June 19, 2013 |

Imagine this:

A modern housing campus for single mothers and their children provides on-site high-quality early care and education and career and mental health counselors, and is in close proximity to a college campus that helps the mothers complete career-focused degrees.  While in the program, the mothers advance their education, leading to greater income and financial stability for themselves and their children.

Or imagine this:

A Head Start center partners with a local community college to offer parents of enrolled children skills training to become nurses.  The young children are achieving kindergarten readiness, while their parents are moving into stable career paths, and building productive relationships with other students and teachers along the way.

Or heck, imagine this:

A state human services department provides matched savings accounts for children enrolled in publically funded child care programs.  The children and their parents start planning for college as early as two years old, learning the value of saving, build their financial capability and open their first bank account resulting in new educational pathways and economic security for their families.

These powerful innovations – at the Jeremiah Program, CAP Tulsa, and the Colorado Department of Human Services, respectively – are just a few of the two-generation strategies bubbling up around the country, offering low-income families a shot at creating an intergenerational cycle of opportunity.  Each of these approaches, which provide opportunities for and meet the needs of vulnerable children and their parents together, builds on what we know works: high-quality early childhood education – which can produce a return on investment as high as 10 percent – along with postsecondary educational attainment for parents, which is the best predictor of a child’s economic mobility.

Today we are launching the Aspen Institute Ascend Fund, a $1 million fund that will invest in solutions like these that tap the creativity, knowledge, and assets of all sectors of our society to create a cycle of opportunity for children and their parents. With a focus on the power and potential of two-generation approaches, the Ascend Fund will engage leaders who are passionate, strategic, and relentless about making economic security a family tradition, and who are energized by results and learning.  We are seeking solutions that build on innovation, influence decision makers, and have real impact for children and parents.

What are the next big ideas that will move our children up the economic ladder and help fuel their dreams?  We are on a quest to find them.  Let’s not be bogged down by the siloed structures of our institutions, or give up on innovation and collaboration due to challenging budgetary and political contexts.  Instead, let’s work together to demand more and move good ideas into action by developing and elevating the programs and policies that really work – and expanding the network of leaders who are driven by a focus on a better future for this generation and the next.

With 45 percent of all children living in low-income families, there is not one organization or one issue that will create a legacy of economic security and educational success for all American families.  It’s going to take leaders and innovators like Gloria Perez of Jeremiah Program, Steven Dow of CAP Tulsa, and Reggie Bicha of the Colorado Department of Human Services, to create transformative change.  We invite you to join them.  As Albert Einstein once said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

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