JONATHAN KAPLAN: Our second featured speaker today is someone I’ve had the honor and pleasure of working with when we both served in the White House on the White House staff under President Clinton. Michele Jolin is now back in the White House, serving as senior advisor for social innovation for the Domestic Policy Council. And in this capacity, she’s developing policy tools to support and catalyze greater innovation, directed at solving our most serious social problems, especially in the areas of education, economic mobility, energy conservation, and health care.
Prior to joining the White House, Ms. Jolin was a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where she co-edited the center’s presidential transition document. Michele was also a senior vice president at Ashoka, which Dr. Dorsey mentioned earlier, a global foundation that invests in leading social entrepreneurs in 45 countries around the world, and where she launched and managed several global initiatives. Ms. Jolin’s talk today is titled “Government’s Role in Partnering With Social Entrepreneurs.” And I hope you’ll all please join me in welcoming Michele Jolin.
MICHELE JOLIN: Thanks, Jon. As Jon said, we worked together in the Clinton White House years ago, 10, 12 years ago. And as I was thinking about coming over here, you know, it was a very, very different experience for a variety of reasons. And it’s not an experience you do twice in your life. It’s intense. It’s incredibly exhilarating. But the hours are just unbearable. And I now have three children.
And so I can say there’s absolutely no reason I would ever have gone back to The White House. I think Jon would probably—except for this agenda and except for this president. Because this president and this first lady are so completely committed to the sort of social innovation, civic participation, service agenda. And it was sort of one of those moments that was incredibly exciting.
The domestic policy advisor, Melody Barnes, is also a dear friend and is somebody who is also incredibly excited about this agenda and sees it as a way to sort of translate the excitement around the Obama administration and engaging more people in more ways to help solve some of our nation’s problems. So that’s sort of the evolution of this.
I also have to say, when I walked in and saw that I was speaking after Cheryl, I took a sort of gasp. As you can tell, Cheryl is the leading thinker on social entrepreneurship in this country, in the world. And she worked with us on the transition. And the more time I spend with Cheryl, the more I talk to her, the more I learn from her, the more I appreciate sort of her deep passion, her deep expertise, her deep knowledge of this. And so you truly got, you know, a window, a picture of the expertise and depth of this agenda and these ideas from Cheryl. She’s the best. She knows everything about this field. She is my hero, so.
And then of course there’s David Bornstein, who’s another absolutely leading thinker, has traveled the world, speaking to social entrepreneurs. So you are truly in the hands of experts in learning about this agenda and talking about this today.
So, I’m really excited to be here. I think this is an incredible opportunity and incredibly exciting that Walden is spending time talking about this, thinking about this, including it in the curriculum and thinking about, you know, ways to help make this part of what students and others are learning. So it could not be more important.
What I’m going to do for the next several minutes is talk a little bit about, give you an overview of what the president’s agenda is and what the first lady [has] been focusing on, and what we’re going to be doing in the White House, in the government over the next four years of his term, and then take some questions. I’d be interested in getting feedback, ideas, thoughts, sort of reactions to what we’re doing.
We are, as, you know, President Obama has said over and over again, you know—this administration is committed to transparency, accountability, participation. And so more than anything, our office is very focused on getting sort of input and thoughts on what we’re doing. And so I look forward to hearing any questions you all have. And then questions I know that folks who are listening online, it would be, I think, helpful if they would add questions as well.
So as you all know, you know this well, we’re in a moment of sort of a crisis and opportunity. On the one hand, our economy has experienced enormous challenges. We have high unemployment rates. We have challenges on multiple fronts with health care and some of the other policy challenges. Our nonprofits are struggling in many ways to do what they were doing in the past with more demand—same resources, more demand. It’s an incredibly challenging environment for our sector to be working in, the nonprofit sector to be operating in.
At the same time, I could not be more optimistic about the potential for the sector, in terms of more innovation, more impact, and the potential to lead more change. And part of the reason is, you know, obviously from the perch that I sit is because of the president and the first lady’s commitment to this agenda. They, at their core, understand. They’ve worked in institutions, organizations, nonprofits. They’ve led change themselves. They’ve been part of organizations that have had, you know, to raise money, to meet payroll. As the first lady says, she gets it. She gets what it takes to run an organization. And they get the power of individuals who are trying to make change in their communities.
We also have, because of their leadership, a policy agenda and a blueprint for how to help the sector become stronger, how to support more innovation, how to engage people more completely and naturally in their communities and to help individuals to lead change in their communities, because it’s part of who they are.
