We often perceive social innovation as a brand new idea, but it can also be a new way of delivering an existing program or service. A two-generation approach falls into the latter category – a simple, yet profound, idea to unite programming for parents and their children to create a multiplier effect. It is defined as “creating opportunities for and addressing needs of both vulnerable parents and children together.” Unfortunately, while the inclusion of two generations together seems like a common sense approach, programs that utilize it are not common. Services that provide adult education and skills training often view children as a barrier to participation. Similarly, programs focused on educating children often view parents as merely facilitators of the children’s education.

The concept started in the late 1980s and has been gaining popularity, most notably with the Aspen Institute’s creation of the Ascend Family Economic Security Program (Ascend). This program was started in 2010 by a strategic co-funding investment of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation among others with the “vision of an America in which a legacy of economic security and educational success passes from one generation to the next.” It focuses on three types of two-generation approaches – whole-family (e.g. mother-child residential programs), child-parent (e.g. Head Start), and parent-child (e.g. single parent programs on college campuses). Ascend is also innovative because it created a $1 million fund to provide capital to support cross-sector collaboration around two-generation programming.

While research is still being done to determine if combining parent-child approaches is impactful, the results to date, from programs such as Avance, have been encouraging. Ascend is currently creating a database of promising two-generation programs to monitor results. As programming constantly evolves, two-generation approaches illustrate that we can do more to solve poverty – we just have to think innovatively about the problem and its possible solutions.

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