“Political entrepreneur” is a phrase NationSwell Council member Kahlil Byrd uses to describe nonprofit leaders and techies who are tackling America’s biggest problems “in a completely innovative, nontraditional, and entrepreneurial way.” And without a dose of partisanship.
“Their bias is to create a tool, an idea or a process that will cut through the challenge,” Byrd wrote earlier this year in Forbes.
Byrd, a Republican, has been dedicated to cross-partisan policy reform for more than a decade. He’s worked with Massachusetts’ former governor Deval Patrick and Michelle Rhee, both Democrats. And during the 2012 presidential primary he ran Americans Elect, a startup that worked to get a bipartisan presidential ticket on all 50 state ballots. More recently, in the wake of the 2016 election, he’s noticed a new league of people across the political spectrum determined to reform American policy.
As he wrote in a December 2016 LinkedIn post, political entrepreneurs are “tackling the biggest issues that directly affect citizens’ lives [and] they refuse to accept the failure, division, and deadlock that dominates our politics.”
But as an investor with deep ties to the nonprofit and tech sectors, he knows firsthand the challenges his beloved “political entrepreneurs” face in getting the financing they need to transform their civic innovations into nonpartisan policies.
“Even the best ideas — making it easier to vote, using data to connect citizens to Congress or deploying new talent into undervalued sectors like child welfare — have profound trouble finding the capital needed to scale,” the New York City–based Byrd says.
Taking action, Byrd co-founded the Invest America Fund, an advisory firm and seed fund that supports political entrepreneurs and matches them to what he says are “the business leaders, philanthropists and others who have already succeeded and want to spend their time and capital.”
Byrd and his co-founder, Kellen Arno, believe they are among the few investors focused on creating a financing pipeline for these types of policy innovators.
One organization they back is Foster America, a startup devoted to child welfare reform founded by Sherry Lachman, a foster child herself who later went on to serve as a policy adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden. The nonprofit’s fellowship program recruits talent from the business, education, technology and health fields, and supports them in their efforts to transform child welfare policy.
Early success has led Foster America to double its impact, expanding from eight fellows in 2016 to 16 this year. By 2020, Foster America plans to have 50 fellows working with 25 child welfare agencies nationwide.
“We are trying to bring together two groups on opposite ends of the success curve: Political entrepreneurs on one end, and on the other, successful and creative funders who can provide growth financing,” says Byrd. “Entrepreneurs are still trying to prove worth — both their own and of their ideas. Funders have sustained success and know how to build value from the ground up. Both care deeply about the country.
It was a 344-page book that set Sherry Riva on the path to launching Compass Working Capital, a nonprofit that provides financial services to struggling families, in 2005. “Assets and the Poor,” by Michael Sherraden, argued that poverty is a problem of wealth, not just income, and its message resonated with Riva, who had already logged a decade working with low-income women and their families.
“If you think income is the problem, then your solutions are income-based,” says the Boston-based entrepreneur. But social safety nets like welfare, food stamps and housing subsidies don’t help families build wealth. In fact, many programs geared toward those with low incomes essentially forbid them to have money in the bank, keeping them from saving, Riva says.
This new way of thinking about poverty became the blueprint for Compass Working Capital. The organization’s mission is to help struggling families build the savings and the skills they need to climb out of poverty. Compass’s programs combine financial education and coaching, with incentives for saving. The asset-based approach works: 60 percent of families in the flagship program have increased their incomes by an average of $11,000 a year, and 81 percent have seen their savings rise to an average of $2,500.
In a country where 62 percent of people count less than $1,000 in savings, that’s an impressive achievement.
Riva has been preparing for this work her whole life. Raised as a Catholic, it wasn’t until she got to college that she started to learn about the rich tradition of social justice work among the faithful. As an undergraduate at Princeton University, Riva worked with the philosopher and social critic Cornel West, and read up on the Catholic feminist activist Dorothy Day. Later, she studied American Catholics’ role in welfare reform at Trinity College in Dublin. “My own spiritual journey has been about tapping into the pursuit of social justice as a core part of my faith,” says Riva.
After earning graduate degrees from Trinity and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, Riva relocated to Seattle, where she worked in direct-service organizations, including as the director of a women’s shelter.
