Answering the Call from Citizens Who Want to Serve

AmeriCorps muscleThese days the fate of national service seems tied more than ever to the greater economic struggles our nation is facing. Citizens want to serve in their communities, and this week the Senate is debating legislation that would make it possible for more people to serve than ever before.

September 11th and 12th of last year, the Service Nation Summit convened hundreds of leaders, service corps alumni, and celebrities to talk about the need for expanded national service opportunities, to meet the growing demand among people of all ages to serve full-time in their communities.

While Summit participants were still returning home in the glow of that inspiring event, Lehman Brothers—just blocks from where the Summit took place in mid-town Manhattan—crumbled, and the bottom began to fall out of the economy.

This week, the U.S. Senate will take a hard look at the Serve America Act, a piece of legislation announced at the Service Nation Summit by Senator Orrin Hatch (while his partner Sen. Edward Kennedy, convalescing at home, joined him in spirit).

Little known in September was just how desperately needed this legislation would become by the time it saw the floor of the Continue reading

White House Office of Social Entrepreneurship?

Citing the model of City Year and the success of AmeriCorps as examples, two think tanks call for a new changeWhite House Office of Social Entrepreneurship.

The Center for American Progress Action Fund, with the New Democracy Project, will release a book in January that aims to help with President Barack Obama’s transition, “steering the government in a new, more progressive direction.”

Writing in Change For America, A Progressive Blue-Print for the 44th President, Michele Jolin explains that “The new president will take office with ambitious goals to solve our nation’s most urgent social problems, but he will be operating in a climate with limited tolerance for new government spending or government-only solutions.”

An office of social entrepreneurship in the White House — not at the Corporation for National and Community Service as has been mentioned — would establish a “policy environment that over the long term fosters new entrepreneurship, improves nonprofits’ access to growth capital, and removes outdated tax and regulatory barriers to innovation.”

Acknowledging the vital importance of the nonprofit sector — part of the private sector, and responsible for innovation and service that fall off the radar screen of government and corporations — Jolin goes onto identify specifically the social entrepreneurs of the sector who lead by example:

Within this vital and growing non-profit sector, “social entrepreneurs” — individuals who have developed system-changing solutions to solve serious social problems—are playing a unique role. Leading social entrepreneurs such as Geoffrey Canada of Harlem Children’s Zone, which provides comprehensive support to low-income children in New York’s toughest neighborhoods, and Nobel Prize–winning Muhammad Yunus of the Grameen Bank, which is the world’s most famous microlender, have developed innovative models that are reorienting the way philanthropists, the private sector, and—increasingly— policymakers address intractable problems.

Nonprofits, nimble and resourceful, can take risks and work out program models that — if successful — can be and have been successfully adpated and adopted by governments.

…the non-profit sector can be a source of innovation and experimentation, and serve as a testing ground for these new ideas. The federal government has adapted a number of successful non-profit approaches into full-scale programs. City Year’s national service successes led to AmeriCorps, for example, and a federal appropriation expanded YouthBuild into a national government program in 1993.

The cost-effective private-public partnership that is AmeriCorps has been central to the discussion of building bi-partisan support for national service.

John Podesta, Obama’s transition chief, is on leave from the Center for American Progress. To read more about the context of the recommendations, read The Chronicle of Philanthropy article.

Download the whole chapter “A New Office of Social Entrepreneurship” (PDF) from the book. See nine other chapters.