White Paper Identifies Strategies to Integrate Bridgebuilding into National Service Role
Washington, D.C., August 14, 2023, — National service and AmeriCorps are “perfectly positioned” to help tackle America’s toxic polarization crisis and our ability to solve shared challenges by equipping tens of thousands of Corps members to build connections, trust, and collaboration in communities across the country, according to No Greater Mission. No Greater Means, a new working paper from bipartisan veterans in national service. The paper asserts that this will only be possible with an imaginative new approach to meet the demands of the moment with renewed purpose, vision, and ambition.
Co-authors Convergence CEO David Eisner and longtime civic leader John Gomperts — bipartisan leaders of AmeriCorps under former Presidents Bush (‘43) and Obama, respectively – argue that connecting and collaborating across polarized divides, work known as bridgebuilding, would add an important dimension to national service and would make it a force in helping reduce the anger and mistrust that threaten to tear our country apart. They state, “Embracing bridgebuilding as a more intentional goal of national service is not only vital for the health of our communities and the nation – it’s also vital for national service to flourish, and vital for the bridgebuilding movement to grow and scale.”
The Working Paper calls on AmeriCorps to live up to the expectations of its strongest supporters – among whom Eisner and Gomperts count themselves – by embracing the mindsets, approaches, and skills of civic bridgebuilding as integral to its next chapter.
“National service makes its best, most consequential contribution, and best meets its purpose, when it takes on the nation’s greatest challenges,” No Greater Mission asserts. “Now is the time to bring all of AmeriCorps’s reach, infrastructure, and promise to bear on helping to reduce harmful divisiveness in our communities, building civic pathways for healing, and igniting a sense of common purpose.”
Based partly on lessons from the rich legacies and successes of national service programs like the Peace Corps, VISTA, NCCC, Senior Corps, FEMA Corps, YouthBuild, and others, in addition to AmeriCorps, the paper calls for action and conversation around five sets of recommendations to accelerate service programs’ integration of bridgebuilding mindsets, skills, and approaches:
- EQUIP CORPS MEMBERS: “Help all Corps members earn certification in “civic CPR” — that is, equip them with the mindsets and skills they need to become effective bridgebuilders during their service and beyond.”
- DIVERSIFY PERSPECTIVES: “Increase diversity, especially viewpoint diversity, across the national service ecosystem.”
- BUILD BRIDGING PARTNERSHIPS: “Build strong, two-way bridges between the national service community and the many nonprofit civic-bridgebuilding organizations operating at the local and national levels.”
- MOBILIZE ALUMS: “Mobilize hundreds of thousands of AmeriCorps alumni to become valuable civic assets in their communities, just like military veterans and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are today.”
- GROW THE EVIDENCE: “Accelerate research and continued philanthropic investment in bridgebuilding through national service to ensure maximum returns on investment.”
To support the adoption and success of each recommendation, the Working Paper offers actionable steps for nearly every component of the AmeriCorps ecosystem – the agency, state commissions, national and local grantees, private funders, community partners, Corps members, and alums. It envisions these groups working in concert, each informed by evidence from emerging service pilots and innovations, by best practices from the emerging civic bridgebuilding field, and by proven models for helping people find trust and common ground.
“The national service community has long understood that when we come together to serve, we naturally and organically contribute to connecting and collaborating across differences,” said Gomperts. “It’s time for AmeriCorps programs to become intentional, purposeful, and programmatically sophisticated in this work. By partnering with bridgebuilding allies we can learn from and scale pilot programs underway, and identify pathways for AmeriCorps to contribute as much as possible to strengthening connection and collaboration in every community where national service touches down.”
Eisner said. “There’s a virtuous cycle between strengthening National Service and strengthening our ability to connect and collaborate across differences. National service is meaningfully strengthened when we emphasize, amplify, and otherwise lean with purpose into its natural role helping our communities connect and problem-solve across differences. And, at the same time, a stronger national service sector has even greater potential to bring people together – and to reduce the dangers that political polarization, hate, and violence pose to our well-being and our ability to solve our shared challenges.”
