Building a Better Community: MacArthur-Winning Campus Network Looks to the Future

By Taylor Jo Isenberg |

The Campus Network’s incredible community is what earned a MacArthur Award, and that’s what we’ll continue to invest in.

Last Thursday, our social media accounts exploded with the news that the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network had received the 2015 Award for Creative and Effective Institutions from the MacArthur Foundation. The flurry of tweets, revelry, and community from students in Conway, Arkansas, from alumni working in the White House and city governments, and from supporters at foundations and organizations all over this country is demonstrative of what makes the Campus Network such a unique organization: our people.

At our core, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network seeks to defy the expectations of young people in policy and politics. We are not apathetic. We are adaptive. We are not selfish. We are community-driven. We care about our people, their ideas, and their ability to be taken seriously. We believe there is power in a good idea connected to the right institutions, backed by a passionate community of civic actors.

With the right resources, the right model, and passion, we are capable of solving the complex problems plaguing our country today.

We’ve already seen the Campus Network’s impact on communities around the country:

  • Students designed, advocated for, and passed a Clean Air Act resolution in Ithaca, NY to cut greenhouse gas pollution.
  • They passed a Los Angeles Community College District amendment to mandate that community colleges accept food stamps on campuses, increasing access to healthy food for hundreds of students living below the poverty line.
  • They even collaborated with the director of emergency management in New Haven, CT and Alderman Salvatore E. DeCola to institute a Community Rating System that allowed residents in vulnerable neighborhoods to receive a discount on flood insurance premiums.

We’ve got a lot to be proud of. Our people have done phenomenal things. The way forward is to ramp up our investment in their success. Here’s what’s next:

Political engagement for our generation must be as creative and adaptive as we are.

The Campus Network is building a new standard for how civic and political engagement organizations connect with young people. Our generation’s engagement in politics must be as fluid, intuitive, and adaptive as the public sector’s. That is not to say that efficiency rules all but, instead, that the processes by which we take civic action must keep up with the creative, fast-paced, and customizable tendencies of young people. That’s why we are a networked organization. Now, we are updating our tools to match.

Our training and support system will utilize advances in technology, innovations in deliberative processes and design thinking, and a decentralized model. Meanwhile, our online training curriculum will be responsive to the diverse needs of our network of student chapters, molding to their campus and community needs while still tapping into the power we have as a collective.

Partnering toward greater collective impact

We believe that organizations cannot be everything to everyone. The sum of many different groups working well together creates the potential for broader impact. The most strategic partnerships we can build keep in mind our shared goals for building a more inclusive, equitable society, not just our own organizational goals.

With that, the Campus Network has the potential to partner to help amplify impact in the civic and political engagement space. We see ourselves as contributors to a wave of change, and we make the wave bigger. We do not try to surf a wave built by others. Whether it’s collaborating on child poverty policies with local doctors in Salem, North Carolina or contributing to an economic opportunity policy agenda with a Baltimore-based advocacy group, partnering for greater impact will be a centerpiece for how we connect our student chapters to the broader world.

We are investing in our alumni as they continue to pursue and lead policy change in their professional and civic lives. And we’re tapping into this powerful network of current students and alumni all across the country to help one another. With Roosevelters working in statehouses, city halls, and the upper echelons of the federal government, the Campus Network is multiplying its potential to change the role of young people in the policy process.

Policy + People = Power

Student policy thinkers have also been the doers in our network – passing city council resolutions, starting revolving loan funds, and lobbying in the halls of Congress. Now that our network is larger than ever before, we are systematizing our capacity to take policy action. Each year, our members produce hundreds of policy ideas, codified in memos and publications. By connecting these student ideas, through the students themselves, to decision makers and power-players, we are moving toward a greater amplification of the impact our chapters generate.

Through our growing organizational capacity, we are designing a robust support system for student projects throughout our network. In 2015, we will see even more student ideas in the halls of their state capitols and city halls and college President’s offices through an initiative called Policy By and For, launching on February 18. By directing intentional financial, communication, and strategic campaigning resources toward projects in the network, more young people will be situated to connect with decision-makers, armed with their own ideas. We are building toward better governance that is not just for our generation but shaped by our generation.

Fundamentally, we are a values-driven organization that is only as strong as the brilliant minds that run our chapters, research and produce policy ideas, start projects, and help strengthen our community of wonks. Through strategic investments in our chapters, tools, and partnerships, the Campus Network will continue to be a powerful leader for policy change for the next 10 years and beyond.

Joelle Gamble is the National Director of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.