“It was a really entrepreneurial job, because it was so under-resourced,” she says of running the multisite shelter. “That experience positioned me well, but I had no idea what it would be like to start an organization.” That’s not to say Riva has regrets. “I’ve really enjoyed being an entrepreneur. Sometimes it’s exhausting, but fundamentally it is a creative, problem-solving, gritty, passionate, give-it-your-all kind of endeavor.”
Compass began with a group of 10 families at a charter school in Roxbury, Mass. “We saw early on that families were engaged,” Riva says. The initial results showed not only that the program was helping them achieve important financial goals, but that it also was changing their mindsets.
Today, Compass has the distinction of being the first nonprofit to create an asset-building model, for a federal housing initiative known as the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program. Public housing mandates that families pay 30 percent of their income toward rent. FSS, meanwhile, allows — and encourages — those in subsidized housing to put any extra money they make into a savings account rather than upping their rent contributions. Compass’s program combines that savings incentive with financial coaching to help families accumulate wealth and assets.
It’s a model that can help families move out of poverty and build savings, which in turn helps them become homeowners and send their kids to college. “The FSS program has provided us with a really big market to do it,” says Riva. Across the U.S., 5 million families live in subsidized housing. Right now, Compass is sharing its model and experience with partners around the country. “Our hope is to help shape policy,” says Riva, who’s currently completing a Social Impact Fellowship with GLG, a membership-based learning platform, to help grow her company’s reach. Through her work with GLG, Riva has focused on plans for national expansion, positioning her organization for growth, and developing data security infrastructure to support key constituencies.
Learn more about the GLG Social Impact Fellowship, including information on applying.
Riva points to one Compass client as a prime example of that vision in action. Vilmarys Cintron was raising her daughters in the very same public housing complex she’d grown up in. But after graduating from the Compass program, she was able to buy her own home and start a daycare business. “The day that Vilmarys moved out of public housing, we received several calls from other people in her development asking, ‘What’s the program that Vilmarys did, and how can I get in?’” Riva says.
If Riva and Compass succeed in spreading their successful model around the country, there will no doubt be millions more stories like Cintron’s.
GLG Social Impact is an initiative of GLG to advance learning and decision-making among distinguished nonprofit and social enterprise leaders. The GLG Social Impact Fellowship provides learning resources to a select group of nonprofits and social enterprises, at no cost.
Overwhelmed by Overdoses, Clinic Offers a Room for Highs, Boston Globe The number one cause of death among Boston’s homeless? Opioid use. Overdoses are such a common occurrence that they disrupt workers’ daily tasks at Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program. In response, the organization is making a drastic, controversial move: opening a room where addicts can come down from their highs while under medical supervision. Some claim that it’s a plan that will simply enable users; others, including the Boston Public Health Commission and the Massachusetts Society of Addiction Medicine, believe it’s an effective way to get the drug pandemic under control and reduce the number of fatalities. Free Money Lifts People out of Poverty, and That’s an Investment That Pays for Itself, Tech Insider Despite America’s vast wealth, more than one in five children grow up in poverty in this country. While many believe that giving the less-fortunate money increases laziness, North Carolina discovered that Cherokee tribe members receiving up to $6,000 a year from casino revenue gave parents the ability to save money and pay bills on time — all the while continuing to work the same amount as they previously did. Not only that, their children experienced a reduction in mental health problems, fewer behavioral problems and improved performance in school. Crowdsourcing the Future of a Social Movement, Stanford Social Innovation Review You’ve probably heard the popular saying, There’s no “I” in team. While running a major crowdsourcing campaign, funders and nonprofit leaders in the LGBTQ community learned just how powerful collaboration is at maintaining social progress. More than 14,000 ideas were collected from residents of all 50 states, creating a vast data set about LGBTQ issues — something that’s cost prohibitive for one organization to source, but that will help guide the entire movement for years to come.
