“When we solve problems for those who are most vulnerable, we solve problems for everyone.”
posted on: November 15, 2011
At NCRP we have been trying to promote the value of “targeted universalism” (TU) through our series of issue-based reports titled High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy. TU is about using targeted means within universal programs, which results in benefits for the targeted group but has a multiplier effect that advances social inclusion. We’ve also made the case for TU through our place-based series of reports on the impacts of advocacy, organizing and civic engagement. Many documented policy wins that were intended to benefit underserved populations also helped the broader community. But still this concept can be hard to explain.
Thus I was thrilled when Angela Glover Blackwell, the founder of PolicyLink, talked about this concept at her keynote address for the Neighborhood Funders Group conference. She stated very simply, “When we solve problems for those who are most vulnerable, we solve problems for everyone.” Then she gave a great example of this: curb cuts. If you’ve ever traveled in a city with rolling luggage, or transported a young child in a stroller, or biked across a downtown, you have benefited from curb cuts. Yet you probably were not the intended beneficiary. The targeted beneficiaries are people with disabilities who fought for decades to have their civil rights upheld and finally succeeded, at least to a significant degree, when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990. Without the ADA we never would have had curb cuts.
And then a week later I heard another great example at the annual Literacy Funders Network symposium, held concurrently with the National Literacy Coalition Conference. This one was a prospective example: it highlighted the potential benefits to society of targeting resources to serve a narrow population—students who drop out of high school. Within that population, there are clear racial disparities. In 2008, the drop out rates for African American, Latino and Native American youth were each more than double the rate for whites and that for Asian Americans.
Dr. Lennox L. McLendon of the National Council of State Directors of Adult Education shared research he did in conjunction with the McGraw Hill Research Foundation. They found that if half of all 600,000 high school dropouts in 2008 had actually graduated, their earnings potential would have grown tremendously, benefiting local economies. Specifically, they would earn $4.1 billion more than their earnings as dropouts; they would spend an additional $2.8 billion and invest $1.1 billion; and the spending and investments would likely generate 30,000 new jobs and raise the gross regional products of their areas by $45.3 billion by mid-career. Finally, average state and local tax revenues would increase by $536 million per year.
So any foundation investing not just broadly in education but specifically in reducing the drop out rate among minority youth would not only get an incredible return on that investment, but they would also strengthen the local tax base and regional economy.
What are your examples of targeted universalism in action?
Lisa Ranghelli is director of NCRP’s Grantmaking for Community Impact Project.