Dreaming People to
class?’ We’ve been hesitant in defining middle class like the middle class is $40,000. We leave it very broad because we want to grow it by
moving folks into the middle class, not just having those in the middle class go up higher. We really want to grow it with folks from the ground up.
That’s our initiative here in Madison and Dane County.”
UW-Madison was awarded $1.5 million to administer the local competition.
“Our role isn’t to take that $1.5 million they gave the university and fund initiatives,” Her said. “Our role is to gather proposal and then forward
them to Schmidt Ventures who will then select the projects and fund them themselves. That’s kind of cool because our role is to partner with the
community and accept the best proposal with the best chance of getting funded.”
At least one proposal will be selected from each of the four schools and there is a possibility that another proposal will be selected. There is no
dollar amount that people will be competing because Schmidt doesn’t want the dreaming to be confined to a dollar figure.
“They decided that if they put a dollar figure on it, let’s say $1 million, it would be too confining for folks,” Her said. “They want people to think
outside the box. They want it to be innovative and cutting edge. How do we tackle some of the challenges that we are facing? They realize that if
they say $1 million, then people will write a grant for $1 million, but they really needed $2 million. On the flip side, if it costs $500,000, then
people would add another $500,000.”
And so, what do the proposals need to be about? Well, expanding the middle class in some innovative way.
“What it is going to take to increase the net income of 10,000 households in Dane County,” Her said the central question is. “What $40 million
idea do you have? We use $40 million because let’s say the average income is $40,000 here in Dane County. It is $65,000 for whites and
$34,000 for African Americans. If you increase the net income, whether it is an increase in wages by 10 percent, that’s $4,000 or decrease
expenses like child care or transportation. That’s a net increase of $40 million. That’s why we say, ‘Do you have a $40 million idea that could
increase the income of folks in Dane County by $40 million?’ That’s the emphasis behind it. It targets people who are near the poverty line and
we could move them up to the middle class.”
The deadline for the first round of proposals is August 29th. But don’t fret. This round is less complicated than a city of Madison purchase of
service proposal, a lot less.
“The request for proposals is online,” Her said. “It’s very simple. It’s 11 questions and one of the questions is, ‘What’s your name?’ And the other
piece of it is you need a faculty partner from the university. We can help find those people for you.”
UW-Madison has chosen a very grassroots approach.
“Ours is very much community-based where they have hired folks from the community to work on this project,” Her said. “And they have done a
lot of legwork getting out into the community. We’re making sure that grassroots organizations hear about it as well as want to put in a proposal
for this opportunity. You do not need to be a 501(c)(3) You could be a for-profit. What we do recommend is that groups who submit need to be
community groups. It can’t be an individual. It has to be a community group. And the university faculty partnership is important. And we can help
coordinate that also. If someone has a great idea on childcare, but doesn’t know who at the university can help on that, we can help connect
some of those people together.”
Now the proposals can’t be pie in the sky where you wave a magic wand and poverty goes away. They have to be concrete proposals that have a
very good chance of reaching their objective by 2020.
“They want to know what the big idea is,” Her emphasized. “A lot of folks in the business world, especially when they are in high-tech and dealing
with multi-million dollar projects, they are interested in that big idea. And then they will let you figure out how to get there. But if the idea is one that
they know can get done, they will fund it. If someone proposes, ‘I’m going to get universal healthcare by 2020 in Dane County.’ Well politically we
know it’s not viable. And so they are going to say, ‘Well, we probably won’t fund that one. Great idea, but we don’t think it can happen by 2020.’
But it is something really cool about transportation and you need to work out the details such as who are the partners and how it gets implement,
but the idea is solid and they think it is doable, they just might fund you and ask you to tell them how you are going to get there.”
The university is also taking a community-based approach to evaluate and decide on which proposals advance to the next stage in the process.
“There will be a community panel that will select 10 or so proposals to go to the next round,” Her said. “Those 10 proposals get $10,000 to help
them develop their proposals. If they needed someone to help develop an app, that money could be used to hire someone onto their team. Or if
they need help in marketing, they could bring someone on. Or maybe they need another grant writer, they could hire them. But we will give a
$10,000 development fund to the 10 plus proposals. And if there are 12 really good ones, we will keep all 12. Those proposals will have another
round where they give you time to improve your proposal. The first round is more like a letter of intent. It’s not very detailed. It’s for you to give us
your broad idea of what you want to do, whether it is decreasing childcare costs or increasing transportation or increasing income. In the second
round, those 10 teams will make a physical pitch to the community review panel about their proposal.”
The 10 proposals will make their pitch to the panel by the end of November and in early December, three proposals will be sent on to Schmidt
Futures for their consideration. It is expected that they will make their decisions in early January and the winning projects can begin immediately
after that. It’s pretty exciting stuff.
“We always remind folks that it is net income,” Her said about the standard. “It doesn’t have to be wage increases. It can be decrease of
expenses. We also remind folks that it doesn’t have to be just one area. It could be comprehensive. It could be transportation with housing with
childcare. Those are some of the biggest costs in our lives. Our data shows that a third of our income is spent on either rent or a mortgage,
which is a huge chunk of our expenses. Secondly, the 10 percent isn’t across the board. It could be helping one person, one family by 12 percent
and another one by eight percent so that the average is about 10 percent across the board. Our role at DreamUp Wisconsin is to really help the
discussion about ideas as well as connect folks. Let’s say, you’re in rural Dane County and your town has a population of 3,000. So how do you
reach 10,000? Your idea is about transportation. Well we could connect you with other coalitions that are coming together to work on
transportation issues. In that way, a coalition comes together rather than it just being one entity trying to tackle 10,000 households in Dane
It is expected that the projects will reach their goal by 2020. And the project is completed when it can be at least statistically shown that 10,000
individuals experienced a rise in their net income by $4,000.
“If it’s a policy change, for example, increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour,” Her said. “And let’s say by March 2020, the city and county
pass that. You’ve done your work to help businesses being able to bridge that gap and by early January 2020, you’ve got that all set up, then you’
ve met your goal because you could show by data, ‘Here’s 4,000 people who are waiters and waitresses and here is another 6,000 in retail and
their income has increased to $15 per hour and you’ve impacted 10,000. So you don’t have to have people send me their tax return from 2020
that shows an increase. It’s more of that data where we can show with good faith that it impacted 10,000 individuals and families in Dane
The good news is that even if your proposal isn’t selected during this proposal process, DreamUp Wisconsin will initiate a second round of
proposals sometime in the future.
Her and the DreamUp staff are available to help people with the technical aspects of the competition.
|Peng Her is helping the Dane County community
dream up winning anti-poverty proposals for
By Jonathan Gramling
How many times have you thought, ‘If only I had a million dollars, I would do such and
such to make people’s lives better.’
Well Eric Schmidt, who ran Google for a decade and then its parent company Alphabet,
wants to know what people would do to bring families into the middle class. So his
foundation, Schmidt Futures established the Alliance for the American Dream where four
universities were selected through a competition to come up with proposals that Schmidt
Futures would fund to initiatives that would expand the middle class.
Utah, The Ohio State University, Arizona and UW-Madison were selected. And now UW-
Madison is seeking proposals to submit to Schmidt Futures for their consideration
through DreamUp Wisconsin being run out of Institute for Research on Poverty.
“Schmidt is trying to promote prosperity and increase American independence and help
grow the middle class,” said Peng Her, who was hired on to help implement the project.
“The middle class is one of those terms where people go, ‘What do you mean the middle