For more than 70 years, Public Welfare Foundation has adapted to meet the challenges of changing times. In fact, Public Welfare’s founder Charles Marsh was set on naming the Foundation with a “pretty wide pair of words” to give the Foundation the ability to evolve with time. He believed the Foundation – like business – would need the flexibility to adapt to the pressing issues of the day.
The Foundation’s current program areas of Workers’ Rights, Criminal Justice and Youth Justice were selected more than a decade ago. A lasting commitment to drive social change demands the humility to revisit theories of change and test their continued effectiveness. As a result, we spent much of this past spring and summer doing a thorough review of our strategic direction.
As we took stock of our mission, program areas, and the nation’s current landscape, it became clear that it was again time to focus our efforts for greater impact. Public Welfare Foundation’s Board recently approved a refined strategic framework to concentrate fully on criminal and youth justice, allowing us to deepen our focus to fewer intractable societal issues.
We are familiar with the statistics: over 2.3 million people sit in our nation’s jails and prisons; another 18 million have prior felony convictions; and, nearly half of U.S. children have a parent with a criminal record.
The pervasive reach of our criminal justice system is creating an ever-growing community of those who have been impacted by the system; yet effective services and supports to facilitate their return home remain woefully inadequate. Worse still, America’s response to crime has fallen short of delivering safety in the very communities hardest hit by crime and violence. The criminal justice system disproportionately impacts people of color and costs the nation $80 billion annually in law enforcement spending and between $55 and $60 billion in lost annual GDP.
Over the next two years, Public Welfare will transition to focus on catalyzing a transformative approach to justice that is community-led, restorative, and racially just. This is a moral imperative that breathes life into our mission.
Doubling down our focus on justice issues necessitates transitioning out of other work we have invested in over the years, specifically the fields of Workers’ Rights and Civil Legal Aid. The Foundation’s investment in both of these areas has realized strong returns. We are proud of the work that we have been a part of and are working with grantees and partners to judiciously wind-down these portfolios of work.
As we move to focus on youth and criminal justice issues, Public Welfare is renewing our commitment to fund innovative solutions earlier in their life cycle. We will operationalize our investments in target locations, starting right in our hometown of Washington DC, working hand-in-hand with communities to drive transformation from multiple angles including policy advocacy, organizing, leadership development, and demonstration projects. We will also prioritize investing in the leadership of those most proximate to the issues facing this nation, not because it is novel, but because it is necessary.
As funders and abolitionists, we must embrace risk and nurture innovative ideas. Heroes exist in the very neighborhoods that we relegate for being riddled with crime and violence. It is time to resource these leaders and let them bring us into a new era of restoration and redemption. It is through this focused effort that we will be able to achieve far greater impact in the total overhaul of the systems that were created to marginalize and contain our nation’s most vulnerable populations.