What the NextGen Cohort is all about

The Learning Journey & Experience

The Next Generation of Human Services Organizations Initiative was designed to advance and accelerate the social and economic mobility (SEM) for people in American cities living with low incomes.

We define social and economic mobility as the movement of families between social strata and their ability to improve their wealth and economic status. This includes a person’s autonomy, power and ability to influence his or her environment and personal outcomes.

Launched in October of 2017, the Kresge Foundation created this initiative and partnered with Leadership for a Networked World at Harvard University, to engage a cohort of human services leaders on a journey to build organizational capacity and activate new strategies and solutions that improve human services outcomes and achieve racial equity in social and economic mobility. Insights, case studies, and frameworks from the inaugural cohort can be found at here:

In July of 2019 a new cohort of human services organizations were selected to embark on a two-year learning journey together. They convened with the goals of accelerating their efforts to advance along the Human Services Value Curve, achieve new levels of outcomes and value, better integrate two generation approaches (antipoverty strategies), make data-informed decisions, take steps to advance racial equity in order to accelerate social and economic mobility, and drive large-scale person-centered systems change.


The Kick-Off

On August 8th, the cohort met for the first time at the Kresge Foundation in Troy Michigan. During their orientation session, the group engaged in a set of leadership activities centered around Lucius Annaeus Senaca’s poem On the Shortness of Life and the poem “I am From.” Each organization shared their big ideas to advance social and economic mobility, with an applied racial equity lens through a two-gen, whole family approach, speaking about the outcomes they had already achieved, the outcomes they hoped to achieve, and the main barriers and enablers they were facing leading this work. Finally, the Leadership for a Networked World team described core elements of the two-year leadership program and the NextGen Human Services cohort experience. This orientation set the foundation for a collaborative learning journey over the next two years.


The Learning Journey Begins

The learning journey began at Harvard, November 13-15, 2019. During their first Leadership Academy, the group focused on 1) network building within and across cohorts, 2) introducing new strategies and inspiration to advance along the Health and Human Services Value Curve (HSVC), and 3) generating action steps to accelerate two-generation efforts (2Gen). Dr. Antonio Oftelie of Leadership for a Networked World and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, introduced the HSVC. Then, Dr. Cynthia Croom, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Action Commission, described steps her organization has taken to actualize the curve, and Kelly Harder provided a retrospective look on advancing the curve in county government. Marjorie Sims of Ascend provided an overview of 2Gen’s history, goals and principles and engaged participants in a series of activities to reflect on and enhance their 2Gen efforts, including peer consulting and a mapping activity to plot their current 2Gen efforts. And, Dr. Nancy Koehn, of Harvard Business School, illuminated lessons learned from her book Forged in Crisis – The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times, and connected these insights to today’s challenges and opportunities in health and human services. To deepen learnings following the Leadership Academy, cohort members shared tools, strategies, questions, and best practices related to a 2Gen approach and worked with Ascend to assess 2Gen strategies being implemented by cohort members, explore themes that emerged among the group, and receive customized technical assistance.


Responding to Covid

In April of 2020, the group met to discuss their responses to the pandemic. The session highlighted challenges cohort members were grappling with, innovations that had better-prepared them to respond to COVID-19, new emerging opportunities, and initial lessons learned in the midst of the crisis. Cohort members explored challenges associated with going remote, technology, prioritization, speed, coordination across entities, staff morale, fiscal challenges, and concerns about having to “go back to the basics” and “losing advances made with preventative work.” They also spoke about new opportunities and insights, such as lessons highlighting the importance of integration, the power of technology to enhance ecosystem work, telehealth opportunities, policy opportunities, new opportunities to address inequities, and an emphasis on alignment that, as one cohort member stated, “will allow us to emerge stronger.”


Going Virtual

In July, the group convened for their first Virtual Innovators’ Roundtable, during which cohort members 1) explored a health and human services ecosystem that is empowering people in poverty to transform their lives through education, employment, and fellowship 2) developed a common language and framework for advancing social and economic mobility, 3) shared practices, strategies, challenges and lessons learned advancing social and economic mobility, and 4) identified new opportunities to harness data and analytics to operationalize aspirations for equity. Engage R&D shared preliminary themes and insights from their first round of interviews with the NextGen cohort and facilitated conversations about emerging themes related to social and economic mobility, racial equity, and policy and systems. The leadership team of Martha O’Bryan Center spoke about their strategies to empower children, youth, and adults in poverty to transform their lives and reflected on what post-pandemic employment might look like, approaches to accelerate social capital building in the midst of COVID-19, the pandemic’s long-term impact on educational attainment and innovations introduced in response to the pandemic. Nisha Patel, offered insights from her work leading the U.S. Partnership on Mobility from Poverty, including a definition of mobility and the five mutually reinforcing strategies put forward by the Partnership to increase mobility: Changing the narrative, Creating access to good jobs, Ensuring zip code is not destiny, Providing support that empowers, and Transforming data use. Kathy Park and her team at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency spoke about their Data for Equity (D4E) model developed to advance human serving organizations’ use of data to achieve equity-focused outcomes. And, during this Roundtable, the cohort agreed to work together on a cohort-wide initiative focused on lifting-up the power, agency, autonomy, and dignity of customers and clients.


