Our economy is broken. Economic inequality cost the U.S. $23T over the past 30 years. Though 2021 showed record levels of economic growth, the U.S. continues to become increasingly anti-competitive and inequitable. People of color and other marginalized groups disproportionately bear the brunt of these worsening economic conditions.
Old Strategies Are Failing Us
If you’ve ever worked in or with policy development or advocacy, you’re more than familiar with the phrase, “it’s who you know.” We’ve come to accept this status quo, where those in power are expected to listen to those who wield it: the well-funded, the well-connected, and every once in a while, the well-organized.
What’s more, relational networks are broken. We know that policy-makers have little access to new thinking — and often, little reason to trust it. Traditional think tanks and corporate players dominate the advocacy space, and these groups are staffed with generally the same type of actors — ivy league educated and McKinsey-inspired. And so, those with the same degrees and same strategies continue to run the show.
In the economic policy space specifically, we see major banks, asset management firms, and related think tanks to continue to define our country’s economic growth strategy. Taking a step back, history tells us that allowing those who directly profit from a specific policy to define it can result in detrimental outcomes. Look at the opioid crisis. Perdue pharma and the Sackler family defined pain management policy for decades — with corporate profit at the center of the decision making process. At the time, decision makers believed that following the recommendations of these institutions was the “safest” option. Ivy league-staffed think tanks confirmed it.
As I’ve written before, much needs fixing in the policy development and advocacy space. Most importantly, we need to radically reimagine WHO is leading us on a better path forward and HOW we support them in this work.
More than ever before, we need new, representative leadership who is willing to see things differently. By incubating, co-creating and funding field-defining interventions — alongside brilliant, innovative leaders — we’re building a new type of think and do tank, one that is inclusive, pragmatic, and deeply collaborative.
Incubate, Co-create, and Fund Good Ideas
As a 27 person-organization, we won’t pretend to disrupt the economic policy development and advocacy space overnight. What we can do — just as we’ve done with our character-based lending pilot, our innovation grantmaking programs, and our Social Entrepreneur In Residence program — is lead by doing.
Our new pilot program — the Common Future Policy Incubator — will (1) catalyze the work of a small group of world-changing leaders and (2) chart a better path forward for think tanks and advocacy organizations.
We’re looking for leaders with grounded solutions that build power and amplify the voices of those most affected by systems failures. These are seasoned leaders with an existing body of work and an entrepreneurial orientation to change-making. Ideally, these are folks with some history working in policy development. Most importantly, they’re passionate about making big changes. They have a hypothesis around how to fix an entrenched economic problem via state or federal policy.
Not only will we incubate and scale the work of brilliant, highly motivated individuals who want to build a better world — we’re providing highly tailored support for their individual bodies of work. Through this program, we will:
- Provide leaders with unrestricted financial resources and tailored, wrap-around supports — not just cohort-based programming. Together, we’ll identify what success looks like to each entrepreneur, and support leaders in the journey getting there.
- Call in diverse, multidisciplinary forms of expertise to broker new connections between the public, private, and social sectors to move ideas forward — including connection to Common Future’s network, world-class consultants, expert researchers, and seasoned philanthropic consultants.
- Center leaders’ ideas, leveraging an integrated approach to connect their work to the nation’s top priorities.
Over the past several months, we’ve conducted over 30 interviews with brilliant, equity-oriented leaders working on hugely systemic issues related to our economy. Interviewees represent think tanks, advocacy organizations, funders, consultants, and community organizations. Taken together, we’ve identified 3 high-priority issue areas that we will be focusing on through this program. We’re looking for economic policy solutions that will:
- Enable competitive and fair markets for independent, small and medium enterprises. Our markets are designed to perpetually consolidate assets. This phenomenon, when paired with shareholder primacy, has created a system that is becoming increasingly anti-democratic, anti-innovation, and anti-fairness. In order to restore competition, we must create the conditions for independent businesses to fully participate, especially those businesses that provide quality jobs and create benefits for all stakeholders. This includes solutions ranging from supporting access to capital innovations for small businesses to creating incentives for the private sector to invest in more robust entrepreneurial ecosystems.
- Open ownership opportunities for historically underrepresented groups. Only 1.4% of America’s wealth is managed by an asset management firm owned by a woman or a person of color. Over the past 14 years, black home ownership rates have been falling behind. Meanwhile, solutions like land trusts, ESOPs, and housing/worker co-ops have been gaining traction, representing compelling structures to increase access to ownership opportunities. How can we follow this momentum, get creative and support more diverse ownership opportunities in BIPOC communities?
- Unlock private and public capital where it can be best put to work. Donations, by their nature, are not expected to generate a return. Meanwhile, the average stock market-rate is 10% annually. We are systematically under-leveraging a spectrum of capital in-between. How can we incentivize greater risk-taking across the spectrum of investments and disincentivize growth for growth’s sake alone? How can we build systems and structures allowing for greater participation in the decisions that determine where this capital flows? How can we help federal and state governments support the capacity of the private and social sector to fill gaps?
Together, we’re building a new kind of think and do tank, designing an economy of shared growth.
Through our Policy Incubator Pilot, we’re bringing together some of the best and brightest minds to solve entrenched economic inequities. We’re so grateful to our partners for joining us in this work:
STEERING COMMITTEE MEMBERS
- Joe Dougherty, Partner at Dalberg
- Tammy Halevy, Senior Advisor at Public Private Strategies
- Justin Kang, General Partner at Visible Hands
- Carolyn Pincus, Co-founder and President at the American Sustainable Business Council
- Laura Tomasko, Policy Program Manager in the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute
- More coming soon.
Sound like a fit for you and your work? Learn more and apply here.