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America Forward, a nonpartisan alliance of some 60 organizations across the country, went public last week with its call to “presidential candidates of both parties to support the innovative solutions being developed outside of Washington that achieve results in addressing America’s greatest domestic challenges.”
Cochaired by David Gergen, director of the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership; Vanessa Kirsch, founder and president of the social venture firm New Profit, Inc.; Timberland president and CEO Jeff Swartz; and Mark Nunnelly, managing director of Bain & Co., America Forward is looking to increase government’s awareness of and support for the efforts of social entrepreneurs working outside of government channels—often in community-based nonprofits—to address social ills and strengthen civic engagement.
The coalition represents a broad array of issues, including education, economic development, health insurance, homelessness, and job training. But whereas in the past many nonprofit leaders advocated for social programs to be run by the government, America Forward takes a different view of how these social problems should be addressed. Successful, locally run programs need government investment far more than they need government management, Kirsch told the Associated Press—and in particular, they need government’s help in growing to scale.
For example, Gergen observed that government could fund a grant system for social change ideas that functions like the National Science Foundation operates. Targeting the most promising ideas being developed by grassroots social entrepreneurs, government could provide the financing that, along with matching private funds, would enable these ideas to be implemented across the country.
America Forward’s primary goal, says Kirsch, is to put social entrepreneurship and national service on every presidential candidate’s agenda. So far, the effort seems to be paying off: presidential candidates John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney have all expressed a willingness to work with the coalition. Christopher Dodd has called for a million new public servants. Hillary Clinton has proposed a public service academy. Barack Obama advocates adding 150,000 positions to Americorps and doubling the size of the Peace Corps. And John Edwards and Bill Richardson have endorsed robust plans for national service.