Recently we talked with Bob Friedman about the early days of the asset building movement and how this work drew in funders. Here, in our second article based on that conversation, we hear his thoughts on where the movement is today and where it may be going.
We’ll say it again: We love watching the Laura and John Arnold Foundation do business. Why? Because whatever you may think of LJAF’s ideas, this funder is always angling for the big play. And as for those ideas, they’re more eclectic than some might think. While the Arnolds are often cast as part of the conservative education cabal, and John Arnold has been gunning for public pensions reform, the foundation is also friendly to some progressive causes. A case in point: criminal justice reform, where the Arnolds have long pushed to create fairer, more effective policies—backing the Innocence Project, among other groups.
Lately, though, the foundation has been thinking even bigger about ways to move the needle in this area, and capitalize on how more Americans of all political stripes want to move away from a harsh war on crime that’s a legacy of the bygone crack era of the 1990s.
Youth advocates and their funders are hoping that 2015 is going to be a very good year for juvenile justice reform. The year is starting with bipartisan legislation submitted to congress by senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) which would overhaul outdated juvenile justice laws nationally, with a particular focus on ending imprisonment for status offenses, such as children who are truant, runaway, or violate curfew, alcohol, and tobacco laws. The new law also provides clear direction to state and local governments on how to stop racial profiling and reduce levels of imprisonment for young people of color.
Criminal justice is one of those areas where funders have been banging their head against a wall for years—working against harsh practices that defy social science research, not to mention common sense.
Now, that blood-stained wall is finally starting to crack, as policy leaders and the public alike wake up to the negative consequences of embroiling so many Americans in the criminal justice system. With the wind finally blowing in the right direction, some foundations are stepping up efforts to make change.
The Obama administration has broken new ground in bringing together the power of philanthropy and government. Near the center of that effort is Michael Smith, the White House aide in charge of My Brother’s Keeper.
We talked with the godfather of asset building, who himself comes from a philanthropic family, to get the inside story of how top foundations got behind one the most innovative policy movements in decades.
In recent years, the bank has dramatically ramped up its grantmaking to help revitalize cities and bolster urban workforces. Now it’s getting more intellectual firepower on its side by hooking up with a top think tank.