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CEO and Mayor's Fund Help Shape Policy with Evidence

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Logos of the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City and the New York City Center for Economic Opportunity

Nearly a million New Yorkers earn less than $20,000 per year because they lack the skills needed to secure a living-wage job. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Jobs for New Yorkers Task Force seeks to better understand and combat this “skills gap.”

The New York City Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) is helping to fuel this effort. CEO brings years of experience designing and testing innovative economic opportunity programs as a unit under the Mayor’s Office of Operations, as well as a body of knowledge about effective workforce services from rigorous evaluations of these programs.

“We’re not just a funder,” said David Berman, CEO’s Director of Programs and Evaluation. “We partner with city agencies and nonprofits and evaluation firms. We are involved in program design and evaluation.”

CEO’s expertise and program models were highly valued by the Task Force as it sought to reshape New York’s workforce development and job training system.

“Lessons from some of CEO’s programs were built into the re-design,” said Sinead Keegan, Social Innovation Fund Director for CEO and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City (the Mayor’s Fund).

CEO is building on its successes to build and share evidence of what works in New York and beyond. Since 2010, it has partnered with the Mayor’s Fund on a Social Innovation Fund (SIF) project. The Mayor’s Fund is a grantmaking organization that develops and supports innovative public-private partnerships throughout New York City’s five boroughs.

With SIF support, CEO and the Mayor’s Fund are replicating five evidence-based antipoverty programs in New York and other cities that hold promise in advancing the education, employment, and financial savings of low-income adults and families:

  • Jobs-Plus, a site-based employment initiative for public housing residents;
  • Family Rewards, a conditional cash transfer program to reduce current and future poverty;
  • SaveUSA, a savings program linked to the Earned Income Tax Credit;
  • Project Rise, a cohort-based initiative that provides opportunities to disconnected youth; and
  • WorkAdvance, a sector-focused training and advancement program for low-wage workers.

CEO and the Mayor’s Fund’s focus on measuring outcomes and conducting evaluations has spread significantly as city agencies become more data driven. This emphasis on evaluation also makes them a natural fit for the SIF.

“They are like a microcosm of the SIF,” said SIF Deputy Director Lois Nembhard. “They test interventions, improving, discarding, and scaling as appropriate. They are doing locally what SIF promotes at the national level.”

CEO staff credit the SIF with building their capacity to test locally piloted programs on a national level and strengthen their bodies of evidence.

“We’d done randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to evaluate programs before, but they are difficult and expensive to do,” said Mayor’s Fund/CEO’s Keegan. “The support from the SIF to run multiple RCTs, and the rigor that comes from them, is invaluable.”

The SIF has also helped the Mayor’s Fund and CEO attract the attention of new funders and partners and deepen existing relationships with staff at other federal agencies interested in learning from the SIF.

“The SIF put us on the scene and gave us access to new relationships with private funders and key policymakers interested in our work,” said CEO’s David Berman.

As an example, representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the White House Domestic Policy Council visited CEO’s SIF-funded Jobs-Plus sites in 2012 to learn more about the program. They also participated in the Jobs-Plus learning network and stayed in regular contact with CEO staff and its evaluation partner, MDRC, as the programs evolved.

As a result of this collaboration, “funding for Jobs-Plus was included in the HUD budget for the first time in fiscal year 2014,” said Mayor’s Fund/CEO’s Keegan, “and agency staff are currently reviewing funding applications from public housing authorities across the country.”

Additional information about the Mayor’s Fund and CEO’s SIF project can be found online.

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