LEO & Atlanta: A partnership for impact

Author: Leigh Lynes

Atlanta Skyline
Photo: Rod Clement Photography

Atlanta, Georgia has long had a place in U.S. history books--the 1830’s railroad city is the birthplace of MLK Jr. and was home to Margaret Mitchell as she wrote “Gone with the Wind.” Today, Atlanta is a vibrant city with a diverse population and the busiest passenger airport in the world. And now, Atlanta is creating a new legacy in partnership with the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO)--an anti-poverty research lab at the University of Notre Dame.

LEO matches top researchers with leaders in the social service sector to conduct impact evaluations that identify the innovative, effective, and scalable programs and policies that help people move permanently out of poverty. The lab uses a cohort model to train groups of organizations in impact evaluations and then works hand-in-hand with them to design, launch, and share learnings from their research studies. The aim is to encourage service providers and policymakers to use evidence to design programs and policies that are effective at alleviating poverty. LEO’s Atlanta cohort is the first city-based cohort in the organization’s history.  

This cohort positions Atlanta to identify programs right in its own backyard that are effective in helping local families break the cycle of poverty and step into their bigger, brighter futures. Through this cohort, Atlanta will also contribute to a body of evidence that will be shared with service providers, philanthropists, and policymakers nationwide to change the landscape of how America tackles poverty and ensures that families everywhere have the opportunity to thrive.

LEO’s Atlanta cohort is spearheaded locally by Ed Fisher, a 1983 Notre Dame graduate and founder and managing partner of SouthPointe Ventures. Ed and his wife Lori are supporting the initiative and leveraged their network of relationships built over the nearly four decades they have lived in Atlanta to recruit organizations to participate. 

When Ed learned about LEO’s mission to build evidence about what works to end poverty, he saw the potential for his city to be on the vanguard of solving a problem that--after decades of scant progress in America’s War on Poverty--has proven to be maddeningly complex with no easy fixes. 

“Lori and I have always put great faith in Father Sorin’s mission to make Notre Dame a force for good in the world,” says Ed. “LEO’s vision for using evidence to alleviate poverty immediately resonated with us, and we see how a service organization’s participation in a cohort leads to very real, tangible improvements in people’s lives. LEO provides a unique combination of world-class research with on-the-ground action to fight poverty. My family believes we are called to improve others’ lives, and LEO allows us to participate in lifting people out of poverty in a very real way.”

LEO is excited to announce that the following Georgia-based social service providers have been selected to join the cohort and be a part of discovering and sharing what works to reduce poverty:

First Step Staffing - providing a new, wrap-around service, IMPACT,  to clients who have been placed in a job to help increase job retention rates, wage growth, and housing stability. 

Gateway Center - assisting those experiencing homelessness find a pathway to a job via their Workforce Development Program, with the goal of finding stable employment, housing stability, and wage growth.

Goodwill of North Georgia - evaluating the impact of their career services program, particularly its impact on women and people of color who are interested in non-traditional career pathways, with the goal of increasing employment, earnings, and take up of employer-sponsored benefits. 

Kidz2Leaders - striving to end generational incarceration and promote a life of self-sufficiency via their Camp Hope summer camp programming, with the goal of reducing criminal justice involvement and increasing educational progress and housing stability. 

Next Generation Men and Women - mentoring students at three Title 1 high schools in Atlanta with programming that lasts four years and covers areas such as personal identity, post-secondary exploration, leadership skills, and college and career planning, with the goal of increasing program retention, high school graduation rates, high school performance, and post secondary attainment. 

These organizations will attend a multi-day workshop in early November to learn about impact evaluations and to prepare to develop their research studies. Following the workshop, they will work with LEO’s research team for 16 weeks to design a study of their intervention aimed at lifting people out of poverty. The research design process will culminate in a second workshop in Spring 2022 where the organizations will present their research study designs to an audience of academics, philanthropists, and poverty thought leaders. 

Anyone interested in learning more about LEO’s Atlanta cohort or being considered for participation in a future cohort can contact Fran Gallagher, LEO’s Project Development Manager, at fkgallagher@nd.edu.