So during the transition, we put together an agenda for an Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the White House. Melody Barnes, the domestic policy advisor, wanted this to be part of, like I said, one of the key things that the administration would be focused on, the domestic policy would be focused on.
In the broad sense, the office is focused and kind of the umbrella of our work is sort of—as the president’s talked about this all-hands-on-deck moment, that we need individuals, nonprofits, corporations, foundations all pulling together to help lead change and help deal with some of the problems our country is facing during this time. And so thinking about that sort of broad umbrella of all hands on deck, we have put together an agenda focused on individuals, sort of partnerships with corporations and nonprofits, and then a sort of broad social innovation agenda. So I’ll talk about parts of each of those.
So on the individual front, the president committed during the campaign to dramatically expand national service opportunities, to grow AmeriCorps from 75,000 to 250,000 members over eight years. During the first 100 days, the legislation was passed by Congress with a big push from the White House and encouragement. And symbolically, they wanted it to be one of their first pieces of legislation. It was a bipartisan bill. There were many Republican supporters. And the bill reflects both the sort of desire to provide more service opportunities for young people and older Americans, as well as the sort of social innovation agenda, which I’ll talk about. But that was one of Kennedy’s last pieces of legislation, and symbolically, he and Hatch worked together to pass it. And it was a big victory for the administration and something I think for all of us to be proud of early on.
Connected to the national service bill and national service agenda, we also are focused on sort of expanding opportunities for more participation in communities for those people who may not be able to give up a year or two of their time to be part of an AmeriCorps program or part of the Peace Corps, but who are interested in being involved in some other way. And so we are looking at what kinds of things we can do to help encourage more participation and make it more possible for more people.
One of the things we focused on is technology tools, taking some lessons from the campaign about how technology could be used to bring people together around particular causes. And this is not partisan. This is not political. This is very bipartisan. It’s meant to be about, how do we get more people engaged in their communities? And so again, using technology tools to connect people, to use social networking tools to help lead people to the kinds of opportunities and ways that they want to be involved in their community. So that’s sort of the civic participation and national service side, sort of engaging individuals side. And it’s in development. And I’ll say that about all of these parts. We’re very much looking for new ideas and looking for opportunities.
We are a small office. It’s opportunistic and nimble. And we very much want to focus on, you know, ways to be more effective and sort of new ideas. We’re always looking for new ideas. So we’d encourage that from all of you.
The second part of our agenda is around partnerships with the private sector, nonprofits, foundations. And a lot of government agencies do public/private partnerships. And some of them do them well. Some of them do them less well. Some of them, you know, find it easy, people find it easy to work with the government. In other instances, it’s difficult. So one of the things we’re trying to do is figure out sort of, what are the principles that underlie sort of a good public/private partnership? What is the best niche for government in this relationship, and then for the private sector and for nonprofits or foundations or the private sector in this relationship?
And in our minds, focusing very much on—it’s an opportunity to lend more resources to an effort, to make a particular policy goal more successful because of bringing in other participants who know more in many instances, more about the particular problem or who can, again, bring in other kinds of resources or learning that they’ve had about the problem.
So a good example of that, one that I’m working on right now, is around childhood obesity. If we think about health care reform, we all understand that, you know, one of the big drivers of health care cost is obesity. And it’s happening, the childhood obesity is happening, younger and younger ages. So one of the ways in which we can help in partnership with others, building on the good work that’s being done by others outside of government, one of the ways we can help health care reform succeed and help control health care costs, which we all know is so important, is building on some of this good work and trying to find ways that government can partner with those who are doing work in this area to help increase physical activity and help young people eat more healthy, to reduce childhood obesity. So that’s just an example.
But we’re doing that in a number of different ways around particular policy goals, looking at where there’s sort of a gap in the marketplace. Where is it that we think, you know, government action alone isn’t going to make the difference? We need to bring in other partners. So there’s sort of that, thinking about that gap.
And then the final part—and this is where I spend most of my time, and this is where my passion is and I know Cheryl’s passion and David’s passion deeply are—is around social innovation. And what we’re focused on is creating a climate for more innovation in the nonprofit sector, in the social sector, and figuring out what the government can do to help support innovation and impact in the sector, and in many cases, stop doing. In many instances, there’s things that the government is doing that makes it difficult for innovation, difficult for success, difficult for impact.
When I was at the Center for American Progress, we did a report on—just in the education sphere with the American Enterprise Institute, so both sides of the ideological spectrum, not talking about money, just what is it government could do to help support innovation in the education sector by just … you know, removing regulations or stopping doing certain things? And so it was interesting, eye-opening way to think about in this resource-constrained environment, ways in which we can help support this agenda, so. So that’s sort of the big picture.
