Economic Opportunity Recaps

The Philanthropy Roundtable's Economic Opportunity Program explores strategies that donors can support to ensure people achieve greater economic independence, security, and mobility through work; savings, credit, and asset building; and entrepreneurship. Here are the full economic opportunity session recaps from our 2019 Annual Meeting:

Building the Ladder to True Upward Mobility

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, economic and regional shifts prompted questions about whether current postsecondary opportunities—four-year college degrees or otherwise—align with careers that create true upward mobility. How can donors decode employer demands and skill sets that ultimately translate to students gaining real work experience and credentialing from relevant learning models? What are the on-ramp programs and skill sets that donors can help open to students, particularly when they are still at the secondary level of their education?

Moderated by Dave Clayton of the Strada Education Network, this conversation included Austin Buchan of College Forward, Jonathan Johnson of Rooted School, and Laura Evans of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Buchan talked about ways to lower barriers to postsecondary education for low-income students. Since many challenges to enrolling in and succeeding at college are “exclusive to the low-income experience,” he explained, “half, if not more than half, of what we do is help mitigate…these logistical challenges.” College Forward, he says, is one of the largest college success programs in the country, and it works with students to make sure they can overcome barriers to success. “We have to simplify this process for them,” Buchan says, “so they can go become the leaders in reform.”

For Johnson, one of the goals at Rooted School is to get young people connected within their communities. “Your network is your net worth,” he says. “For students, our goal is to leverage the relationships they have in the community to build their own social capital.” He discussed issues related to scaling programs such as Rooted School, and argued that helping disadvantaged youth succeed doesn’t just uplift them—it helps their employers and their communities. Evans discussed the foundation’s work in education and offered tips on “what it takes to unlock potential talent.”

Why Urban America Matters: Race, Opportunity, and the American Future

With all the attention on the protests and chaos in American cities post-George Floyd, many are thinking about whether our urban areas have become lost causes. In this session, Reihan Salam and Tim Carney discussed what it will take to reinvigorate America’s cities, stop the mass outflow of people to more rural areas, and truly ensure that all groups, including newcomers and those of minority communities, have an opportunity to thrive.

Carney argues that it’s important for cities to maintain “livability,” keeping streets safe, providing parks for children, and creating other ways to make cities a long-term option for those who live in them. “You have to allow cities to grow in a way that is on a human scale,” he says. He argues that this summer’s unrest was exacerbated by the coronavirus lockdowns, and bringing about change in relations with the police starts at a personal level, where “police can be part of the community…not just law and order.” Another way to support cities, he argues, is to focus on civil society, “these institutions that help people keep their lives together.”

Salam argues that the U.S. cannot achieve greater economic equality while its citizens see upward mobility as a zero-sum game. Part of the answer to providing opportunity is getting people to connect more with their communities: “When I’m thinking about restoring family life, I do think conservatives need to think of cities as a resource. When you think about the great, successful ethnic neighborhoods in big cities of yesteryear, these were neighborhoods of multigenerational families. That is a way of life that was a part of why cities were so attractive and dynamic in mid-century America. If you want an alternative to government, what you need is a revival of those communities that are amenable to multigenerational families.”


Philanthropy and the Road to Economic Recovery

COVID-19 has disrupted the economy and workforce. With 18 million people out of work and unemployment at 10 percent, any recovery effort must immediately get people back to work. Work is a vital part of the free enterprise system, provides opportunity for all, and minimizes the need for government income supports like unemployment insurance.

At the same time, our nation is grappling with a racial crisis and being met with demands for more people to become entrepreneurs and to create jobs—particularly in underserved and under-resourced communities. This session analyzed the role of venture philanthropy and impact investing in supporting innovative solutions to the current crisis. Featuring two venture philanthropists, this panel highlighted philosophies of impact investing and the importance of facilitating individuals getting back to work, securing necessary skills, and becoming successful in launching new businesses.

Moderated by Alicia Manning of the Bradley Foundation, this discussion included Jay Hein, president of the Sagamore Institute, and Peter Lipsett, vice president of DonorsTrust. Hein described how the Sagamore Institute is working on skills-building, market-strengthening pathways to opportunity, including supporting Dallas Cowboys star Jaylon Smith with his recently launched Minority Entrepreneurship Institute. “Enterprise is the only solution to poverty,” Hein says. “So what we need to do is enable markets to work.”

Lipsett made a pitch for “policy-oriented philanthropy” to alleviate some of the economic fallout of the coronavirus. Through the Growth and Resilience Project, DonorsTrust has been seeding groups working on issues related to employment, job creation, and stripping away regulation that keeps Americans from succeeding.

Changed by COVID-19: How America Now Thinks About Work and Entrepreneurship

John William Pope Foundation Program Manager Clarice Smith and Tarren Bragdon, CEO of the Foundation for Government Accountability, paneled this discussion to go over the changes to American businesses and their subsequent adaptations to COVID-19.

Bragdon offered valuable data showing there’s been a boom in new small business startups in 2020. “It makes sense because people tend to start businesses when they are out of work,” he explained. Smith added that businesses that can be successful during a pandemic have staying power and will prove they can last long after it ends.

Bragdon went on to explain all American businesses had to act like startups in some ways because they had to reinvent themselves in light of COVID-19. “That is going to have long-term positive impact in ways that we don’t see right now.” But adapting to a new environment isn’t the only challenge entrepreneurs have tackled: Bragdon says most delays entrepreneurs have faced so far with COVID-19 have been governmental barriers at the local level. Many of these barriers, he said, have been removed—a such as some occupational licensing requirements or trucking regulations—but many still exist.

More event recaps by topic:

K-12 Education


Philanthropic Best Practices


Veterans & Foreign Policy