A former undercover narc who busted drug dealers in Baltimore, Maj. Neill Franklin is an unlikely advocate for loosening America’s drug laws. Even more unexpected is the fact that he probably holds the most liberal views of all those lobbying Congress for reform. But Franklin, more than anyone, also has the credentials to back up his talking points. He says his 23 years with the Maryland State Police Department — spent confronting addicts, hauling in dealers, training cops to search and seize narcotics — convinced him that the War on Drugs has failed. He believes substance abuse must be treated as a public health issue, not a law enforcement operation.
“In simple terms, the War on Drugs is the criminalization of people who use and sell drugs,” says Franklin, now the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an educational nonprofit that has swelled to 160,000 members since its founding. “It is the policy we have chosen in managing this use of drugs which has become more problematic than drug use itself.”
Franklin got a first-hand look as one of the war’s foot soldiers trying to stop the flow of marijuana and heroin into Baltimore. “Initially, I thought they deserved [jail time],” Franklin says. “We used the lingo: We called them dirt-balls, anything you can think of — junkies, degenerates.” Franklin saw young kids, barely 10 years old, acting as lookouts for crews involved in the drug trade, and he saw bodies of rival gang members, killed in shootouts and drive-bys. Upset, he initially responded to the violence with crackdowns. After each arrest, “all we did was create job openings that others fought for,” he soon realized.
He lost all hope in waging a punitive battle against narcotics in 2000, when his good friend Ed Toatley, a 37-year-old trooper with the Maryland State Police Department, was killed in an undercover drug buy. Sitting in an SUV, Toatley handed a 23-year-old dealer $3,000 in cash. Instead of delivering the drugs, the dealer shot the decorated officer in the head. Investigators say Toatley’s cover wasn’t blown; the dealer just planned to rip off his competitor.
Research, combined with some heavy thinking, convinced him to alter his views. Able to spout off statistics like he’s reading them from a book, Franklin points out that since the War on Drugs began, more than 39 million have been arrested for nonviolent drug offenses — many of them black and Hispanic — quadrupling the prison population and costing us a trillion-and-a-half dollars in criminal justice-related costs (cops, courts, prison cells). Community relations with police throughout the country are strained, Franklin speculates, because of negative interactions from drug searches and arrests. The drugs themselves, he adds, are cheaper, more available and stronger than four decades ago. To him, that appears to be a losing strategy.
Franklin, who is African-American, didn’t immediately know what to do with his change of heart. He discovered LEAP’s website in 2003, a couple years after it developed out of a conversation between two cops. One was Jack Cole, a retired detective with the New Jersey State Police who spent 14 of his 26-year career arresting users. (He came to believe that serving time turned these individuals into criminals.) The other was Peter Christ, a retired police captain from upstate New York who took a libertarian slant on the issue: thinking that people should have the freedom to choose what substances they wanted to use. Hearing from other officers who shared their views, they created LEAP and expanded its ranks to include representatives from every aspect of law enforcement that deals with drugs — cops, sheriff deputies, DEA and FBI agents, prosecutors, judges, prison wardens and probation officers — to share a unified message with voters. Franklin signed up in 2008.
Converted, Franklin advocates full legalization of drugs (from marijuana to heroin). This seems to mark a major shift from his work as a cop, where he would make an arrest for even a trace amount of an illegal substance. But in a way, Franklin’s position hasn’t changed that much. He doesn’t want it to be a free-for-all for hard drugs (which is pretty much what we have now, he believes), but he thinks they should be regulated so that their use can be monitored. That oversight reduces the likelihood of an overdose and gives professionals an opening to provide education and possibly, medical treatment for addiction. In essence, it’s the same as existing regulations for alcohol and cigarettes.
Franklin doesn’t expect an overnight shift in policy, but he does hope that the legalization of marijuana in some states will be an impetus for further change. “The linchpin is marijuana,” he says. “I think if we could take one drug — and marijuana is good because it’s so prevalent — and change the policy to legalize it, regulate and control it, people will see a number of things. Number one: they see, wow, the sky didn’t fall,” he says.
Nor does he believe there will be an uptick in abuse of pot or a rise in fatal car accidents in the four states and in the District of Columbia where marijuana is legal for recreational use; instead, he predicts, fewer costs in law enforcement resources in both time and tax dollars, more sales tax revenue, a boon for sluggish job markets, a decrease in alcohol abuse and a drop in painkiller overdoses. If he’s right, and legalization in Colorado, Washington and other early adopters is a success, Franklin says it will be much easier to broach the more radical topics of legalization, such as treatment centers where a person could receive methadone or heroin, changes in the law to require all cops to carry naloxone (which reverses opioid poisoning) and giving amnesty to good samaritans who report ODs.