One of the keys parts of this social innovation part of our agenda is thinking about the capital markets and how resources flow to social good. One important part of that is the Social Innovation Fund, which I think Cheryl mentioned, that the president promised to create in the campaign, which is designed, you know, recognizing that not enough resources flow to ideas that have, you know, are promising and coming along and having some sense that they’re working and they’re ready to scale, but there’s just not money to move them to other communities or to help them get a better sense of what it is about what they do works.
And so we’re in this kind of niche of—you know, Cheryl probably talked about the sort of early-stage entrepreneurship. Then there’s the kind of middle stage. And then there’s the kind of proven, scaled, big. And, you know, there’s resources at that end. There’s resources at that end. So we’re trying to focus on this end to help move more good ideas, you know, to more communities.
And so we’ve been spending a significant amount of time, I’ve been spending a significant amount of time on the design of this. It’s not the way government usually does business. It’s a new effort. And so we’ve, again, consistent with the president’s focus on transparency and participation, we’ve been reaching out broadly, you know, over—we’ve had over 50 different groups, meetings with large, small groups, input, foundations, community foundations, nonprofit leaders, community organizers, the whole spectrum of people who could help us think about how this can best be designed. And we’re in the kind of final stages of that. Congress authorized it in the—the national service legislation. We’re waiting for the appropriation. And when Congress appropriates the money, we’ll be able to launch, I should say if, when and if—but I think it’s going to be when.
And one of the key parts of this effort is trying to bring in—again, trying to partner with other leaders in the sector who can help provide resources and help directing foundation resources, private sector resources, individual giving toward things that we have a pretty good sense are working and could benefit, you know, more communities of need. You probably all know Herb Sturz who is a leading social entrepreneur and innovator in New York. And a recent book was written about him by Sam Roberts, a New York Times reporter. And I happened to be something last night for him in his honor.
And he was talking about how—and Cheryl probably would agree with this, which is, there are so many new things being created. And there’s so many good ideas that are solving problems. And one of the critical things we need to focus on is how to find, you know, when something’s working, you know, focus on that, make it work, and move it to more communities that need that solution. And so that’s one of the things that we and the president’s talked about regularly about how, you know, finding community solutions and the need to move them to more communities of need to fulfill those.
So that’s a kind of broad overview of what we’re doing at the White House connected to this whole effort. There’s several agencies—I think Cheryl talked about this—that are similarly focused on innovation, impact, partnership; how do we better, you know, connect all the good work that’s going on outside of government with, you know, the government policy priorities we have and the work we want to get done and the progress we want to make?
At the Education Department, there’s a “what works” fund that Jim Shelton is running, focused on bringing, you know, the best education ideas, investing in those, and bringing them to more communities. HUD, Housing and Urban Development, and HHS are both interested. The State Department is interested in this. So we have this interagency group. We’re moving forward, trying to look at the different ways and the different tools that the agencies can use to drive this agenda forward. So it’s broadly infused throughout. You know, at the White House, we have this office, but it’s broadly infused throughout the agencies. And the Office of Management and Budget is also very focused on this.
So this is kind of the broad overview, and I would love to get your thoughts on this, answer questions, any feedback you might have on this initial overview.
QUESTION: Good morning. I want to thank you for coming. I want you to continue talking about the initiatives by the president. I feel personally that they’re great. And it’s been a long time coming. I’m a current Ph.D. student at Walden University. And I just want to touch on some of the things you were talking about.
As the government increases its support for social innovation, what should the private sector be doing to help? And are there any new partnerships that you envision beside the one that you discussed?
MICHELE JOLIN: Well that’s a great question, because I think, as you recognize, underlying this whole agenda is this focus on partnership and building on work that’s being done outside, helping government learn those lessons, but also government being a better partner. You know, government has a broader reach, you know, the federal government, obviously. And so there’s things that we can get done, especially around national problems that can help, you know, leverage private sector resources.
There’s a couple of thoughts I have on that. With the Social Innovation Fund, the way that it’s designed, it requires a match of resources at both the intermediary and at the individual organization level. So for every government dollar spent, there’s $3 of private sector money that’s brought in. I think it’s a new way of government operating. I think it’s going to be an interesting test of support for this agenda. I mean, there seems to be a lot of support from foundations, individuals, the private sector for this effort. But we’ll know whether people step up and put their resources toward that.
