David Gergen called on social innovators to dive into the policy arena at New Profit’s Gathering of Leaders

Something new and catalytic was needed, and in the midst of a deep conversation about strategy and programs, David Gergen, former White House advisor to four presidents, raised a provocative and powerful point. He argued that the problem wasn’t the level of dynamism, innovation, or evidence-building in social entrepreneurs’ work; rather, it was our community’s pattern of overlooking an outsized lever critical to effecting social change. We had built bigger tables of our own, but we weren’t yet at the tables of policymakers. He used the analogy of sticking a finger in a dam while water rushes over the top to illustrate that by failing to engage fully in efforts to shape public policy and the direction of hundreds of billions of dollars of public funding for social services, social entrepreneurs were cutting off a critical path to scale and systems change. He urged us to look upstream and dive into the policy arena. Those listening began to ask: Could the social innovation sector move closer to scale if there was a strong collective voice of innovators and constituents engaging policymakers and advocating for the most effective solutions together?

From that clarion call to align, advocate, and act, America Forward—New Profit’s bipartisan policy initiative—was born. Our founding mission was to unite social entrepreneurs with policymakers and transform local impact into national change. And our ultimate vision was audacious: to scale the most innovative and effective solutions to our country’s most pressing social problems and increase opportunity and equity in America.

America Forward operates in 14,500 communities
and has leveraged $1.7 billion
for social innovation

Since America Forward’s founding, we have seen a seismic shift in the social innovation policy landscape. The few voices around the table ten years ago in the mountains of New York have grown into a dedicated America Forward Coalition of over 70 innovative and results-driven organizations operating in 14,500 communities across the country. Today, in partnership with thought leaders and policymakers on both sides of the aisle, Coalition members work tirelessly to ensure that taxpayer dollars are put to better use and that innovation and results are key elements of education, workforce development, and evidence-based policy.

U.S. Senator Todd Young (R-IN), a champion of Pay for Success and evidence-based policy, speaks at an America Forward Capitol Hill briefing

Since America Forward’s founding, we have seen a seismic shift in the social innovation policy landscape. The few voices around the table ten years ago in the mountains of New York have grown into a dedicated America Forward Coalition of over 70 innovative and results-driven organizations operating in 14,500 communities across the country. Today, in partnership with thought leaders and policymakers on both sides of the aisle, Coalition members work tirelessly to ensure that taxpayer dollars are put to better use and that innovation and results are key elements of education, workforce development, and evidence-based policy.

Together, the America Forward Coalition has leveraged over $1.7 billion for social innovation and driven millions of federal resources toward programs that are achieving measurable results for those who need them most. Our community helped craft the first federal tiered-evidence innovation fund (the Social Innovation Fund), influenced the creation of a White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, and successfully advocated for important changes in federal workforce and elementary and secondary education legislation. We stood at the forefront of the evidence-based policymaking movement, and led the field on national Pay for Success policy, including the new Social Impact Partnerships to Pay for Results Act (part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018) that provides $100M in funding to support outcome payments associated with Pay for Success projects.

America Forward and the America Forward Coalition believes in rewarding results, incentivizing innovation, catalyzing cross-sector partnerships, and advancing equity

America Forward and the America Forward Coalition believes in rewarding results, incentivizing innovation, catalyzing cross-sector partnerships, and advancing equity

In 2017, America Forward convened New Profit education grantees in DC for a policy advocacy training and meetings with Capitol Hill staffers.

Coalition members’ steadfast commitment to innovation and evidence fuels our advocacy efforts and enables us to play a leading role advancing policies that foster innovation, build the evidence base of what works, support the scaling of effective programs, and reorient government funding to pay for success. From our first major policy platform, which included the framing language for what would become the Social Innovation Fund, to our most recent efforts to increase data access and transparency, America Forward has worked to make government programs more efficient, effective, and equitable.

Our approach has always been bipartisan, collaborative, and focused on the belief that policies should reward results, incentivize innovation, advance equity, and catalyze cross-sector partnerships. Our successes have helped shine a light on the solutions rooted in communities across the nation that address our most pressing challenges. Yet there is still more work to be done. The political climate is more partisan than ever, and shifts in technology, globalization, immigration, and demographics continue to alter the way we work, communicate, and learn. The next ten years of our collective work will be critical for all of us—the stakes are high and policy has rarely been more consequential.

In the coming years we will push ourselves to stay focused on our mission and leverage partnerships in all sectors to create systemic change

At America Forward, we will stay focused on our mission and redouble our efforts to leverage partnerships in all sectors — public, nonprofit, private, philanthropic, academic, corporate, civic, and faith-based — to advance our collective policy priorities to achieve systemic change.
In the coming years, we will increase our investment in system entrepreneurs, and equip our community organizations and the constituents they serve with the training and tools they need to engage in the policymaking process and influence large-scale systems change. We will help build organizations’ advocacy capacity. We will focus our work with policymakers on legislative and budgetary changes that will help to build dynamic, efficient markets that incentivize ongoing innovation and ensure that funding flows efficiently to approaches that can solve problems most effectively. We will advocate for organizations to compete for resources based on demonstrated efficiency of their programs and efficacy of outcomes to motivate innovation and the ongoing adaptation of effective solutions. Finally, we will highlight examples of how our Coalition members and broader networks are influencing social change throughout the country.

We know that neither the social sector nor government can do it alone. All of us have critical roles to play. This is true now more than ever, as we face daunting resource constraints. We need to find dramatically better ways to nurture the productive potential of the American people and use public resources with greater accountability by funding what works and, yes, even defunding what does not. We must fully activate America’s problem solvers and work across sectors, party lines, generations, and all that divides us to solve the urgent challenges of our time.

As New Profit celebrates its 20th year and America Forward its 10th, we are more inspired than ever by the next generation of community leaders who test limits, ask why, build bridges, and stand firm in their convictions. There is no shortage of work to be done, and we are deeply grateful to enter our next decade arm-in-arm with the community and organization leaders who will transform the way national policy happens and who, shoulder-to-shoulder, will move all of America forward.

Deborah Smolover is a Managing Partner at New Profit and Executive Director of America Forward.