Next100, a startup think tank launched two years ago with the goal of changing the face of progressive policymaking by diversifying the policy sector and centering impacted individuals and communities, today announced its second cohort of ”Policy Entrepreneurs” (PEs), a group of eight dynamic leaders who bring lived experience, as well as professional expertise, to their policy work. Over the next two years, Next100 PEs will work full-time in New York City, driving progressive policy change in and across the areas of education, immigration, criminal justice, housing and design, climate change, and public service.

Launched in 2019 by The Century Foundation (TCF), Next100 was designed to be intentionally different from traditional think tanks—a research and policy organization made up of those proximate to our country’s most pressing policy challenges, who would work alongside impacted communities to develop new solutions and approaches to meet those challenges. The organization, led by former chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Education in the Obama administration, Emma Vadehra, aims to build a more responsive democracy by making the policymaking space more inclusive of diverse, next generation voices. Next100 provides training and support to help emerging leaders translate their creative ideas into tangible policy change, piloting new approaches to policy development, advocacy, and talent development.

“Next100 was created at a time of incredible momentum for change—momentum that has only grown in the last two years, particularly during the pandemic and our nationwide reckoning with racial injustice. Still, the people and communities most impacted by policy are routinely excluded from the policymaking table,” said Emma Vadehra, Next100’s Executive Director. “If we’re truly committed to building a democracy that works for everyone, through equitable and inclusive policies that address longstanding inequities, then we must be willing to change both how we develop and implement policy and who is doing the work. That won’t just happen on its own; it will take intentional investment and a change in practices by the policy sector. That’s what Next100 is all about.” 

Next100’s second class of Policy Entrepreneurs are:

  • Suryani Dewa Ayu (civic design): A proud daughter of street vendors, Suri is a first-generation college graduate with a background in urban planning and design, having most recently worked as a civic designer in her hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts. At Next100, Suri will focus on how best to design spaces of belonging and inclusion—particularly democratic and civic spaces—for historically marginalized and impacted communities. 
  • Alejandra Vázquez Baur (education + immigration): A product of Mexican immigrants and former public school teacher, Alejandra is an advocate for educational equity and immigration justice, having most recently worked with immigrant families and advocates at the nexus of immigration and education in New York City. At Next100, Alejandra will focus on expanding systemic academic, social, and emotional supports for K–12 immigrant students and multilingual learners.
  • Lindsey Cazessus (economic opportunity): A native of rural Alabama and a first-generation college graduate, Lindsey is an advocate for economic justice, having most recently worked in the NYC Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity. At Next100, Lindsey will focus on the design and implementation of compassionate, effective policies to end poverty and strengthen the social safety net.
  • Robert Godfried (public service): A native New Yorker and former tenant organizer as an AmeriCorps member, Robert is an advocate for creating public service opportunities that are available to all. At Next100, Robert will focus on increasing equity and inclusion in AmeriCorps and in public service roles, specifically for low- and moderate-income individuals.
  • Vidal Guzman (criminal justice): Raised in Harlem, Vidal uses his experience as a formerly incarcerated individual to advocate for criminal justice reform, including as a leader in the campaign to close Rikers Island in New York City. At Next100, Vidal will focus on efforts to abolish the exception to the 13th Amendment, which allows for unpaid, slave labor in prisons; and to raise wages and improve training opportunities for incarcerated workers.
  • Chantal Hinds (children + education): A native Brooklynite and attorney by training, Chantal is an advocate for students involved in the foster system, having represented and worked with foster students and families to make sure they have the educational support they need to succeed. At Next100, Chantal will focus on improving academic outcomes and narrowing the opportunity gap between students in the foster system and their peers.
  • Dan Mathis (sustainable housing + climate): Raised in a hyper-segregated coastal community in Florida, Dan is a housing advocate working to ensure that everyone has access to a safe and affordable home. At Next100, Dan will focus on engaging communities of color in efforts to prepare for and mitigate the threat of climate change in their homes.  
  • Diana Martinez Quintana (climate + immigration): A community organizer and formerly undocumented individual, Diana is an advocate for immigrants rights and climate justice, having recently worked with grassroots immigrants groups in Arizona. At Next100, Diana will focus on improving immigration opportunities for climate refugees. 

Since its founding in 2019, Next100 has shown that a new type of think tank is not only possible, but is capable of significant impact and sorely needed in the policy development sector. As Next100’s director Vadehra recently described in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, in just two short years Next100 was able to impact policy by investing in new leaders, conducting research, and developing and advocating for policy recommendations that were informed by impacted communities and went beyond typical think tank “white papers”—from public art murals across Brooklyn to raise awareness of the collateral consequences of having a criminal record, to immigrant-designed policies to address the needs of undocumented and mixed-status families. 

