Changing the Face and Future of Progressive Policy – Next100
Commentary   Changing the Game

Changing the Face and Future of Progressive Policy

Next100 is a startup think tank built for a new brand of policy leaders, working on the issues that matter most to the next generation. We seek to break through the inertia and status quo that exists today, to support new leaders as they develop new solutions and new approaches to making progressive policy change.

A planet in crisis. Broken immigration and criminal justice systems. Unequal, struggling schools. Inequality on the rise; opportunity on the decline.

In recent years, many of our nation’s toughest policy challenges have gotten worse, not better. What’s more, the impacts of these challenges are not felt equally. It should come as no surprise that the individuals and communities who tend to be excluded from the policymaking table—because of their race, ethnicity, or immigration status; due to their age, income, educational level; or any number of other factors—are also those who are most affected by our policy choices, those with the most at stake in our collective action (or, rather, inaction).

We’ve created a political and policymaking environment in which the same people, with the same ideas, are called in and tasked with solving the same problems, in the same ways. What results is a cycle of inertia, a dearth of creativity and new ideas. The real political swamp is not characterized by any one person or group of people, but by a pervasive mindset of: “We can’t do that; that’s too hard; that’s not our job; that costs too much; we’ve already tried that.”

It’s time to change that. And that’s what Next100 is all about.

Next100 is a startup think tank built for a new brand of policy leaders, working on the issues that matter most to the next generation. We seek to break through the inertia and status quo that exists today, to support new leaders as they develop new solutions and new approaches to making progressive policy change.

Next100 is proudly and intentionally different than other policy organizations. Over the course of the next two years, we will do traditional policy work—but do it in nontraditional ways. We will embrace risk-taking (and the mistakes that occur as a result). We will celebrate diversity (in all its forms: identities, as well as backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives). And we will use the qualities that define the next generation (qualities that some people employ dismissively)—an impatience for change and an optimism that it is possible; an unwillingness to accept the status quo; and a reliance on new technologies to communicate and build community—to our advantage, as assets in pursuit of better public policies and a more equal, just, and inclusive America.

We are building Next100 because policy matters. It affects every aspect of our lives, and especially so in the lives of historically marginalized and underrepresented groups. We know that policy alone isn’t enough. But policy—and systemic policy change in particular—is one tool that we can use to protect the rights of all and promote opportunity for all, to ensure that government is enacting solutions and not exacerbating problems.

And yet, policy change isn’t happening in the way we need it to, or at the pace required by the scale of our current challenges. We also haven’t been intentional about creating pathways into policy roles for the people who can make that change happen. Because of this, our future—everything from the health of our environment, to the promise of equal opportunity and justice for all, to the very idea of the American dream, to even who is welcomed and valued as a “true American”—is increasingly at risk.

At the core of Next100 is our cohort of policy entrepreneurs: a set of eight progressive thinkers and doers who will spend the next two years conducting research and developing policy solutions to issues related to criminal justice, education, immigration, climate change, and economic opportunity. Selected from a highly competitive pool of more than 740 applicants, these rising leaders range in age from their early 20s to their late 40s, and bring a mix of professional and personal experiences and expertise to their work and the Next100 team.

The incoming class of Next100 policy entrepreneurs are:

  • Levi Bohanan, an advocate for early education and quality child care whose work in education draws on his experience with homelessness as a teen. At Next100, Levi will work on expanding access to high-quality child care and early childhood development opportunities for low- and middle-income families.
  • Isabel Coronado, a Native American woman and activist who co-developed an organization aimed at reducing recidivism among tribal members and helping reduce the trauma family members endure as a result. At Next100, Isabel’s work will focus on eliminating the generational cycle of incarceration in Indigenous communities.
  • Roquel Crutcher, an advocate for social justice and educational equity, and a first-generation college graduate from a low-income neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee. At Next100, Roquel will work on improving educational opportunities and postsecondary outcomes for young people in marginalized communities.
  • Taif Jany, a rising immigration policy expert who was granted asylum in the United States after he was forced to flee his home in Baghdad during the Iraq war. At Next100, Taif will work to highlight and expand the ways in which immigrants create jobs and strengthen our economy and communities.
  • Marcela Mulholland, a climate activist who experienced the impacts of climate change first-hand while growing up in south Florida. At Next100, Marcela will work on issues related to climate change and the Green New Deal, with a particular focus on the intersections of economic and criminal justice.
  • Michael “Zaki” Smith, an entrepreneur, activist, and formerly incarcerated individual who has spent the past decade working in youth-serving organizations. At Next100, Zaki will work to tackle the “collateral consequences” of incarceration—the 47,000+ policies that continue to punish formerly incarcerated individuals long after their sentences have been served.
  • Phela Townsend, a scholar-activist who is currently the only Black doctoral student in the field of industrial and labor relations in the United States. At Next100, Phela’s work will examine how today’s workers and labor organizations are using digital tools and technologies to rebuild worker power.
  • Rosario Quiroz Villarreal, a former DACA recipient and teacher, and current education and immigration advocate. At Next100, Rosario’s work will focus on protecting the rights and access to education of immigrant students, creating more culturally inclusive classrooms, and interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline.

We can no longer operate as if it’s business as usual. We need bold new ideas and new approaches, driven by the lived experiences of new people and new perspectives. We need the next generation to have a say in the policies being made today, to have a seat at the table and a role in shaping the future that they will inherit.

There’s a lot we don’t know about the next two years at Next100. Building a different type of organization from scratch inherently requires some learning-by-doing and trial-and-error. We will no doubt make mistakes.

What we are sure of, though, is that we’ll share what we learn—our progress as well as our setbacks—at every step along the way. We’ll embody the values of equity, inclusion, and transparency in all of the work that we do. We’ll remain committed to elevating diverse voices and fostering a new generation of progressive leaders. And we’ll never take our eyes off our overarching goal: to make real, lasting policy change that tangibly improves not just some, but all people’s lives

About the Author

Emma Vadehra Education + Early Years

Emma Vadehra was the founder and former executive director of Next100. She previously served as chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Education under Secretaries Arne Duncan and John B. King, Jr. and as senior education counsel for the late senator Edward M. Kennedy. She is an education policy wonk, an advocate for progressive policy change, and a believer in the next generation.

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