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August 29, 2017

Observations on the Power of the Two-Generational Approach

Editor’s Note: Rick Gomez is Senior Vice President and Managing Director at Northern Trust and a member of the Board of Directors at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

I have been privileged to observe the work of so many community partners – funders, philanthropists, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations, all facilitated by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County – in bringing a two-generational focus to Sarasota’s community investments.  My own involvement in the “Two-Gen Task Force” has shed a whole new light on the challenge of ending the generational cycle of poverty.  Thanks to that involvement, and numerous conversations with leading thinkers and practitioners, I have come away with certain ideas on the power of the two-generational approach and how to enhance its effectiveness in our community.

  • Collaboration is vital – the scope of two-generational work can be daunting. The challenges that families face are too many, and too varied, for any one organization or group to tackle on their own.  As an example, investments in early childhood literacy programs risk not achieving their full potential without an accompanying focus on the stability and prospects of the parents’ economic success.  In a world where organizations are taking a more focused and specialized approach to their work, the need for collaboration is stronger than ever.  Simply put, the promise of two-generational outcomes cannot be achieved without willing organizations coming together for the good of the families they serve.
  • The potential for social returns is high – if communities throughout the country begin to implement two-generational programming, in ways that are unique to each community, the potential return on investment is sizeable. James Heckman and other high-profile economists have noted for years that early childhood education is the best-yielding social investment available to communities.  But their studies predated the cutting edge work now being done in communities like Sarasota.  I contend that the potential return on Two-Gen investments will overtake anything we have seen before in the non-profit sector.  This work is a paradigm shift, the effects of which may not be fully appreciated for several more years.  But the early evidence is quite promising and that optimism fuels the work going forward.
  • Two-Gen is good business – as a manager and leader, I can attest to the wide gap that exists between the skills needed to succeed in the jobs of tomorrow and the attributes of too many of the current applicants. The gap is daunting, in a word.  Positions, therefore, go unfilled and good people remain unemployed or underemployed.  The crux of the issue is wide-ranging and it extends well beyond educational achievement (mental health, family stability, social capital, etc.).   If business leaders could observe the power of “Two-Gen” program, I am convinced that the business community would rally behind this effort in a meaningful way.  An increasing number of firms are shining a light on “corporate social responsibility” for two reasons.  First, the work is important and firms cannot operate and grow effectively disconnected from the communities they inhabit.  But it is also true that consumers are more discerning than ever and corporate values are now a key driver in consumer decision making.  As an example, trust has become an important predictor of whether consumers will do business with a given firm.  Business leaders would be well-advised to stay abreast of two-generational work because, in the end, it stands to be good for companies, good for employees, and good for communities.


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