Thinking Short Term and Long: Lisa Gans’ Two-Generation Approach to Urban Issues

A one-year fellowship doesn’t have to be shortsighted. Here’s how Lisa Gans and The D.C. Neighborhood Initiative are thinking about Northeast D.C.’s next 20 years.

Thinking Short Term and Long: Lisa Gans’ Two-Generation Approach to Urban Issues

Through Fuse Corps, a 501c3 organization that matches professionals with local social initiatives for year-long fellowships, Lisa Gans helped make an impact through the D.C. Promise Neighborhood Initiative, a group dedicated to promoting education.


She and her team focused on a neighborhood in Northeast D.C. to build a strong, feasible blueprint for success going forward. During her year with Fuse Corps, it won a $28 million grant, worked with more than 40 partners, and set the foundation for a 20-year, two-generational vision that will transform how the surrounding area develops.

This is how she approached several issues facing the community:

Lisa Gans

Creating direct influence through mothers

“I did a mother’s cohort in Ethiopia that addressed nutrition information and decision-making. So I took ideas and adapted them to Northeast D.C. The research I looked at suggested that when mothers of children under the age of 8 are given specific supports such as increased levels of education, financial stability, and social capital, their children do four times better in school than their peers. Each one will go out, share the knowledge, and become a conduit of information. At the end, they’ll have developed a network and set of skills to get to the next level.”

Low digital literacy and high teen pregnancy rates

“One of our longer term goals is 21st-century learning focusing on digital literacy and also looking at teen pregnancy rates. We have a summer program that recruits teenagers through the Summer Youth Employment Program. The kids receive a stipend, gain meaningful work experience, learn and develop skills, and gain exposure to different careers. They learn how to actually do web design to create a campaign to prevent teen pregnancy. They develop the content, but also use the computers and get some digital literacy around the campaign themselves. It’s addressing two of the things that are important for our programming.”


Building data to create and measure two generations of impact

“There are 14 societal indicators we’re required to track and we added two more that speak to our two-generation model. So we brought in The Urban Institute and they pulled everything they could and put together a 170-page report to give a snapshot of the community. Now we’re gearing up for door-to-door surveys and getting much more detailed data. That way, we’ll be able to look at individual performance that will be helpful in designing our programming.”

Getting citizens to adopt the ideas

“Through Fuse Corps, the first thing you do is get a worm’s-eye view and ask input from people who are dealing with the issue you’re working on. We think about pulling those together in a way that makes sense for the community. They’ll be taking responsibility for telling people in their neighborhood about certain initiatives. People will share information with their community when they’re excited. We’re working on finding those people who will be champions in the community.”

[Image: Flickr user La Citta Vita]

About the author

Skylar is an Editorial Assistant at Fast Company. He's previously written for Popular Mechanics, Esquire, Dwell and his hometown Chicagoland suburb newspaper.