UWGC Hosts The Freakonomics of Cleveland


Stephen Dubner and Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb discussed how national and world issues directly affect Cleveland’s local economy and the solutions necessary to create mobility for all residents.

United Way of Greater Cleveland hosted the event, The Freakonomics of Cleveland: A Conversation with Stephen Dubner, on Tuesday, October 3, in partnership with The City Club of Cleveland, Ideastream Public Media and Playhouse Square, with more than 800 attending the organization’s signature fall event.

Stephen is the co-author of the best-selling Freakonomics book series, which has won many awards and sold over seven million copies worldwide. The books inspired the weekly podcast Stephen hosts, Freakonomics Radio, which ultimately led to the creation of a podcast network called The Freakonomics Radio Network. Before the Freakonomics books, podcasts, and networks, Stephen was an editor and writer at New York magazine and The New York Times.

Vanessa Whiting, United Way of Greater Cleveland’s Board Chair, opened the evening by welcoming Dubner to the stage.

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb joined Dubner on stage after his keynote address to continue the conversation, discussing how all Clevelanders benefit from a strong regional economy with real opportunities for upward economic mobility that are equitable, measurable, and sustainable.

“At Freakonomics, we identify data that is truly reflective of what is going on in the world and analyze it to understand the financial, moral, and social incentives placed in front of people to get a better handle on how human behavior happens and changes when you are working to improve a city like Cleveland or a country like the US,” said Dubner.

“Cleveland is a leader in the areas of education, healthcare, culture, and immigration and should continue to focus on applying leverage and resources when and where they can be most effective,” added Dubner. “Cities remain one of the best human inventions, producing ideas, capital, and progress, but to make income mobility a reality, we must first make opportunity mobility real, which is what United Way of Greater Cleveland, The City of Cleveland, under Mayor Bibb’s leadership, and their cross-sector partners are working closely together to do.”

Mayor Justin M. Bibb, the 58th Mayor of Cleveland, is working to improve public safety, invest in neighborhoods, and modernize City Hall. He was born and raised on Cleveland’s southeast side in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. Over the past 15 years, Mayor Bibb has worked in government, business, and the nonprofit sector as an executive and nonprofit leader.

“I developed an early passion for economic inclusivity in my freshman year of college after reading Freakonomics, so it was truly an honor to join Stephen on stage,” said Bibb. “I really enjoyed discussing why Cleveland matters in this moment and how we can make meaningful changes in our community using data and best practices as our guide. We were excited to share a little bit of Cleveland with Stephen and welcome him back anytime. I am so grateful to United Way of Greater Cleveland and Sharon Sobol Jordan for hosting this important conversation to help identify the solutions necessary to further improve the health of our city and our region.”  

Sharon Sobol Jordan, United Way of Greater Cleveland’s President and CEO, highlighted three key takeaways from the evening’s events, saying, “First, there are systemic barriers and dynamic structural forces at play to perpetuate crises and disparities that we must take into account as we create and deploy solutions that will not only work but also will last. Second, these solutions need to consider new technologies, new ways of working, and the creation of the right incentives that lead to the changes we want to see. Third, creating the conditions for economic equity and mobility – is not only possible – but within our grasp. The conversation between Stephen and Justin exceeded our expectations, and we are so grateful and inspired.”

The event was attended by community leaders and residents from across Greater Cleveland, including members of United Way of Greater Cleveland’s Board of Directors, politicians, corporate and individual donors, cross-sector partners, and more.

Event sponsors of the evening include Cleveland Guardians, KeyBank, Oswald Companies, A.E.S. Management, Benesch, Cleveland-Cliffs, EY, Medical Mutual, Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation, PwC, and RSM US.

Whiting, President of A.E.S. Management, Corp., was recently named Board Chair of United Way of Greater Cleveland. She succeeds Paul Dolan, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Cleveland Guardians, who was the organization’s longest-serving board chair from 2018-2023 and oversaw United Way’s multi-year strategic transformation.

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