Both Eisner and Gomperts are quick to acknowledge that service is “no silver bullet” and shouldn’t be thought of as a stand-alone solution for polarization. Their recommendations recognize that most AmeriCorps programs and Corps members will face important limits to the amount and kind of bridgebuilding they can undertake. Moreover, the authors stress that their proposals are not meant to replace the work that Corps members are doing with new work of bridgebuilding, but rather to leverage bridgebuilding mindsets and skills to bolster service outcomes, as well as to help integrate bridgebuilding sensibilities within the culture and practices of each community’s civic infrastructure.
Fully engaging our national service capacity to support our communities’ civic bridgebuilding needs represents an imperative for the country, for national service and for bridgebuilders. Not an opportunity… Not a promising-but-optional pathway… An imperative.
No Greater Mission. No Greater Means. August, 2023
Development of the Working Paper and Next Steps
Between December 2022 and July 2023, Eisner and Gomperts committed to develop this White Paper and accelerate a conversation about the role of national service in bridgebuilding to, in the words of the paper, “…call attention to good work already underway; make specific and actionable recommendations to advance and accelerate the thinking, planning and practice around this work; and catalyze additional conversations, connections, innovations, and action across the national service and bridgebuilding ecosystems.”
They undertook an extensive discovery process to refine, update, and supplement their own experience-based knowledge, including interviewing more than 70 leaders, practitioners, researchers, and funders in the areas of national service, military service, civic bridgebuilding, democracy, peacebuilding, philanthropy, psychology, and brain science. The collective wisdom of these interviewees and the rest of the discovery process all point to what is characterized in the working paper as “an imperative” for the national service and bridgebuilding ecosystems to live up to this moment to help heal our democracy and rebuild a critical pillar of civic infrastructure.
From August through at least December, the next phase of the No Greater Mission initiative will include multiple public and private conversations within and among the service and bridgebuilding communities about how to refine and advance the ideas in the paper. To help catalyze some of this conversation, Eisner and Gomperts invited feedback, pushback, and analysis from diverse early readers of No Greater Mission. No Greater Means.
The authors and Convergence similarly invite anyone whose work or interests intersect with the national service and bridgebuilding sectors to read the full working paper, to share it with their networks, to share their reactions, thoughts and plans, and to join the conversation on Linked In.
No Greater Mission was made possible with the generous support of the Einhorn Collaborative and Schmidt Futures.
About the Authors
David Eisner joined Convergence as CEO in 2020 with three decades of experience as a senior executive in the business, government, and nonprofit arenas. In the 1990’s Eisner served as Sr. Vice President at America Online, where he launched and led the AOL Foundation. In the 2000’s, as CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service under then-President George W. Bush, Eisner grew bipartisan support, increased funding, and oversaw the agency response to Hurricane Katrina. David then briefly led All for Good, creating the open-source backbone for President Obama’s signature service initiative, Serve.gov. In 2009, former President Bill Clinton, who was chair, appointed David to lead the National Constitution Center. Immediately prior to Convergence, Eisner led the leading Jewish volunteering organization, Repair the World.
John Gomperts is a long-time leader in nonprofits and government organizations devoted to civic engagement and to creating greater opportunity for children and youth. From 2012 – 2020, John served as President & CEO of America’s Promise Alliance, the nation’s largest coalition of organizations and communities working on issues related to young people. Prior to that, John served as the Director of AmeriCorps in the Obama Administration. Earlier, John led nonprofits that work to enlist individuals and communities to provide young people with the resources and support they need to thrive. Earlier in his career, John worked in the US Senate (Sens. Wofford, Kerry, Daschle), practiced law and served as a judicial clerk.
About Convergence Center for Policy Resolution
Convergence is the leading organization bridging divides to solve critical issues through collaborative problem-solving across ideological, political, sectoral, cultural and other lines of difference. For more than a decade, Convergence has brought together leaders, doers, and experts—many who never thought they could talk to one another—to build trusting relationships, identify breakthrough solutions, and form unlikely alliances for constructive change on seemingly intractable issues. Our process is improving the lives of Americans and strengthening democracy for a more resilient and collaborative future. Convergence coordinated the No Greater Mission initiative as one effort among others within its Learning Lab to drive normalization of bridgebuilding and collaborative problem-solving across society by inspiring and equipping others to incorporate them in their work. For more information, visit convergencepolicy.org.