Jim Shelton: “How to Bet Big on the American Dream”

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Jim Shelton:  I’ve spent much of my career trying to help people achieve the American dream, and have come to the firm conclusion that philanthropic capital – if deployed strategically – can help lift large numbers of people who currently have little opportunity to move up the income ladder.

The decades-long decline in upward mobility in the U.S. is alarming, but there are people who have identified successful strategies to reverse that trend.

Earlier this week, at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, I shared some insights on a paper that I worked on last year with The Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit philanthropic advisory firm. It identified areas for particularly impactful investment to restore the American Dream along with 15 specific “bets.”

These bets were meant to be thought starters, not best in class. I’ve already completely rethought the bet focused on K12 schooling. More importantly, all of these issues are deeply interconnected; so no one bet will do the job – highlighting the need for a broad-based movement – from private donors large and small to policymakers to teachers and administrators.

We know we don’t have all the answers, and are excited to learn from others whether expert by training or lived experience. So, I’ll ask again: If you had $1 billion to invest in restoring the American Dream, what big bet would you make?

The Atlantic piece I co-wrote last May with Debby Bielak shares more on the same topic.