Next100’s second cohort will build on this progress. Like traditional think tanks, incoming PEs will conduct original and rigorous research and policy development, but they will 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, technology, and art to advance policy change. In addition to conducting research, Next100 will prioritize investing in and developing the skills of emerging leaders, helping to grow the progressive policy pipeline. 

“Next100 has proven that investing in diverse expertise, lived experience, and emerging policy leaders more than pays off,” said Mark Zuckerman, TCF president and former deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council in the Obama administration. “TCF has benefited greatly from the wisdom, ambition, and fresh perspectives that the Next100 team has brought over the last two years. I’m thrilled to welcome the second cohort of PEs to the team, and I have no doubt that they’ll continue to push boundaries and innovate new ways of advancing progressive policy change. 

The incoming PEs join Next100 at a time of heightened political awareness and engagement among communities of color and those whose voices have historically been underrepresented. While the current Administration and Congress is the most diverse in history, Black, Latinx, Asian American, and Native Americans are still underrepresented in governmental bodies at all levels, as well as the broader policy ecosystem. What’s more, younger Americans—and younger people of color in particular—have low levels of trust in government, and overwhelmingly feel that political leaders do not care about or represent their communities and interests. 

For full bios of Next100’s incoming Policy Entrepreneurs, see here. To stay informed about Next100 and their work, sign-up here

Support for Next100

“Next100 is centering the voices of those who have been left out of policy conversations for far too long,” said Sonal Shah, President of the Asian American Foundation and TCF Trustee. “People of color, immigrants, formerly incarcerated individuals—these voices should be at the center of informing the policies that affect our daily lives. Next100’s work is rooted in the experiences of the communities most affected by policy decisions. With widening inequality in nearly every area of public life, their voices are critical and important for change.”

“As a Trustee of The Century Foundation, I’ve been a Next100 cheerleader and champion from the start, even before the organization existed. Next100 was built to fill a significant gap in the policy ecosystem; and change not just how policy is made, but who is making it and who is seen as a policy leader,” said Melissa Harris-Perry, Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University, Host and Managing Editor of WNYC’s The Takeaway, and TCF Trustee. “The last two years have exceeded even my already high expectations, and underscore why it’s so important to frame policy work in terms of personal experiences. I can’t wait to see what this second class of incredible leaders achieve.” 

“Next100 is filling a gap in the policy ecosystem: focusing not just on what needs to change, but on the who and how policy gets made,” said Samantha Tweedy, President of the Black Economic Alliance Foundation. “The best policies—the solutions that truly stick—are those rooted in the expertise of leaders who have been most impacted by the problems we seek to solve. A lot of organizations talk about centering underrepresented and marginalized voices; Next100 actually walks the walk, and is doing so with this second cohort.” 

“Time and again, we see the next generation leading the fight for a better collective future. From Ferguson to Parkland, it has been young people who have stood up, taken risks, and worked together to demand change,” said Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education and current managing director at Emerson Collective and Founder of Chicago CRED. “The second class of Next100’s Policy Entrepreneurs are bringing this same approach to the policy space, where it is needed. They are proving that when people with the most at stake are driving change, the result is better policy and greater impact.” 

“In both policymaking and politics, there are immense structural barriers that exclude diverse and underrepresented individuals from having a say in the people and policies that govern them,” said Lauren Baer, managing partner at Arena, an organization supporting the next generation of candidates and campaign staff. “Next100 is tackling these barriers head-on, showing that investing in and developing untapped talent results in better, more equitable, and more responsive public policy and political leaders.” 

“Next100 is at the forefront of an historic shift in progressive policy making,” said John B. King Jr., former U.S. Secretary of Education and 2022 Maryland gubernatorial candidate. “Next100’s work reflects the reality that inequality and injustice are deeply interconnected across issue areas—and that to solve systemic challenges, we need systemic solutions. They model what an effective policy organization should look like, conducting research that is deeply informed by the experiences and perspectives of affected communities and pursuing policy change through all the available levers.” 

“In just two short years, Next100 has put real policy wins on the board, which are making people’s lives better,” said Max Lubin, CEO of Rise, a nonprofit advocacy organization focused on college affordability and youth civic participation. “This isn’t just an organization that is publishing traditional white papers. Next100 is powered by the next generation of policy entrepreneurs who have redefined what a think tank can and should look like.” 

Header Image Source: Bridget Badore.