Public Service Innovators -- Ted Halstead MPA 1998 - Bringing New America to the Fore

March 9, 2001
Mary Tamer

Ted Halstead (MPA 1998) started his first think tank -- Redefining Progress -- at the age of 25 with a $15,000 grant. Four years later after growing it into a $2 million institute, he was off to the Kennedy School. From there, Halstead launched a second think tank, the New America Foundation, a $4 million public policy institute with an agenda to introduce new voices and views with a bipartisan tone.

"I'd come to the conclusion that we needed a much broader think tank," said Halstead, a former KSG Montgomery Fellow. "I had a very strong sense that the old boxes of left and right don't do justice for the future.... I wanted to create an organization thinking long term for a rising generation to think long term."

Halstead's own views on public service changed dramatically during a two-year sabbatical from his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College, which he spent in Guatemala working on a reforestation and land reform project. The atrocities witnessed there -- including the brutal slaughter of an entire village by guerilla rebels -- affected him profoundly.

"When there are matters of life and death and you see so much human suffering, it touches the soul," said Halstead. "It seemed to me there were two career paths. I could make a lot of money or I could go and try to make a difference."

Dubbed "The Think Tank for Generation Next" by The Washington Post, Halstead and his group have become major policy players in two years time. What sets them apart is their approach and their modus operandi. Using a venture capital model, the New America Foundation seeks out the best and brightest to spread public policy ideas and initiatives for the betterment of the public good, regardless of political affiliation.

One of the main challenges, he said, is to develop a new political philosophy for the information age. This vision has attracted a diverse group of funders from the Packard Foundation to the Pew Charitable Trusts, and from Hollywood to Silicon Valley.

"We have the best minds from the left and the right," said Halstead. "They represent the most innovative thinkers on their sides." They also represent a different generation -- the younger one. While comparable think-tanks have senior fellows in their 60s and 70s, the score of New America Foundation fellows tend to be in their 20s and 30s.

The media is taking notice. The group has published more articles in The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times last year than any other U.S. think-tank. In addition, Halstead has published two cover articles for The Atlantic Monthly, and is working on a book to be published next fall by Doubleday.

"I feel very blessed in my ability to do what I'm doing." said Halstead. "It's a virtuous circle."

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