The lunchtime plenary with Melody Barnes, the Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, was one of the highlights of today’s agenda. Engaging and eloquent, Melody began by describing her department’s responsibilities as if answering her parents when they learned of her appointment: “Congratulations, honey. Now what does that mean?”
She discussed the philosophy and direction of the social innovation and civic participation agenda. Highlighting the desire to create a policy that supports social innovation, she was pleased to announce that the president has allocated $50M in seed capital for high-impact nonprofits with demonstrated results that are ready to be replicated. She said they are interested in building upon philanthropy’s efforts, citing common language around metrics, lessons of building capacity, knowledge about how to effectively replicate model programs.
She ended with a candid question-and-answer session with representative members from the large group. The group asked thoughtful questions about issues impacting the philanthropic and non-profit sector. I was particularly impressed by a question from Terry Manzany, CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, regarding how to plan ahead to 2011/12, to proactively support nonprofits at a moment when stimulus dollars will diminish at the same time philanthropic dollars will wean.
She answered another question about the budget to say education, housing, health are “all so important so we need to find a way to manage the budget and keep an eye on the deficit number as well.” She provided a relatable anecdote about conversations in the Roosevelt room with their “Dave” strategy, explaining the reference to the movie Dave, where Dave’s friend Murray comes to The White House to go through the budget line by line to determine what is necessary. With her perspective and through her demeanor, she embodied the campaign’s spirit and had me walking out the room with a renewed sense of hope and potential for change.
Kaberi Banerjee-Murthy is a board member of Resource Generation.