Now is the Time to Amass, Apply, and Amplify Change Capital

Anne Mosle | June 21, 2024 |

When I came to the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2010, a big idea was percolating in my head. My synapses were firing as I engaged with scientists, creative entrepreneurs, industry titans, educators, social innovators, journalists, authors, and athletes. The experience poked and prodded me to examine and expand my thinking about how to rise to the challenges of our times. My life’s work has focused on improving family economic well-being, particularly for women and families with low incomes. I knew there was a better way to approach the work and make a greater impact but exactly how hadn’t come to me yet. I did know for certain that I wanted to use my experience and influence to make a dent in breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty. 

At the time, I was warmly welcomed to Ideas by the then President and CEO of the Aspen Institute, Walter Isaacson, and his wife Cathy. I was a visiting executive on loan from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to the Aspen Institute which, looking back, was a powerful personal and professional transformational moment. While on campus, I had the good fortune to meet and develop new relationships with special leaders like Jackie and Mike Bezos of the Bezos Family Foundation, and Dr. Susan Kuhl, a pathbreaker on the power of brain science. I also had a chance to deepen my relationships with sheroes of mine like entrepreneur Patrice King Brickman, Founder of Inspire Access, and Anna Deavere Smith, an iconic artist and Aspen Institute trustee. All these people, as well as many other festival goers, gave me early signals that they would join forces with me to make family prosperity a national priority.

Mike Bezos (left) and Patrice King Brickman (right) join Anne Mosle on stage at Aspen Ideas in 2022.

With this inspiration and these connections, my percolations turned from idea to action with the founding of Ascend at the Aspen Institute . I brought Ascend to Aspen because I knew there was a wealth of diverse leaders and important work underway; yet it was below the radar and disconnected. The opportunity to create and combine a space for a new model of radical collaboration and values-based leadership with the Aspen Institute’s ideals, influence, and affluence offered a fresh formula for future possibilities for all families to thrive. I was an adult kid ready to apply lessons from the Aspen Institute’s tested model and toolbox –  like text-based, Socratic dialogue – while finding new ways to convene diverse leaders who share a North Star. I wanted to bring different viewpoints together to surface solutions that transcend divides and make a difference. And it is working.

On the Aspen Meadows campus (and beyond), Ascend Fellows like Mayor Melvin Carter, Governor Wes Moore, and Senator Raphael Warnock explored with their classmates what MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail means today and what we might make of Victoria Stafford in The Great Work in the Small Work urging us to “to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope.”

The 2015 Class of Ascend Fellows, featuring Mayor Melvin Carter and Aisha Nyandoro.

From the start, Ascend “put the Aspen Leaf to work” by bringing our leaders to the campus to share bold ideas and big bets to end generational poverty. And we are excited at the opportunity to do more. Building on the Institute’s 75-year legacy, Board Chair Margot Pritzker and President and CEO Dan Porterfield, are doubling down on expanding leadership, rebuilding societal trust, and opening our doors more widely to rising generations. Ascend is ready to help Aspen Institute realize our shared vision for a “thriving interconnected community of leaders driving impact across geographies, generations, and viewpoints.”

We have an abundance of leadership; we just need to look in the right places. Here are just a few examples of where to look. Aisha Nyandoro became a McNulty Prize winner on an Aspen stage and made the case for why giving single Black mothers cash is a smart “winning” strategy when it comes to jumpstarting economic mobility. Fueled by the Ascend Fellowship, Melanie Bridgeforth of the Women’s Foundation of Alabama spearheaded a grassroots campaign that resulted in historic passage of the Alabama Child Care Tax Credit legislation which will invest $82.5M over the next three years to incentivize employers to expand access to quality child care with the potential to impact 58,000 families in Alabama with much-needed support. 

Aisha Nyandoro accepting the McNulty Prize at the 2022 Resnick Aspen Action Forum.

At the 2024 Aspen Ideas Festival, #AscendFellow Leseliey Welch will share how her groundbreaking birth model is rooted in community connections, surrounding Black mothers-to-be with community wisdom, culturally important care, and joy. Ascend Fellow, Wendy Ellis, will lead a roundtable on communicating and investing in health equity in turbulent times with Lola Adedokun, Executive Director of the Aspen Global Innovators Group. Maryland Governor Wes Moore will share why our country needs to invest billions to rebuild critical infrastructure, from bridges to broadband, as well as make bold moves that bring common-sense justice as he just did with the most sweeping state-level pardon in any state that will help reverse brought on by the failed war on drugs.

On June 24th, I invite you to start your Ideas experience with us at 8:10am MT for Families and Social Capital, where I will moderate a conversation with Grace Bastidas, Editor-In-Chief of Parents, Leseliey Welch, Founder of Birth Detroit, and Jeff Raikes, Co-founder of the Raikes Foundation about how well-being starts with social capital and community.  Learn how you can become a social capital builder!

As for me, 14 years into my big bet to end intergenerational poverty for children and families, I find myself thinking about what it takes to have significant impact now. This goes well beyond more financial capital which is always needed. With Ascend’s Network of 557 community organizations, 140 Ascend Fellows, 130 Parent Advisors, and 30 philanthropic partners, I believe we must understand and value the intellectual capital it takes to transform systems that hold families back and create ones that set them up to thrive. And it takes people – human capital – making a meaningful difference where they sit and stand. I can look out over the Ascend Network and see people who can play big roles in hospital systems, in state government and in direct service. I see Ascenders who are integrators, weaving systems together with families at the center, which not only makes money go farther, but most importantly, achieves better results for the children, parents, and families they serve. And I am thinking about the social capital it takes. We’ve long known at Ascend that social capital is a secret sauce that improves well-being. People who have strong peer networks, a deep sense of belonging and trusted relationships do better on every indicator. 

A lot has changed in the many years I’ve been coming to the Aspen Ideas Festival. But one thing has stayed the same. I am certain – together in the spirit of radical collaboration and curiosity – we can end intergenerational poverty and ensure all families thrive. There are no shortages of ideas about how to get this done or people willing to do the hard work. Now is the time to amass, apply, AND amplify the change capital –  financial, intellectual, human and social – to go from how we’d like the world to work for children and families to making it that way. In the words of Parent Advisor Janine McMahon, “it is time to meet families not where they are, but where they dream.”

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