Ascend believes when we do right by all families, we all do better. We gather and invest in values-based leaders with big ambitions and bold visions for our families — leaders who have the reach and influence to transform systems. All our work is grounded in racial and gender equity with an intersectional lens. Ultimately, we are here to create a society where systemic opportunity abounds and every family flourishes. 


We identify and invest in leaders with big ideas who are working within and across systems to drive innovation – leaders who have the influence to bridge divides, build relationships, and broker unlikely partnerships.

We have assembled a national Network of partners, policymakers, and cross-sector innovators, who are shifting the odds back in favor of families. Our leaders have reach and visibility in all the spaces that matter, from state cabinets and corporate board rooms to local school boards, from community-based organizations to family dinner table conversations.

We ensure that our path toward future family prosperity and well-being lifts up stories and solutions from families and leaders who are closest to communities, trusting parents and caregivers to know what works and to know what they need.


We invest in leadership to advance systems, policy, and narrative change.

We bet on bold leaders to help realize our shared vision for change, and we invest in leadership for impact. Through the Ascend Fellowship and across our other focus areas, we connect systems leaders to each other and to the resources they need to advance their ambitious change agendas. We are broadening the definition of leadership, ensuring that parents and families with low incomes have a seat and a say in power spaces.

We elevate and scale ideas and innovations that show early traction in communities.

We trust that parents, caregivers, and the community leaders who partner closely with them every day know better than anyone what families need to survive and thrive. We co-design innovations and bring to scale the best ideas through our research, case studies, and convenings. As a trusted broker, we help connect leaders to the resources they need to fully implement their visions, reach more families, and deepen their impact.

We leverage the power of convening and foster radical collaboration.

We use our platform and convening power to seed and grow new ideas ultimately to harvest new insights for family prosperity and well-being. We nurture the national conversation, bringing together diverse voices and viewpoints with decision-makers from across the political spectrum. We curate live and virtual experiences creating new places and playbooks for sharing stories and lessons learned. We build awareness and buy-in for practical, real-time solutions for families.

Our History

Ascend is a policy program of The Aspen Institute, a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges of our time.

In 2011, our founder and executive director, Anne Mosle, launched Ascend at the Aspen Institute in partnership with a dynamic group of philanthropic leaders. The impact of the Great Recession exposed the vulnerabilities and challenges many families face, and Ascend invested in families with low-incomes, particularly women and their children, in order to transform opportunities for success. Ascend committed to racial and gender equity, bringing the voices of families to the table to increase philanthropists’ and policymakers’ understanding of families’ resilience and lived experiences. Through research, partnerships, and convening, we brought visibility to breakthrough strategies – including the emerging two-generation (2Gen) approach – reframed conversations, and connected community leaders, social  innovators, media, policymakers, and the private sector to recenter our society around families. 

To catalyze systemic change and improve outcomes for families, we designed and implemented our inaugural Ascend Fellowship in 2012 to create a diverse, multi-disciplinary collaboration among systems leaders that could transform policies and practices to better support families. Then, in 2014, we created the Ascend Network that contributes to a new field that operationalizes the 2Gen approach and provides tools directly to families across the nation.

Today, together with our Fellows, funders, partners and national Network, Ascend is working to create an America in which a legacy of economic opportunity and educational success passes from one generation to the next.