We believe this is consistent with so much of what the sector talks about, what it wants, and is aligned with the goals of the foundations and the philanthropists. And so we believe that they will want to partner with us on that. But it’s a new relationship. And it’s a new sort of way for government to be structured.
So one of the things, because this is a fund that is initially relatively small, we want to get the design right and make sure that this is something that could potentially be a model for other agencies. And with that model, the partnership is naturally sort of brought or built-in. It’s required. I mean, this will not succeed if we don’t, you know, … partner with foundations and philanthropists. So that’s sort of on the social innovation side.
On the other sort of broader policy, partnerships around sort of policy issues, like I said, we’re very focused on—partnerships can be hugely valuable. They can also take a lot of time and resources on both sides. And government’s not always an easy partner. There’s restraints, which make sense, because it’s taxpayer dollars. And so we need to be, you know, appropriately accountable and there’s certain ways, you know, without—we don’t want to favor particular interests. So there’s restrictions. And so we’re very mindful of that.
At the same time, you know, given that it takes a lot of time, we believe we need to focus more sort of aggressively on those areas where—again, a policy won’t work if there isn’t action outside of government. Another good example of this was in 1996 when President Clinton passed welfare reform legislation. At the same time, he instructed a good friend and ally of his, Eli Segal, to go and set up Welfare-To-Work initiative, which was outside of government. It was a partnership with nonprofits and the government and businesses. Welfare reform would not have worked if people were not being hired off of welfare. And so there’s ways in which that kind of initiative was so critical to the success of this policy.
And so in thinking about these partnerships going forward, we’re looking very—what are the president’s policy priorities—you know, health care, energy, education, economic mobility. And then where—you know, if government acts in a particular way, where does the private—do we need support from the private sector, nonprofits, foundations, in order to succeed? And so that’s kind of where we’re seeing our focus. And we will be doing more with that sort of, you know, constraint in mind.
QUESTION: Good morning. I’m Lynda Mann with YouthQuest Foundation. We raise funds for programs that support at-risk kids, predominately looking at high school dropouts. And my question has to do with the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program. Your initiative states that you want to take something that’s successful and move it into communities of need. And I do know that the White House has had a couple of conversations about this program, which has been around since 1993, and, by the way, is still funded at the 1993 level. Are there plans to expand that across the nation because it’s been so successful?
MICHELE JOLIN: I don't know anything specific about that program. That’s not something I’ve worked on. So I’d be happy to get your information and then consult with some of my colleagues who might have worked on that and then get back to you with an answer, if that makes sense.
QUESTION: Hello. Thank you very much for coming. My name is Samuel Williams. I’m in the [Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration program]. I’m very interested in energy policy, but this could apply also to health and education, some of the other issues. I’m really concerned about a better-informed electorate in communities across the country. And this is not to pit the White House against the Congress. But I wanted to know your thoughts about this. Might not positive social change also include working in some way with the Congress and the media and also the private sector to take more proactive steps to enhance public participation in legislative decision-making?
And this might include, for example, holding committee meetings and other forum[s] throughout the country, since we have a centralized government here in this country for some time, over 300 million people. People can’t get to meetings. Is it possible to promote having more of those committee meetings and other forum[s], the Executive Office as well, throughout the country in these communities so that people can get more involved and not just having town hall meetings or voting every two years for a Congressman in terms of the extent of their participation?
MICHELE JOLIN: I think that’s an excellent idea. I mean, I’d be curious what your thoughts are on operationally how to do that, and sort of how to include—you know, it sounds like you’re interested in members of Congress, as well as, you know, the Executive Branch, and sort of how to do that together maybe around particular—and I think it’s needed. I think it would be really important.
You know, we’re thinking—we’re not doing that, but I think it’s a great idea. And we’ll take it back to our team. You touched on something that I think is, you know, core to the way we’re thinking about how we operate, but then also how the president has talked about, you know, doing business in a different way and governing in a different way. And his view—and it comes from who he is and is so core to the way he sees the world—is, you know, that he wants to engage more people in, you know, the agenda, in helping solve the problem, in coming up with solutions, you know, for problems in their communities and nationwide. And so I think that’s absolutely consistent with what you’re talking about.
