||For the first few years, our focus at the Gathering was on getting smarter about scale and impact. The initial dialogue generated a sprawling action agenda with three clear central imperatives: increase access to capacity building capital; increase access to, and improve practices with, human capital; and, remarkably, open up government to partnership with social entrepreneurs.
The idea that social entrepreneurs should (or even could) deeply engage in policy advocacy, as a way to direct public resources towards higher impact approaches and build public will behind social innovations, was not widely endorsed in the mid-2000s. In fact, many of the social entrepreneurs in the New Profit network started their organizations precisely because they believed government was no longer the place to drive social change. Still, thanks to an encouraging yet admonishing talk with Presidential advisor David Gergen at the first Gathering, our community was forced to reckon with the fact that we were putting barriers in the way of our own intended impact if we avoided shaping the way public dollars flowed, considering the degree to which they dwarf all other resources. And the only way to do that would be to mobilize and support social entrepreneurs to directly engage in public policy advocacy.
Gergen’s call to action, especially in the context of the open 2008 presidential election, led New Profit to create a nonpartisan policy action center and coalition to mobilize social entrepreneurs for policy, which we named America Forward. To date, America Forward and its 70+ coalition members have leveraged $1.7 billion in federal funding for innovative, evidence-based programs across the country, by engaging with policy makers on early learning, K-12 education, workforce development, and social innovation broadly speaking.