Promise Greenhouses: A Recipe for Transformation

2016 MacArthur 100&Change Application Highlights

Executive Summary

Nearly one-fifth of the residents of the capital of the richest country (USA) in the world live below poverty (less than $10,000/year). This inequality is exacerbated by the $487,000/year income of its wealthiest residents (DC Fiscal Policy Institute). DCPNI proposes to shrink the opportunity gap that perpetuates this persistent income gap between the rich and the poor in Washington, DC by creating “Promise Greenhouses” in communities of concentrated poverty throughout DC. These hubs will serve as sites for locally-driven innovation and human development where DCPNI will work with indigenous community leaders and organizations together with public and private partners to seed and grow robust pathways to the education, health, housing and employment opportunities families need to thrive. We will leverage the gains made in these communities to open new opportunities for 27,625 residents, one quarter of the 110,500 residents struggling with poverty citywide, and eventually to cities throughout America.

Team Purpose

DCPNI’s mission is to build sustainable, just and prosperous communities where children and parents thrive and healthy and safe places exist. Our ultimate goal is to end multigenerational poverty in DC and beyond by co-creating with indigenous leaders in high-poverty communities a culture of support, multi-organizational partnerships, and rigorous evaluation that continuously improves outcomes and the scaling-up of programs and services. Having established a strong framework for strengthening children and families’ ability to move out of poverty, we are prepared to expand partnerships with local government, private sector and international leaders willing to discuss the adaptability of our networked, place-conscious approach to solving social dilemmas differently. Receiving MacArthur 100&Change would enable DCPNI to expand our “Promise Greenhouse” recipe for transformation to 10 additional DC communities and assist others in considering anti-poverty solutions that are rooted in a genuine grassroot approach that has broader-scale implications for equitable community development.

The Problem Statement

It is widely understood that the conditions into which we are born (e.g., educational opportunities, socioeconomic status, and physical environment) largely determine our future well-being. In Washington, DC, the potential for negative well-being is exacerbated by the enormous gap between the poorest and richest residents—reflecting a global reality that inequality in high-income economies has reached levels unprecedented in the post-World-War-II period, often accompanied by greater polarization in educational and health outcomes, growing exclusion in the labor market, and lower intergenerational social mobility (World Bank Global Monitoring Report 2014/2015). Children growing up in DC’s Wards 5, 7, and 8 start life in an environment of intractably high rates of lack of education, unemployment, poverty, and food insecurity that far exceed the citywide rates and persist over multiple generations. Unemployment and poverty in Ward 8 are double that of the City as a whole. The dearth of full service grocery stores and healthy food in Wards 7 and 8 contribute to obesity rates as high as 44% compared to a 22% rate citywide (DC Department of Health). Unfortunately, interventions by local lawmakers and independent sector agents have been fragmented and devoid of organizational network approaches. Well-meaning organizations are sometimes unfamiliar with the local context, unable to impact positive human development, and therefore ill-prepared to disrupt the lack of access to opportunities faced by residents. When localized efforts have shown successes, they often lack the resources, program performance, data capacity and other supports to scale their efforts for greater impact.

Our Solution

DCPNI proposes to create “Promise Greenhouses” in communities of concentrated poverty throughout DC. These sites for innovation and human development will bring together indigenous leaders and organizations with public and private partners to seed and grow locally-driven solutions to multiple drivers of poverty and increase access to the education, employment, health and housing opportunities families need to thrive. Our philosophy stems partially from the tenet of the highly regarded organizational theorist, Gareth Morgan, that large scale change occurs not by large scale change programs, but unfolds as the result of crucial small scale initiatives that create novel contexts that break the status quo and allow new streams of innovation to occur.  Promise Greenhouses will unlock inherent abilities within communities to support the highest good of their children, families and neighborhoods through an intricate and intentional lattice of supports, services and opportunities that mindfully engage parents, respectfully engage community, build the capacity of indigenous leadership and organizations, and use data and evaluation that tell the story of communities leading change that takes root and sustains itself over time. Just as immunizing a certain percent of children in a school prevents many students from getting the flu, we believe transformations originating in a certain percent of DC communities will impact poverty throughout the entire city for multiple generations. Eventually we hope to establish these incubators of locally-driven change in cities throughout America.  Our solution’s deep roots in community, and data-supported and synergistic approach, increase our likelihood of sustainability over externally-driven, fragmented alternatives.


DCPNI’s application to the MacArthur 100&Change competition has successfully advanced in the selection process!  With your continued support we were able to present, for replication, our current program model for reducing multi-generational poverty in the District of Columbia. Our application is now being reviewed by members of MacArthur’s evaluation panel, who will select the top ten semi-finalists. This is definitely a VICTORY! Out of 1,904 applicants, we are one of 800 selected to proceed to the next level of judging. We successfully navigated a rigorous screening process, through which the Foundation determined that our application:

– was responsive to the questions we had posed;
– provided strong research data and evidence that our solution will address the identified problem;
– documented a detailed pathway from the proposed actions to specific outcomes;
– conformed to administrative requirements;
– was complete;
– demonstrated that we are legally and fiscally able to receive and manage funds; and, importantly,
– was BIG and BOLD and the right scale for a $100 million grant! (463 applications were eliminated because they were too small in scale.)

We’re ever-hopeful in our quest! Congratulations to all of our fellow applicants! #PromiseOnward

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