I do think with technology, there’s more ways to do that effectively. There’s downsides to using technology, obviously, because there isn’t the kind of community connection that I think ... but I think—and more and more, we are using, within the White House, opportunities for online chats, our blog, and allowing people to comment, and having public calls that allow people to get on and talk. And I personally have done that in several different instances around this initiative, the Social Innovation Fund initiative, again with the goal of getting more input, getting more participation, getting people more invested, finding out what we’re doing wrong, where the downsides are, where people are nervous. And so using technology has definitely made that easier. But I think there’s definitely more that can be done. I think that’s a …
And it’s so important around all of our national challenges. I mean, we see with the health care debate how important it is for people to have, like, sort of that civil discourse about, you know, sort of what their real concerns are about health care.
QUESTION: Do you see any way that the private sector might view the clients who we all wish to serve frankly as customers in new markets which will help sustain the private sector’s participation in such partnerships?
MICHELE JOLIN: Yeah, no, I think that’s a really important point. And, you know, as we—right now, we’re focused largely in the nonprofit sector and our initiatives. And it’s simply because of capacity. We have not focused as much on sort of mission-driven businesses or revenue-generating nonprofits. And that’s such a core part of, you know, the long-term success and sustainability and strategy. So that’s definitely something we’re going to do over time.
One of the challenges in how we’re thinking about this as well is—you know, I’d be interested to hear thoughts people have on this. With the government getting into this space—you know, as Cheryl talked about, there’s sort of the early stage. There’s the later stage where something’s proven and is scaling at a much larger level. And then there’s a middle stage. What we don’t want to do is create bad incentives for dependents in this middle stage when people are growing their organizations, and sort of what else can be done to help encourage, you know, like you were talking about, sustainability? Some of it may be the revenue-generating models. I think that’s going to be a key part of it, building up private sector demand.
Another part of how we see this is, ultimately, you know, when government and the big agencies spend a lot of money on particular interventions to deal with a social problem, too often we don’t know whether those work. Too often there’s evidence that some of it doesn’t work, whether it’s education, health care, you know, workforce development. We talk regularly with … about sort of the spectrum of programs and interventions and initiatives in the government agencies and the amount of money that’s being spent on things that they—you know, and anyone would say this—they just don’t have a good sense of whether it works or not. And that’s not a good use of resources.
So one of the things we’re trying to do in this, creating the Social Innovation Fund in this ... I’m talking about in between, is to get a better sense of what it is about the initiative that works, and sort of spending more on—and we’re not talking about—there’s sort of measurement evaluation resources. And that’s just sort of, you know, always seen as sort of monolithic, you know? And we understand it’s complicated. If this was easy, people would have done it. It’s complicated. We know it’s hard, you know, to get a sense of what works. We know that’s challenging. And the tools, the current tools that are used to identify that, some randomized control trials and others, aren’t always appropriate for particular programs and where they are in their life stage and sort of what they do in the populations.
And so we’re looking at all that with the eye toward, we want more government resources devoted toward more things that work and are having an impact. That’s not controversial. We all want that. But it’s getting a better sense of what works. And this is one of those tools that we think the Social Innovation Fund will be a tool to help build a pipeline so more of that can happen, we have a better sense.
And so connected to what you’re saying about the sustainability, many of the federal agencies are excited about this idea because they see this as a potential for them to invest nationally in programs that work, you know, more effectively. And so that is sort of a way to think about sustainability. And it’s not, you know, government-dependent ... government program is not the only answer. But it can be part of what a program’s answer can be in terms of scaling and growing at a big level.
FACILITATOR: We have one last question that came in from Twitter, specifically, from Danielle. She says, “What does social innovation cover? I imagine social media is included, but what else?”
MICHELE JOLIN: Well, when we talk about social innovation, we’re talking about new and different and better ways to solve social problems around education, health care, workforce development, the whole spectrum, energy conservation, and supporting, you know, more sort of these new ways and having more impact with the more limited resources we have. So it’s less about—we see new media as a tool to help, you know, this innovation happen and succeed. But it’s more about—the way we focus and the way we have defined it, it’s more about, you know, finding new and higher-impact ways to solve social problems.
JONATHAN KAPLAN: Well, I want to thank Michele and Cheryl for speaking with us this morning. I think all of you share with me a feeling of having benefited greatly from their insights and observations, and also just, keen intellect of both of them in terms of sharing a better understanding, giving all of us a better understanding of what social entrepreneurship and social innovation are all about. And certainly for those of us in the Walden community and I know participating online through our webinar right now, or our webcast rather, we have hundreds and hundreds of Walden students and others who are learning from this. There’s so much that we’re able to learn and, as Walden community members, then apply so as to really go out and have a ripple effect from all of our actions and all of the work that we’re all doing. So I want to thank Cheryl and Michele and ask everyone for one last round of applause for both of them.