Trying to Make the World a Better Place

Unlike Ayn Rand who believed the world would end when she died, many of us—particularly those who devote our lives to social work—would like to live our lives knowing we are contributing something that will leave the world in a bit better shape that it was when we arrived. We are trying through our work at CRISP to influence as many social workers as possible to become more engaged in the political arena where our skills, knowledge, and values are in short supply. There are a few of us engaged in this work and I would like to believe we are making progress. Scores of young social workers are actively engaging in the political arena and many of them are future leaders who will work to improve society.

Social workers have been making transformational contributions to the betterment of society from its inception. It is our reason for being. We have a long tradition of powerful social workers engaged in the policy and political arenas. We need more. Social workers like Dr. Michael Sherraden, the George Warren Brown Distinguished University Professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, founder and director of the Center for Social Development (CSD), who has spent decades convincing governments in the United States and abroad that investing in children at birth is sound policy.

Last week Michael was awarded the 2021 James Billups International Social Development Leadership Award recognizing his “distinguished contribution to social development theory and practice knowledge based on impactful action in strengthening the financial capacity and asset base for poor people and communities in several countries.” This award comes on the heels of the recent announcement by the China Journal of Social Work that a team of researchers—including several CSD scholars—were awarded the 2020 Best Article Award for a study of the partnership between American and Chinese social work scholars invigorating the resurgence of social work in mainland China.

His team of scholars which includes Margaret Clancy and William Elliott III, has been successfully implementing asset-building accounts (commonly known as 529 plans) in several states in the USA. Michael has also helped implement child development accounts in other countries including Singapore, Israel, and several countries in Africa. The work in China includes promoting financial capability, one of the 13 Grand Challenges for Social Work. Network co-leaders Drs. Margaret Sherraden and Jin Huang are members of the team doing the groundbreaking work in China.

CRISP has been working to get federal child development account legislation introduced in Congress based on research evidence from CSD work. A couple of years ago, we met with the staff of former Congressman Joseph Crowley to discuss a bill he introduced, H.R. 5118—USAccounts: Investing in America’s Future Act of 2018, to learn if they were planning to reintroduce the bill in the next Congress.  We presented ideas based on CSD’s work that we believed would make new legislation stronger. After stalling with staff, I enlisted the help of former Congressman Ed Towns to get a meeting with Rep. Crowley. If you want something done on the Hill, many times you need to go to the top. When we got to his office, we were told he was on the floor, and we should meet him there. We found Mr. Crowley in the Speaker’s Lobby outside the House floor. He agreed to consider reintroducing the bill and said he would instruct his staff to make it a priority. Things were looking up until Mr. Crowley and our legislative hopes were crushed by the upset victory by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the June 2018 New York City primary election. It was conventional wisdom at the time that Crowley was the heir apparent to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. With that setback and the ensuing pandemic, our plans have stalled. We are working on an alternate strategy, however with the Hill closed to the public and Congress challenged with passing critical pieces of legislation, it is nearly impossible to move any new legislative initiatives forward. In the meantime, we are working with Congresswoman Bass’s office on child welfare legislation and will begin a series of Congressional briefings next month. We will keep you posted. Please let us know about your legislative and policy work.

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