On May 11, 2018, I first sat in front of The Century Foundation’s Board of Trustees to propose that we, one of the nation’s oldest public policy think tanks, mark our 100th anniversary with a bold—and arguably untested—experiment. The pitch: create a new type of think tank, built for and powered by the next generation of diverse leaders. 

Four years later, with the continued and enthusiastic support of TCF’s Trustees, that seed of an idea has become Next100, one of the most innovative public policy organizations in the country. Part think tank, part leadership development program, Next100 works to fix the systematic exclusion from the public policy sector of the communities most impacted by policy. Next100 supports leaders with lived experience, many of whom come from, or are connected to, impacted communities. In total, Next100 so far has helped to launch sixteen new thinkers and doers in their public policy careers, and is now supporting its second cohort of full-time, salaried policy entrepreneurs to pursue change on the issues that matter most to them. Policy by those with the most at stake, for those with the most at stake. 

Today, Next100 is releasing a comprehensive new report, How to Build a More Diverse, Inclusive, and Effective Policy Sector: A Toolkit for Governments, Think Tanks, and Nonprofits. This toolkit represents years of learnings from Next100, combined with rigorous research and analysis of how our peers and peer organizations across the nonprofit sector are (or are not) reckoning with our collective failure to give those most impacted by policy a seat at the table. It is both a resource and a wake-up call—an actionable roadmap for every staffer, hiring manager, executive, and leader working in and adjacent to public policy. 

As a former White House advisor in the Obama administration and House of Representatives committee director, I’ve seen firsthand how the policy sector has excluded certain people from participating in the policymaking process. The problem extends across government, think tanks, and policy organizations. 

At TCF, Next100’s mission has evolved into much more than an experiment to celebrate our centennial; it has become a core part of our DNA. The team today represents 20 percent of TCF’s total staff, and is a reflection of our broader organizational commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and access. Indeed, in 2020, TCF’s Board of Trustees defined “supporting a new, more diverse generation of policy leaders” as one of our top goals, second only to our mission of advancing meaningful progressive change. 

Many of the steps laid out in this toolkit have been critical to TCF’s progress in becoming a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Others are policies and practices that Next100 has modeled and demonstrated to be effective. This toolkit is an ambitious north star of best practices for building equitable and effective policy organizations. We hope this toolkit serves as a resource for leaders in think tanks, government, and the nonprofit sector to start the long, worthy work of making their institutions more inclusive and our public policy sector more representative. 

Next100 has lived up to even our most optimistic hopes. In just a few years, Next100 has built a national following, winning the admiration and respect of legislators, research organizations, and advocacy groups—and, most importantly, scoring some policy wins along the way. Next100’s policy entrepreneurs are already leaving their mark on the world in profound ways. 

There is no doubt that the Next100 has made our work at TCF more effective and more inclusive. They have opened new doors for collaboration, challenged certain long-held assumptions, injected new energy and perspective, and introduced new ways of doing policy research. We are a better and stronger think tank today because they exist. 

No matter where an organization is in their journey to become more diverse and inclusive, Next100 offers one blueprint for how to do this work well—for how to recruit, train, and develop leaders that are from and connected to impacted communities. Because ultimately, if we as policy organizations wish to truly advance equity and inclusion in this country, it’s time we start at home.