ie: workforce training, economic development) from an appropriate regional perspective.  Participants will brainstorm with others about appropriate regional partnerships and leadership needed to meet their goals.
    3. Leveraging our Assets and Community InvestmentsWhen 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.
    4. Strategic Leadership for Bridge Building. We’ll discuss the leadership needed for crossing boundaries and social divisions in our communities.  Participants will share their lessons learned and explore opportunities and challenges in their context such as asset based community development, peer learning networks, and collaborative, culturally competent partnerships.
    5. Entrepreneurship and Creativity. We’ll explore entrepreneurship in these times, and creative examples and lessons learned from our co-facilitators.  We’ll also point towards policy ideas to advance entrepreneurship and the creativity economy eco-systems in North Carolina and our local communities.  Participants will share their opportunities and challenges and discuss ways to move their ideas and work forward.
    6. Leading Forward: Moving Beyond Where We Are and What We Know.  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.
    7. Strategic Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations.  We’ll explore what’s needed right now for organizations, for the sector as a whole, and for the communities and constituencies they serve.  Participants will learn and discuss NC’s nonprofit capacity building network and how they can both tap its resources and contribute their knowledge and skills to strengthen its capacity and reach.
    8. Strategic Leadership in Local Government.   North Carolina’s local communities are very diverse.  Our contexts are diverse, challenges are similar, and experienced very differently at a local level.  We’ll explore what’s needed with participants to address local government challenges – COVID and public health, economic recovery, political polarization, community tensions, public revenue and investments, and leading through multiple crises.


Thursday, February 18, 2021     |     1:00 – 4:30 pm

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 
  • Roy Cooper, Governor, North Carolina


Breaking Bread for a Brighter Tomorrow  

Whoever coined the phrase, the way to “one’s heart is through the stomach” was certainly onto something. A meal has long been an ideal setting for connection and building relationships. From growing and harvesting the food, to preparing the recipes often handed down from generation to generation, to the family, friends and strangers we find ourselves sharing our meal with. 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.

  • Sheri Castle, Renowned cookbook author, food writer, and beloved cooking teacher 
  • Ryan Bethea, Owner & Operator, Oysters Carolina 
  • Dr. Cynthia Greenlee, PhD
  • Cheetie Kumar, Chef, Garland in Raleigh 

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 & President, John William Pope Foundation 
  • Leslie Winner, Co-Chair, NC Leadership Forum

ReCONNECT for the Future

The time to ReCONNECT is now. This session will provide a motivational charge for moving forward to reconnect – locally, regionally, and statewide.   We’ll begin to address how we can lead with love–for each other, our communities, and for the state.  How do we build trust for a brighter tomorrow–one where all have the opportunities and support to achieve success?

  • Rich Harwood, President and Founder of the Harwood Institute

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