His Crew in Madison
June 30, 2009 4:49 PM
"It's good to see so many do-gooders in one room." That's how the President of the United States started his address to about a hundred do-gooders in the East Room of the White House this afternoon. The good natured ribbing got a laugh from the audience of nonprofit directors, foundation officials from the likes of the Ford Foundation and the Anne E. Casey Foundation and a couple of mayors.
I was lucky to be one of two mayors in the room; the other was Mayor Sara Presler of Flagstaff, Arizona. I was invited by David Agnew, the head of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Relations and a former mayoral assistant in Charleston, South Carolina, because I was one of the founders (along with UW Prof. Joel Rogers) of the Mayors' Innovation Project, a kind of mayoral think tank for new urban policy ideas.
The President called us there to announce an initiative to seek out the most innovative and successful community programs in the country and help fund them so they can be taken to scale. He announced a $50 million innovation fund as part of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Fund, and he encouraged the large foundations in attendance to do the same. His message was to the point: seek out what works, figure out how it can be taken to scale and fund it. He said that Melody Barnes, the Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and her innovation team would be travelling the country to find the most innovative programs run by nonprofits and local governments.
I wasted no time inviting her staff to Madison to see what we've got.
Off the top of my head, I can think of the successful Schools of Hope project that links at risk kids with tutors, the combination of community gardens, community supported agriculture and affordable housing projects at Troy Gardens, the exciting research being done by our Public Health Department into the dramatic drop in African American infant mortality in Dane County, and our new City of Madison Neighborhood Indicators project linked to the Emerging Neighborhoods Fund.
I know, there are dozens of others. If you've got an innovative community project that is working in Madison that you think would work in the rest of the nation, email me your idea. We'll pass along good ideas to the White House, and we'll encourage a visit from White House staff to Madison later on this year.
After the event President Obama came down from the podium to shake some hands. When I introduced myself he said, "Say hello to my crew in Madison." So, I am.