These are far more radical proposals than most you’ll hear on Capitol Hill. Several groups — National Organizational for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Americans for Safe Access, the Marijuana Policy Project and Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access — focus explicitly on legalizing marijuana (not other illegal substances), sometimes only for medical purposes. Even the Drug Policy Alliance, perhaps the highest-profile advocacy group for reform, has limited its message to legalizing marijuana and a select group of psychedelics like MDMA (commonly known as Ecstasy or Molly), LSD and psilocybin mushrooms. The group is pushing to pilot supervised injection facilities in San Francisco and New York, but it largely pushes off which other drugs should be legalized as an unsolved question, according to a platform on the group’s website.
Although it’s become the face of some legalization campaigns, LEAP primarily operates as “a speakers bureau,” Franklin says. At first, they took their message to anyone that would listen: Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, college campuses. Today, they win audiences in the halls of Congress. Their persuasive power comes from their knowledge of the black market, similar to the way that Vietnam Veterans Against the War once spun their firsthand experience into a pacifist message. Notably, this allows LEAP to go toe-to-toe with other law enforcement groups, even as it delivers a stronger message than most drug advocacy groups, who are fearful of using the “L-word.” “We have always used the word [legalization]. We tend to be a few steps ahead of everyone else. We can do that. We’re cops, we’re judges. We can push the envelope.”
Still, the work is a constant uphill battle. Retired captains, for instance, are willing to be vocal, but it’s tough for LEAP to recruit active-duty cops as speakers. “Many who have signed on as members — not speakers — do it covertly because they face retribution,” Franklin says, listing several highly publicized examples of firings because those individuals shared LEAP’s views. One arose at the Mexican-American border in Deming, N.M., where a young Border Patrol agent, Bryan Gonzalez, expressed his frustration with how pot’s criminalization supported violent cartels across the fence to another agent. He mentioned LEAP and was soon fired for holding “personal views that were contrary to core characteristics of Border Patrol Agents, which are patriotism, dedication and espirit de corps.” Another, Joe Miller, was removed from his position as a probation officer in Mohave County in Arizona after signing a LEAP petition supporting California’s failed ballot measure to legalize weed in 2010. (Both went to court to appeal their cases.)
For too many years, police chiefs pressured their officers to handcuff and lock up nonviolent drug offenders; now, Franklin believes that education will eventually prompt those same departments into rethinking their response — prioritizing compassion and care over incarceration.
LEAP’s education work prompts Franklin to recall the lesson learned a century ago when this country placed a federal ban on alcohol. To overturn the 18th Amendment, reformers battled state-by-state until the movement could not be ignored. In a political process that took nearly 14 years, the law was repealed, taking back control from the Mob’s underground smugglers and instating strict government regulations on liquor. Now that several states have taken the first steps toward legalization, Franklin figures that another big change in drug policy will occur before 2026.
He can’t wait.
Twenty-five trillion dollars. That’s the mind-boggling amount, in assets, controlled by pension funds, philanthropic foundations and sovereign wealth funds worldwide. For decades, that money has been invested in guns, oil, cigarettes and soda — big moneymakers that often detracted from the public good.
A new theory being discussed among investors, however, suggests that funds could make a bigger profit over the long haul by redirecting a small portion as investments in nonprofits or social entrepreneurs. Known as the Progress Pledge, the idea isn’t derived from the traditional arguments that, morally, corporations should be socially responsible; instead, the theory claims that the investment will reduce conflict globally and thus, volatility on the financial markets — providing a steadier and more profitable return from the entire market over decades. It’s not only the right thing for wealth managers to do, the argument goes, it’s their fiduciary responsibility to do so.
“When the world does well, asset managers do well. When the world does badly, their assets do badly,” says Tomicah Tillemann, senior fellow at the New America Foundation who’s pioneering the pledge. “It’s a small slice of $25 trillion, but the efforts by social entrepreneurs and civil society leaders will address the root causes of volatility and generate a lot more money over the lifespan of their investments.”
