For the last year, the DreamUp Wisconsin team at UW–Madison has worked with groups across Dane County to “dream up” ideas to put more money in families’ pockets. The people we heard from and their innovative ideas are nothing short of inspiring, offering key insights into the struggles Dane County families face and creative ways to address them.
What is DreamUp Wisconsin? It is the local incarnation of the Alliance for the American Dream, funded by Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt. DreamUp tasked our community with developing innovative proposals—through University-community partnerships—to expand and strengthen the middle class by increasing the net income of 10,000 households in Dane County by 10% by 2020, while also focusing on reducing local economic disparities by race, ethnicity, and geography.
Since May 2018, the DreamUp team has talked with nearly 1,000 people and hosted dozens of events across the county. We listened to community members describe the challenges of living in Dane County, such as difficulty affording high quality childcare and housing, utilities, food, health care, and efficient transportation for traveling from lower-cost neighborhoods to good paying jobs. Community members also talked of struggling with legal issues, from driver’s license suspensions to wage garnishment, as well as accessing and managing debt. And the team heard about struggles community members face in growing their incomes, including limited skills and training (and too few opportunities to acquire them), low wages and too few opportunities for job advancement, difficulty navigating the path from school to work, and racial discrimination.
While these challenges are daunting, the innovative ideas generated offer great promise. DreamUp attracted 46 proposals to combat these barriers and improve the standard of living for Dane County families. Eleven teams earned a $10,000 prize to further develop their idea. These proposals were chosen for their interdisciplinary, data driven, and technological approaches, and their focus on equity and inclusion of diverse communities. They spanned improving workforce development opportunities, reducing debt, increasing financial literacy, expanding affordable housing, providing off-hours transportation to employers outside of Madison, strengthening the food ecosystem, and reducing energy costs and creating clean-energy jobs. Three teams had the opportunity to pitch their idea to a national review committee assembled by Schmidt Futures; two have advanced to a final round in which they will compete for up to $1 million of initial capital investment to begin implementing their proposal. All have the opportunity to access potential matching funding from Schmidt Futures to reward local fundraising efforts.
We are thrilled for the advancing teams, who will present their ideas to Schmidt Futures next week in New York City. Legal Interventions for Transforming (LIFT) Dane will create a game-changing online platform that provides workers with easy access to public data and services to reduce debt and eliminate legal barriers to employment, housing, and economic stability. We Care for Dane Kids offers an innovative, multi-pronged approach to transforming the early child and after school care sectors by increasing employee use of and employer contributions to dependent care tax benefits, expanding access to child care subsidies, supplementing child care workers’ wages, and using shared services networks to reduce operating expenses.
At the same time, DreamUp is not just about the finalists. It is about our community. We are simply awed by the enthusiasm we have encountered and by the portfolio of proposals created to solve real-word problems that impact the lives of Dane County residents. The process prompted new partnerships that broke down traditional silos. It brought nonprofits, service providers, technology firms, government agencies, venture philanthropy, and UW faculty and staff together to work toward common goals. This is the Wisconsin Idea in action. Indeed, no matter the outcome next week, our community has already won.
As we enter a second round of the DreamUp WI challenge, we remain inspired and eager to further harness the great power of partnerships between the university and community to increase shared prosperity—and, we invite even wider participation (see DreamUp Wisconsin for details).
The DreamUp WI Leadership Team:
Lawrence Berger, Director of the Institute for Research on Poverty and Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor, School of Social Work
Michael Collins, Associate Professor of Public Affairs and Human Ecology, Fetzer Family Chair in Consumer and Personal Finance, and Director of the Center for Financial Security
Laura Dresser, Assistant Clinical Professor of Macropractice, School of Social Work and Associate Director of COWS (Center on Wisconsin Strategy)
Hilary Shager, Associate Director for Programs and Management, Institute for Research on Poverty
Rebecca Schwei, Research and Policy Coordinator, Institute for Research on Poverty
Peng Her, DreamUp WI Community Relations Coordinator, Institute for Research on Poverty
Bridgit Van Belleghem, DreamUp WI Community Relations Coordinator, Institute for Research on Poverty