Lessons and Innovations from the 2Gen Field

January 25, 2016 |

In the poem “A Brave and Startling Truth,” Maya Angelou talks about the two important parts of what it means to be human: the journey we take and the destination we hope to arrive at. In the two-generation movement, although the destination may still seem far off, the journey has been filled with rapid progress and success. 

Ascend was founded a scant five years ago to mobilize and empower two generation organizations and leaders to spur practice and policy change across educational success, economic security, social capital, and health and well being.

“It's hard to believe it's been only 5 years since Ascend was started,” says The Aspen Institute's Executive Vice President Eliot Gerson.  “If the widening opportunity gap is a defining issue of our time, the two-generation (2Gen) movement is clearly a powerful force to address it.” 

From the beginning, Ascend focused on three primary areas. First was to identify and develop platforms for scale in organizations like Head Starts, community colleges, and United Ways. The second goal involved building state policy innovations such as policy centers, while the third goal was to build evidence such as digital tools, research in areas such as brain science and adverse child experiences, and successful direct service and pilot initiatives. 

Over the past 18 months since the founding of the Ascend Network, partners have further developed tools, launched pilots, spurred collaborations, implemented policies, and helped move families in communities toward opportunity. A solid set of Ascend principals was developed to highlight the power of partnerships, accountability, dignity, racial and gender equity, and the notion of family resilience. 

These core values drive the momentum of the network members who apply a 2Gen lens to fields ranging from policy to research to philanthropy on local, state, and national levels.

“At Ascend, we think about systems change, but it only happens when you have the voice and experience and perspective of families. You have the research and data, and you have the best and most promising practices. Put it all together, and that's when you think about policy and systems change, says Ascend's Executive Director Anne Mosle.

At the 2015 Aspen ThinkXChange Ascend gathered together 200 leaders and organizations from across the United States that oversee more than $6.2 billion dollars. That reach impacts 1.5 million families and 475,000 students.

“There's a collective power here. People are coming into this conversation because it's moving,” says Mosle. “It's solution driven, bringing in diverse voices, and it's about making change from the family level up to the system level. More and more organizations are asking how we bring a 2Gen lens to our work. There's energy and opportunity from people who are looking for the network's answers, opportunities, and solutions about how we can make the structures and systems support families.”

The two-generation movement continues to gain momentum. Thirty states have some form of 2Gen action in progress. Seven states are working on or have passed legislation and another 7 are working on public/private partnerships.  The Obama administration has shown unprecedented interest, as has the Administration for Children and Families, both of whom are now rethinking how to create systems change with services better aligned to meet a whole family's needs.  Higher institutions of learning are looking at how to help student parents, while Ascend's touchstone organizations, such as the Jeremiah Program and CAP Tulsa, are receiving significant investments and grant dollars to continue their innovative work.
Even despite this powerful journey of progress, the end destination remains elusive. Today 44 percent of our children live in low income families and 65 percent of African American, Native American, and 

Latino children live in low income families. The issue of poverty and opportunity is the most critical issue in America today. The Ascend Network continues to drive forward to meet this challenge with 

hope and determination. 

“We all have a shared North Star,” says Mosle. “All are committed to ensuring that the American dream and all that it should be can pass from one generation to the next.”

Photos by Dan Bayer, The Aspen Institute

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