Today is International Literacy Day! Literacy is a key building block of learning -- it determines an individual's ability to participate, understand critical issues, and succeed in a meaningful career. The New Profit network includes some amazing organizations that are committed to increasing literacy for everyone.
Thanks to the persistence of social innovators across the country, every day we see strategies that are working and delivering results in a rapidly changing world. This ongoing blog series will highlight the voices of the more than 70 organizations in the America Forward Coalition, and their solutions to our country’s most pressing social problems, as well as examples of how this powerful work can be transformed into national change. Today we will hear from Shirley Sagawa, CEO and President of Service Year Alliance, about how service year programs can solve problems at scale, improve educational and employment opportunities, and connect Americans and diverse communities.
Tags: aspen institute, Aspen Institute Franklin Project, Building Bridges Coalition, Campus Compact, Citizen Schools, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, Joplin Tornado, National Conference on Citizenship, National Peace Corps Association, Reading Partners, Service Year, Service Year Alliance, Shirley Sagawa, Teach For America, The Corps Network, #AFPresidential16, America Forward Coalition, America's Service Commissions, AmeriCorps, Amplify Blog, City Year, College Possible, Gen. Stan McChrystal, Malaria, Peace Corps, Voices for National Service, YouthBuild USA
This piece was authored by Shirley Sagawa and Deborah Smolover of America Forward.
When the first AmeriCorps members took their oath to “get things done for America,” neither national service nor the idea of social innovation was widely known or understood. Twenty years later, while not necessarily a household name, AmeriCorps is well known among college students looking for their first jobs, and has clearly demonstrated the power of service to provide the human capital needed to boost early reading, propel low-income youth to college, rebuild after disasters, and navigate the complex array of services intended to help families lift themselves out of poverty.
However, less well understood is the role that AmeriCorps has played in fostering social innovation – that is, the process of identifying new solutions to challenges, testing them, making adjustments and then taking them to scale. The challenge that social entrepreneurs – the intrepid drivers of the social innovation process – typically face is a combination of financial and human capital. So it is not surprising that these resourceful social change agents – including Geoffrey Canada of Harlem Children’s Zone, Kirsten Lodal of LIFT, Jill Vialet of Playworks, and Michael Lombardo of Reading Partners -- have identified the idealistic human capital that comes with AmeriCorps funding as a scaling strategy.
It’s equally compelling that so many individuals who have served in AmeriCorps have gone on to become social entrepreneurs in their own right – from Teach for America alums Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin who founded KIPP Academy, to Volunteer Maryland alum Rhonda Ulmer, a community college graduate who turned around her own children’s school by founding Parent University. This week, AmeriCorps Alums National Leadership Award winners who were “Made in AmeriCorps” included people like Sondra Samuels, an alum from the first AmeriCorps class who now leads the Northside Achievement Zone to end multigenerational poverty in northern Minneapolis, and Brandon Cardet-Hernandez, an alum who is now a school principal in the Bronx and founder of Project Nathanael, a tuition-free school in Haiti.
Unfortunately, the full potential of AmeriCorps remains unrealized, due to underfunding at the federal level. When President Clinton, with the help of First Lady Hillary Clinton, founded AmeriCorps the goal was to make 100,000 positions available each year. Two decades later, that goal has yet to be reached.
It’s time to change that. We need to get to 100,000 positions and keep reaching beyond. Research by Roll Global and the Franklin Project shows that as many as one million young adults each year want to serve. We can one day meet that demand through these strategies:
Fully fund the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. It’s not too late for President Obama to work with Congress to find the resources necessary to scale national service.
Create agency corps at every level of government. Agencies of the federal government have a long track record of creating national service programs to address their missions. For example, FEMA estimates that its AmeriCorps program will save taxpayers $60 million a year. President Obama last year issued an executive order to stimulate more corps like this. States and local governments also can, and have, created corps of their own.
Stimulate innovation through a certification process. Designation as a national service program should not be dependent on federal funding. New programs should move through a certification process to give applicants the assurance that they meet quality standards. This seal of approval can stimulate private sector investment to enlarge the funding pie for national service.
America Forward is working on these goals. We hope that the President and Congress will get behind them too. Together we must reaffirm the oath to “get things done for America.”
Tags: KIPP, Organizations, Playworks, Reading Partners, Social Innovation News, America Forward Coalition, AmeriCorps, Kirsten Lodal, LIFT, TFA, Northside Achievement Zone, Dave Levin, Harlem Children's Zone, Jill Vialet, Parent University, Project Nathanael
Tags: Citizen Schools, FoodCorps, Organizations, Pathways Fund, Reading Partners, Social Innovation News, Teach For America, The Corps Network, America Forward Coalition, City Year, College Possible, LIFT, YouthBuild, Service Nation