Designing Along Advancement Levers

In October of 2020, the group came together for a virtual working session. Together, participants focused on their cohort-wide initiative and collaborated to develop ideas to lift up the power, agency, autonomy, and dignity of people, families, and communities. In particular, they began designing ideas along the four advancement levers of the Human Services Value Curve: Governance and Structure, Insight and Evidence, Services and Solutions, and People and Culture.


Webinar on Framing Narratives

In early December of 2020, the cohort participated in a webinar designed to share insights on productive narratives and framing science, highlighting: 1) brain science research, 2) lessons learned about existing narratives related to social and economic mobility (SEM), poverty, racism, and dignity, 3) words to use and avoid, and 4) strategies to build tool kits for advancing desired narratives and addressing barriers to SEM. The session was led by Tracy Wareing-Evans of APHSA and Marjorie Simms of Ascend. During their presentation they defined narratives and spoke about why they matter, offered tips for more productive framing, provided concrete examples of incorporating effective framing, and highlighted frames to avoid and frames to advance. Following the presentation, cohort members explored 1) the narrative pitfalls we need to avoid around dignity, respect, race and equity, and 2) ideas for developing better narratives around this work, and what the cohort might need to advance these efforts.


Focus on Racial Injustice

March 17-18, 2021, the cohort met for their second Virtual Innovators’ Roundtable. Featured presenters included Derrik Anderson of Race Matters for Juvenile Justice, Darrick Hamilton of The New School, and Michael McAfee of PolicyLink. Over two days, the cohort focused on 1) understanding our country’s history of racism and racial injustice, 2) sharing approaches, challenges, and lessons learned drawing on person-centered, strengths-based practices to advance racial equity, 3) reflecting on policy opportunities to advance racial equity and respect the power, agency, autonomy, and dignity of those we serve, and 4) advancing the cohort’s collective work together.


Creating Generative Partnerships

On May 17, the group convened for a webinar to share insights and ideas on creating more generative public-private partnerships. Tracy Wareing-Evans of APHSA provided opening remarks, defining public-private partnerships and speaking to how they have evolved in the human services field. The team from Olmstead County then reflected on one of their best public-private partnership experiences – their Parents and Children Excel (PACE) program. Following their presentation, the full cohort discussed their own best public-private partnership experience and shared what motivated those partnerships, the values and principles undergirding the partnerships, what they were able to achieve together, how they worked through disagreements, differences, and challenges, and how those partnerships accelerated their efforts to advance social and economic mobility.


Accelerating Social and Economic Mobility

On August 16, the cohort met virtually to share insights and ideas on advancing fatherhood initiatives to accelerate social and economic mobility. Joe Jones of Center for Urban Families (CFUF) spoke about the history of fatherhood initiatives in the United States. James White of Ascend shared ideas on what the next phase of fatherhood initiatives might look like. And, Demetrious Jones, an Ascend Fatherhood Learning Action Community member and CFUF alum shared his personal experiences as a father, moderated the conversation, and led the two speakers in a discussion about engaging constituents. Following the discussion, cohort members shared what resonated with them during the conversation, the reflections it generated, and what it meant for their work.


The Final Session

November 3-4, 2021, the group met for their final Leadership Academy. In preparation for the event, cohort members shared reflections on their organizational journey over the previous two years. During the two-day event, the cohort collaborated to 1) reflect on their organizational and leadership insights, 2) share practices, challenges, trade-offs, and lessons learned advancing innovations, 3)        honor and strengthen their two-generation approaches, and 4) celebrate their successful engagement and accomplishments. Highlights of the event, included a discussion of the Washington State case study, examining human services transformation efforts to reduce intergenerational poverty, peer coaching and consulting (led by Marjorie Sims of Ascend) to strengthen two-generation efforts, and a keynote address by Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School on “Rebel Talent” and a mindset for innovation and reinvention.   

Virtual Collaboration & Reflections

Throughout the two years, cohort members also worked together virtually via a community of practice. They shared strategies, techniques, tools, ideas, and learnings to progress along the Human Services Value Curve and accelerate social and economic mobility. In addition, each organization participated in several interviews and contributed to research efforts led by the Leadership for a Networked World and Engage R&D teams to lift up insights from each cohort organizations and explore what it takes to support long-term social and economic mobility for families.

Participant Testimonials

What progress has your organization made
in the past two years?

“Hispanic Unity of Florida partnered with the Urban League of Broward County and Florida International University, to produce two reports published in 2022: The State of Black Broward and The State of Hispanic & Immigrant Broward. Both reports look at inequality through an equity lens and recommend areas of opportunity to change systems through public policy and advocacy.”–

Hispanic Unity of Florida