Next100, a new “startup” think tank built for and by the next generation of policy leaders, officially launched today with the announcement of its inaugural class of eight “Policy Entrepreneurs,” selected from a highly competitive pool of more than 740 applicants. These eight rising leaders will spend the next two years researching and developing policy solutions to the issues that matter most to the next generation, focusing in particular on: education, immigration, criminal justice, climate change, economic opportunity, and the intersections between such issues.

Next100 was announced as an independent think tank earlier this year by The Century Foundation (TCF), in celebration of TCF’s 100th anniversary. It is built as a different type of “think and do” tank — both in terms of the people, perspectives, and policy areas represented, as well as its approach to advancing policy change. The organization’s mission is to change the face and future of progressive policy, through making the policymaking space more inclusive of diverse, next generation voices, and by helping emerging leaders translate their creative policy ideas into tangible policy change.

“The next generation is too often and too easily excluded from the policymaking table, despite having the most at stake in the decisions made at that table,” said Emma Vadehra, executive director of Next100. “As a result, we end up with the same people, with the same ideas, trying to solve the same problems, in the same ways. Next100 is trying to change that, and reimagine what a think tank can and should be. We’re giving diverse leaders of the next generation a chance to cut through the inertia and bring their unmatched creativity, knowledge, skills, and experiences to bear on the policymaking process. Policy by those with the most at stake, for those with the most at stake.”

Each of the eight policy entrepreneurs comes to Next100 with unique professional and personal experiences and expertise on the issues on which they work. The incoming class includes:

  • A climate activist who experienced the impacts of climate change first-hand while growing up in south Florida, and who is working on climate change policy;
  • A former DACA recipient and public school teacher, working on issues at the intersection of education and immigration;
  • An advocate for early education and child care whose work in education is motivated by his experience as a homeless teen, and who is working to expand access to high-quality child care for low- and middle-income families;
  • A first-generation college graduate from a low-income neighborhood in Memphis, working on improving K-12 and postsecondary educational opportunities for young people in marginalized communities;
  • An Iraqi refugee, who was later granted asylum in the U.S., and whose work focuses on highlighting and expanding the ways in which immigrants create jobs and strengthen our economy and communities;
  • The only current Black doctoral student in the field of industrial and labor relations in the U.S., whose work examines how today’s workers and labor organizations are using digital tools to rebuild worker power;
  • A formerly incarcerated Muslim American who has spent the past ten years working in youth-serving organizations, and is now working to eliminate the “collateral consequences” of incarceration;
  • A Native American woman who co-developed an organization to reduce recidivism among tribal members, and is now working on criminal justice reform, with a focus on reducing the generational cycle of incarceration in Indigenous communities.

“We didn’t want Next100 to be your typical policy apprenticeship program. Rather, we wanted to build something that trusted the next generation to create their own agendas for change, that supported them to develop their own ideas, in their own ways, on their own terms,” said Mark Zuckerman, president of The Century Foundation, which is investing $2 million to establish and launch the Next100. “I couldn’t be prouder of the incoming class of Next100 Policy Entrepreneurs. They represent the best of the next generation: they’re fearless, brilliant, and unwavering in their commitment to progressive change. I can’t wait to see what they accomplish in the next two years and beyond.”

Next100 is based in New York City and led by Emma Vadehra, former chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Education under both Secretary John B. King Jr. and Secretary Arne Duncan. Members of Next100’s advisory board include: Michael Tubbs, 29-year-old mayor of Stockton, California; Svante Myrick, 32-year-old mayor of Ithaca, New York; Cecilia Muñoz, a Vice President at New America and former director of President Obama’s Domestic Policy Council; Melissa Harris-Perry, Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University; Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education; Samantha Tweedy, chief partnership and impact officer at the Robin Hood Foundation; Ravi Gupta, co-founder of the Arena; and Max Lubin, founder of Rise.

Next100 policy entrepreneurs will have full-time, two-year salaried positions with benefits, allowing them the room, resources, and support needed to advance their own agendas for change. Like traditional think tanks, policy entrepreneurs will conduct original, rigorous research and policy development—but do so in ways that are more creative, inclusive, and informed by the lived experiences of impacted communities. They will work closely with partner organizations and grassroots movements, and will embrace the power of social media and digital organizing to build consensus and momentum for change in the lead up to the 2020 elections and beyond.

In addition to conducting research and pursuing policy change, Next100 will prioritize investing in and developing the skills and capacities of emerging leaders, in turn helping to grow the progressive policy pipeline. The principles of transparency, inclusivity, and constant learning will guide much of Next100’s work. The organization is committed to sharing both its successes and its failures in the next two years, in the hopes of informing a new way of doing policy change and policy leadership development.

“Today’s young people are the most diverse, engaged, and progressive generation in history. They’re making real change in a multitude of ways—from running for office to organizing social movements to starting nonprofits,” added Vadehra. “Unfortunately, we haven’t done enough to develop their talents and grow the progressive policy pipeline. As a result, we haven’t seen that same innovation and energy—that willingness to upend the status quo—directed at questions of how policy ideas are generated. Next100 wants to fill that critical gap, both in our own work, and by demonstrating to others that it can be done and done effectively.”

Brief Bios + Quotes from Next100 Policy Entrepreneurs

Emma Vadehra (Executive Director)

Emma Vadehra is the executive director of Next100, a pop-up think tank for the next generation of policy leaders, powered by The Century Foundation. She has spent her career focused on building a fairer, more equitable education system, and has a passion for developing and supporting diverse teams in pursuit of progressive policy change. Emma was chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration, serving under both Secretary John B. King, Jr. and Secretary Arne Duncan.

