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Activating America’s Problem-Solvers: 5 Solutions for the Next President

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By Deborah Smolover

Manuel Robles, a high-school junior from the South Side of Chicago, doubted the value of his IT training through GenesysWorks – until the organization helped him secure a paid internship at a Fortune 500 company and provided him with a team of college prep advisors.

After retiring from the U.S. Navy, Tonya Cook felt lost, unsure of what to do next, and how she could continue serving her country and community. Then, she found the Mission Continues, which offered her a six-month fellowship program and service opportunities for veterans.

When Iris Henriquez faced reduced hours at work and possible eviction from her home, she had nowhere to turn for financial support and guidance – until she connected with LIFT Los Angles, a community service organization that provided Iris with an emergency grant so she could afford to keep her home, as well as financial counseling.

These are just a few powerful examples of how community-based organizations across the country are finding new ways to solve some of our nation’s biggest challenges — from education and poverty to criminal justice and workforce development.

Yet, while these solutions are out there waiting to be tapped, inertia, political divisiveness, and overemphasis on compliance have frozen in place ineffective and inefficient systems designed decades ago. And our policies are failing to support and expand those programs that are actually making a difference in our communities.

That’s why more than 70 innovative, impact-oriented organizations have joined the America Forward Coalition to promote policies that turn what is working in communities into large-scale, national change. Our members are driving progress in education, youth development, workforce development, poverty alleviation, criminal justice and government efficiency in more than 14,500 communities across the country, touching the lives of nearly 8 million Americans each year.

Specifically, the coalition offers the next president the following five solutions to our nation’s most pressing social problems:

1. Ensure that we have a government that works


The next president can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of taxpayer dollars, and move government into the 21st century by investing in technology and innovation, making data accessible, measuring outcomes, and breaking down silos. Government should fund programs based on outcomes, and increase efficiency through Pay for Performance models that facilitate public-private-nonprofit partnerships.

For example, in Boston, as well as Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Third Sector Capital Partners develops cross-sector partnerships to leverage Pay for Success models to invest in programs and increase the efficient, effective use of taxpayer dollars.

2. Redesign education for the future


The next president can help secure the future of our nation by accelerating school improvements that expand opportunity, achievement and success for all. This means empowering schools to define student advancement based on mastery, rather than seat time, and personalize learning to meet the needs of all students by harnessing technology and building teacher capacity.

For example, in Washington, D.C., the AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation collects and uses data to individualize instruction as an integral part of the Every Child Ready model in order to ensure lesson mastery for its preschool students.

3. Create pathways to opportunity for today’s students


The next president should enable students to attain marketable post-secondary credentials by addressing barriers to post-secondary completion such as transportation, child care and food insecurity. Government should encourage the integration of public- and private-sector systems of support to increase college completion and reward colleges that provide strong supports for students that lead to graduation and meaningful work.

For example, from Miami to the Bronx, Single Stop partners with some of our nation’s largest community college systems to provide coordinated access to services for college students who struggle with barriers outside of the classroom.

4. Focus on first jobs


The next president can mobilize private-sector employers to provide first-job opportunities to put young adults on career pathways. Government should support private-sector investment in human capital through tax credits when first-time hires earn an industry-recognized credential, and when businesses provide apprenticeships and other employment pathways for young adults who were neither in school nor in the workforce.

YearUp, for example, partners with corporations to ensure that young adults who participate in the program are connected with internship and apprenticeship opportunities in the private sector where they can earn college credit, credentials and stipends.

5. Give Americans a second chance


The next president can build on-ramps to opportunity and a second chance at a better future for citizens who have turned their lives around. We can do this by prioritizing federal justice grant applicants that propose community partnership approaches to reduce behavioral issues that increase a young person’s risk of incarceration, and by developing evidence-based approaches to reduce involvement in the criminal justice system.

Coalition organization, Roca, a service provider in the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Pay for Success Project, leverages an intervention model that targets high risk young people in order to disrupt the cycle of incarceration by helping them transform their lives.

America is a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs. Even in moments of divisive rhetoric, we can find common ground and move forward together to address critical challenges and unleash the unlimited potential of individuals. We can make government and policy more responsive and reflective of the local solutions that we see every day in communities across our nation. Solutions to our nation’s most intractable problems are out there, waiting to be tapped.  The time is ripe to translate these local solutions into national change.

Image credit: Flickr/LBJ Library

Deborah S. Smolover is a Managing Partner of New Profit and leads New Profit’s policy work, advocating for more innovative, effective, and efficient policy solutions to our country’s most pressing social problems affecting access to opportunity in America.  She also serves as the Executive Director of America Forward, New Profit’s nonpartisan policy initiative.  America Forward’s mission is to unite social entrepreneurs with policymakers and advance a public policy agenda that fosters innovation, rewards results, and catalyzes cross-sector partnerships.  Visit www.americaforward.org.

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