Grant helps Center for Social Development invest in poor

At the Center for Social Development (CSD) in the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Director Michael W. Sherraden, Ph.D., and his faculty colleagues, staff and graduate students are dedicating themselves to addressing the root causes of poverty and finding solutions. To this end, the CSD has found a partner in the Ford Foundation, whose goals include asset-building to create better societies.

Over the years, the Ford Foundation has generously supported the CSD, the most recent being a $2.5 million grant — which the University must match on a one-to-one basis — supporting the creation of a permanent endowment for the CSD.

“The Ford Foundation has been very generous to many of the University’s programs and projects,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “This recent gift will enable the Center for Social Development to support groundbreaking work that will improve lives and lift communities.

“It is a gift that keeps giving many times over, and for that we are very grateful.”

The central theory of asset-building is to invest in people to increase participation in the economy and involvement in society.

Sherraden’s idea — giving people individual development accounts (IDAs) to invest in life goals such as homes, education and businesses — is an asset-building concept gaining wide support because it increases participation in the economy, strengthens communities, encourages citizenship and harmony, and creates more responsive and effective human-service and community-development organizations.

“We are giving people the tools they need to increase saving and investment, not just giving them income for consumption,” said Sherraden, the Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor of Social Development.

He noted the CSD is close to concluding a national research project spanning eight years and 13 sites. Another large study now under way is testing savings accounts for children.

“Building equity among low-income people is an approach to poverty reduction that produces multiple benefits,” said Edward F. Lawlor, Ph.D., dean of the School of Social Work and the William E. Gordon Professor. “The Center for Social Development shows governments how to invest in their people.

“Because of the great success of these research studies, asset-building is having an impact on new policy. The idea of matching savings, which was unknown in public policy just a few years ago, is becoming more common.”

Indeed, the CSD has participated in drafting legislation at both the state and federal levels; more than 35 states have some type of IDA policy. The concept is also spreading internationally.

The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit, grant-making organization. For more than 50 years, it has worked to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation and advance human achievement.

Headquartered in New York, the foundation also makes grants through offices in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Since its inception, the foundation has provided more than $12 billion in grants, projects and loans.

Its Asset Building & Community Development Program is a recognized leader in the field. It provides support for building human, social, financial and environmental assets that enable people and their communities to expand opportunities and participate more effectively in society.

“The Ford Foundation grant gives us the resources to capitalize on our successes and keep up the momentum,” Sherraden said. “We are extremely grateful for their interest in the CSD and support of our research.”