“The next generation is too often and too easily excluded from the policymaking table, despite having the most at stake in the decisions made at that table. We end up with the same people, with the same ideas, trying to solve the same problems, in the same ways. Next100 is trying to change that, and reimagine what a think tank can and should be. Policy by those with the most at stake, for those with the most at stake.”

Taif Jany (Immigration)

Taif Jany is a rising immigration reform policy expert. A firsthand witness of the 2003 war on Iraq, and a survivor of its consequential sectarian violence, Taif was forced to flee his home in Baghdad when he was 16 years old and sought refuge in Damascus, Syria. Taif’s journey from Iraq to the United States has helped him understand both the challenges of our current immigration system and the strengths immigrants bring to our communities. At Next100, Taif focuses on developing policies to strengthen our economy through immigrant integration and culturally inclusive communities.

“When I was sixteen-year old, I was a refugee in Syria. I had just fled my home in Baghdad after the kidnapping of my father. This was my introduction to the importance of immigrant and refugee rights. In 2008, I immigrated to the United States and, since then, I have been granted asylum and then permanent residency. Through these experiences, I have come to understand not only the challenges that come with our immigration system, but also the value of integrating immigrants into communities.”

Marcela Mulholland (Climate)

Marcela is a climate activist, having worked most recently as a grassroots organizer and spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement. After growing up in South Florida and experiencing the impacts of climate change firsthand, Marcela chose to dedicate herself to climate change studies and activism, including taking a semester off from college in the fall of 2018 to work full-time on the midterm elections. At Next100, Marcela works on issues related to climate change and the Green New Deal, with a particular focus on the intersections of economic and criminal justice.

“It’s critical that the ideas and hopes of young people are centered in climate policy because we are the ones who will grow up dealing with the consequences of climate change.”

Rosario Quiroz Villarreal (Immigration + Education and Early Years)

Rosario Quiroz Villarreal is an advocate for immigrants and students. Growing up as an undocumented immigrant, Rosario understood her parents made sacrifices in moving to a new country in order to secure better opportunities for the future. At Next100, her work focuses on protecting the rights and access to education of immigrant students, creating more culturally inclusive classrooms and curricula, and promoting effective restorative justice practices to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

“I come from roots grounded in tremendous courage, roots that believe at a fundamental level that a better life is possible. These roots left a home country, a language, a culture, a family, the network of everything familiar to venture into the unknown in search of a more responsive government and economy. I am inspired by the love that drove that courage, a selfless love that understood struggle would be inevitable yet chose the tradeoff of leaving the comfort of the known for the possibility of easing hardships for future generations.”

Roquel Crutcher (Education and Early Years)

Roquel Crutcher is an advocate and activist for social justice and educational equity. At Next100, she focuses on increasing educational opportunities and postsecondary outcomes for young people in marginalized communities. Roquel has worked at several educational nonprofits as an advocate for educational equity.

“I identify as a black woman from a low-income neighborhood, a Memphian fighting for all kids like me, and a first generation college graduate determined to make sure I’m not the last.”

Levi Bohanan (Education and Early Years)

Levi is an advocate for progressive child care policy and high-quality early education. Previously, Levi served at the U.S. Department of Education as a political appointee in the Obama administration, where he drew on his personal experience with homelessness in his teens to help inform new federal guidelines for supporting homeless students. His work at Next100 focuses on expanding access to high-quality child care and early childhood development opportunities for low- and middle-income families.

“The benefits of high-quality childhood development and child care programs hit nearly every aspect of the progressive movement’s policy commitments: economic opportunity, inclusivity, national security, educational equity.”

Phela Townsend (Economy Opportunity)

Phela Townsend is scholar-activist on a mission to transform how we think about—and value—labor and work in our society. Phela is currently a PhD candidate at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. At Next100, her work examines how today’s workers and labor organizations are using digital tools to rebuild worker power in the twenty-first century.

“I believe that our labor is one of society’s most precious resources. Our work and employment systems and policies should reflect that.”

Michael “Zaki” Smith (Criminal Justice)

Michael “Zaki” Smith is an entrepreneur and activist with more than fifteen years of experience in youth empowerment and social justice. In 2017, Zaki lost his ability to work in a school he had worked in for five years all because of a past criminal record. A year later, he co-founded “Feast for Fair Chance,” an organization with a mission to increase awareness around the policies that continue the silent life sentence of “perpetual punishment” for formerly incarcerated individuals after their term is served. At Next100, his work focuses on dismantling the collateral consequences of incarceration, policies that have impacted him personally as a formerly incarcerated individual.

“There are 47,000 punishments for a person with a criminal conviction—and in some states even an arrest—that could bar you from employment, housing, education, licensing, and voting, to name a few. All the things that can impact a person’s ability to stay out of prison are now restricted or taken away. My passion is to create policy to remove the heartbeat of recidivism that is collateral consequences.”

Isabel Coronado (Criminal Justice + Immigration)

Isabel Coronado is a citizen of the Mvskoke (Creek) Nation. She has witnessed the effects of mass incarceration on Indigenous people throughout her life, and they inspired her to help create the American Indian Criminal Justice Navigation Council, a nonprofit in Oklahoma aimed at reducing recidivism among tribal members and helping reduce the trauma family members endure as a result. At Next100, Isabel is focused on creating policy aimed at reducing the generational cycle of incarceration in Native communities.

“I want to see a change where Indigenous people are heard and have a seat at the table. I want to shake up the way our country systematically oppresses people of color by creating solutions to our justice system.”