During last Friday’s NationSwell Conversation, acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns put this current moment in historical context. He suggested that 2020 — and the confluence of COVID-19, global recession, racial injustice and political turmoil — constitutes one of the four greatest periods of crisis in American history, alongside the Civil War, the Great Depression and World War II.

The toll of each past crisis strikes a raw, familiar chord: loss of human life, anxiety and misery at scale, and immense economic displacement and insecurity. But there is another side to them: each period also gave birth to paradigmatic social and economic transformation and progress, from Emancipation to the New Deal to the domestic and international programs and policies that ushered in the most sustained period of economic growth in global history.

They serve as testimony — rich in precedent, insight and inspiration — that out of rupture and suffering, we can emerge better than we were before.

Before COVID-19, all of the ills and inequities were there in plain sight: our nation’s painfully unfinished work to redress systemic racism and injustice; intense polarization and division; gaping inequality in access to education, health, housing and economic opportunity; a fraying of our most important democratic institutions and norms; and behind all of it, a sense that the forces of selfishness and tribalism were faring too well against the countervailing ethos of  interdependence and a shared commitment to the common good.

And now a pandemic has struck — shaking us from drift  and shining a floodlight on the injustices, the corrosion and on the fragility of what’s holding us together.

That’s our opening.

And that is why we are kicking off #BuilditBackBetter: an initiative that will invite the NationSwell community to come together to surface the solutions and ideas that can help us to emerge from this period of crisis with a more equitable, inclusive, resilient society and planet.

#BuilditBackBetter will kick-off with important, wide-reaching conversations, like our July 22 event on anti-racism with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi and Carmen Rojas, PhD. Those conversations will launch a series of tracks focused on vital issues, including: Economic Opportunity, Sustainability, Data for Good, Education, The Future of Work, Building a Culture of Connection and Belonging — and several more to be announced in the weeks ahead. Within each track, working groups of diverse leaders will reflect, explore, ideate, pressure test and surface powerful (often, cross-sector) solutions. We’ll place gender and racial equity and justice at the very core of this undertaking.

As we go, we’ll publish solutions and ideas for this community and a broader national audience of tens of millions online to bring them into the journey —  and invite them to take action alongside us. We’ll capture some of the most powerful solutions and insights generated by each track and share those findings with all of you, to inform and inspire your leadership, work and citizenship. And, of course, we’ll find areas of collaboration, where together, we can take action and drive change and energy behind the solutions that surface.

Now is our time — as a community of pragmatic problem-solvers, innovators, builders and clear-eyed idealists — to work for the paradigmatic change and progress that the current moment offers and that future generations call on us to deliver.

We are so grateful to our extraordinary partners: AARP, AARP Foundation, Camelback Ventures, Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, Lumina Foundation, The Patrick J McGovern Foundation, Pivotal Ventures, Schultz Family Foundation, Starbucks, Workday — and several to be named later — whose support and expertise is so essential to this initiative.

We are thankful to you all for your leadership and for the opportunity to serve and support you. NationSwell exists for you, and we hope that #BuilditBackBetter will provide you a vehicle to seize this moment of crisis as an opportunity to build the nation we’ve never been, the society we seek and the world that must be.


Greg Behrman is CEO and Founder of NationSwell.