The Progress Pledge is part of the Bretton Woods II initiative (a reference to the 1944 pact that funded reconstruction after World War II and created the International Monetary Fund) by New America and has three main components. The first is the commitment of 1 percent (of assets for funds or of earnings for traditional corporations) to the cause. The money can go to an impact investment (think: Defy Ventures backing entrepreneurs with criminal histories), infrastructure enhancement or a civil organization. Secondly, money can only flow to countries that meet basic standards of “governance, accountability and citizen engagement,” encouraging those who lack civic institutions to catch up. Lastly, those who sign up will lobby for regulatory reform to remove red tape and streamline investments.
You see an example of the pledge’s possibilities in the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Tillemann points out. If a pension fund for airline employees like United or American had invested a sliver of their assets in medical care for underserved regions, a few cases of disease may never have worsened into a crisis. Airline travel would have remained at all-time highs, unaffected by fear of the deadly illness, and stocks would have likely continued on an upward trajectory.
“The Progress Pledge is really about changing the mindset,” Tillemann says. “Long-term investors need to think beyond simply assembling a basket of individual investments and instead try to create an environment in which their investments mature and minimize risk.”
The idea for the Progress Pledge first coalesced at an event in Boston last year. Tillemann, a former senior advisor to secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, was giving a speech about the difficulty of finding capital to fund socially minded organizations. “It’s a little discouraging,” he recalls saying. “These are the individuals doing the most important work on the planet, solving the biggest challenges facing humanity as a whole. And yet, it’s difficult or impossible for them to get access to the resources they need in order to scale.”
After the talk, Dan DiBartolomeo, president of Northfield, a firm that specializes in risk modeling of global markets, approached Tillemann with an idea. “If you really want to get engagement on this issue, you might want to take an angle where you argue that there’s actually a benefit to doing this,” DiBartolomeo remembers saying.
As with many a life-changing idea, the Progress Pledge unfolded over drinks, late into the night. At a hotel bar nearby, DiBartolomeo sketched out a rough calculation on cocktail napkins. Markets generally promise an average return of 8 percent annually, but the actual dollar amount three decades from now depends on how drastic the booms and busts are in between. An investment that sees years with 30 percent gains mixed with 10 percent losses will earn less than an investment with consistent returns year after year. A $1 investment in the former will earn you only $18 over 50 years while the latter will rack up close to $46 in profit over the same period.
Because funds like California’s $304 billion pension system or the $41 billion Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are so focused on distant, multi-decade time horizons and are so large and diversified, any fluctuation in the market is worth millions. The question of exactly how much, however, is currently being studied by a team of researchers from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University. They’re digging up historical examples of global investment, and then they’ll map out a predictive model for the future.
Asset managers who sign the pledge next year will invest a penny for every dollar. From that small amount, if all goes according to plan, their funds will profit, nonprofits will take their mission to scale, and we will all end up as stockholders in a better future.
Cleaning the house is already a real chore, but for people who have cancer, it can be much more difficult.
Take Deidre Grubb, of Pennsylvannia, who has an aggressive form of blood cancer called Multiple Myeloma. “It’s hard to run a vacuum cleaner when it hits your bones… it’s very painful,” she tells WFMZ in the video below. “It really takes a toll on you.”
Fatigue is a very common side effect of cancer and cancer treatment, making it difficult to complete day-to-day takes, much less clean an entire house. But thanks to a wonderful non-profit, Cleaning for a Reason, women like Deidre Grubb have one less thing to worry about. Once a month for four months, a local maid comes by and cleans her home—completely free of charge. MORE: This College Baseball Team Steps Up to the Plate For Their Cancer-Stricken Teammate
As the Huffington Postreports, the Lewisville, Texas-based organization partners with local cleaning businesses from all over the country and in Canada who are willing to donate their services to women who have cancer. Incredibly, Cleaning for a Reason has provided 17,000 cleanings for more than 14,000 women with cancer at a value of more than $4 million in donated cleanings since 2006.
According to the nonprofit’s website, their do-gooder philosophy was born after founder Debbie Sardone spoke on the phone with a woman who couldn’t afford her cleaning company’s services because she was undergoing cancer treatment. From then on, Debbie decided that not only would no woman ever be turned down again, she would also get it for free.
For now, the service is provided only to women, not men, since the organization has limited resources (all the more reason to help support them).
But for the thousands of women who are in the fight of their lives, the organization means they have one less burden to shoulder. As one woman said in a testimonial, “You can’t know how much it meant to me. The ladies were angels sent from heaven and were such a blessing.”
[ph] DON’T MISS:Meet the Incredible Octogenarian Who Continues to Save Hundreds of Lives With Her Selfless Gesture
Funding a college education can be a difficult proposition for anyone, but for children of parents who died while serving in the military, it can be downright daunting. According to the Jacksonville, Florida-based nonprofit Children of Fallen Patriots, 15,000 American children have lost a military parent over the past 25 years. Now, the foundation is on a mission to identify as many of them as possible and offer them help paying their college bills. So far they’ve found 5,218 of these students, and paid $7.5 million toward their college educations.
“Our focus is on military children who have lost a parent in line of duty or any related deaths, like PTSD suicide or illnesses from exposure launch,” Army veteran David Kim, the founder of Children of Fallen Patriots, told Helena Hovritz of Forbes. “When government benefits don’t come through, we step in and pay for what they need.”
Hovritz writes that before Daniel Richard Healy’s final deployment, he told his son Jacob Centeno Healy that what he most wanted was for him to go to college. When Senior Chief Petty Officer Healy died, Jacob didn’t know how he could pay for college. “The VA wouldn’t provide benefits to me because they didn’t recognize me as my dads’ son,” Healy told Forbes.
So Fallen Patriots stepped in and funded Jacob Healy’s education. Now he works as a program administer for the organization, helping other people who’ve lost parents in the military find all the scholarships and government aid available to them, and covering the rest of the costs with funds from the nonprofit.
On this Memorial Day, Children of Fallen Patriots reminds us that we owe our fallen heroes so much. They gave our country their parents: the least we can do is provide them with a college education. MORE:Providing Assistance to “The Forgotten Heroes of America” is Top Priority for This Veteran
When Columbia University’s Arthur Langer studied 47 low-income young adults to understand why they struggled to find career opportunities, he found that it wasn’t because they lacked talent. What they needed was a way to develop professional skills. The four year study suggested that anyone would succeed if given a fair opportunity.
So instead of stopping there, Langer took it upon himself to provide that opportunity: He founded Workforce Opportunity Services in 2005 to provide disadvantaged young adults and veterans with educational opportunities that lead immediately to long-term careers. WOS has flipped the traditional job-placement model. First, it finds employers who have or create job openings, then it finds disadvantaged youth and veterans to fill those jobs. The students then undergo a rigorous training program where they attend night classes on social skills, read The New York Times and read books on office politics. They also write weekly journal entries and take classes on interpersonal communications. Their weekly assignments can ask questions like “Describe your level of self-esteem.” In Langer’s mission statement, he said the program is designed not only to create good workers — it also wants to create better people and citizens. When the training ends, the employees are guaranteed a well-paid job in information technology. WOS has gained a large and well-recognized client base that includes Prudential Financial, Johnson & Johnson and Hewlett Packard.
Students have to apply for their positions, but once they’re in everything is covered. Though the students have to work very hard once accepted to a program, the long-term job security and free tech training is definitely worth it. “Our approach is simple: skills first. We want to teach our students valuable skills and launch them into careers,” Langer said on WOS’ website. “They work on their degrees part time and graduate from college, debt free.” MORE: Helping College Students Graduate Debt Free and On Time
An online project is connecting rural Minnesota schools’ bands and orchestras with the state’s oldest music education institution. Professional musicians from the nonprofit MacPhail Center for Music teach low-income students via video instruction. Through the partnership, small-town students get access to amazing learning opportunities that their schools don’t have other ways to offer. The project started in 2011 with one school, and has now expanded to 17 districts and 1,500 students. Teachers at the rural schools feel more supported, and say that the project gives student access to professionals who would normally only be able to provide lessons and instruction to students living in a city.