Up at Night

Author: Heather Reynolds, Michael L. Smith Managing Director

Speaker Headshots For Op Event Website Heather Reynolds

In this issue of Illuminate, we’re taking a multifaceted look at the idea of disruption—not the kind that happens to a market when new tech gets introduced. The kind that happens when a person’s life collides with poverty. Or, the kind that happens when cycles of poverty are interrupted by evidence-based solutions.

The idea of disruption got me thinking about earlier this year when LEO moved into our beautiful new space. Before that, if you came to visit the LEO team, you’d find us scattered throughout a few hallways amongst a few other amazing departments in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters (well, we are still a bit scattered…one of the glorious benefits of great growth!). Sometimes you’d also find us gathered in the hallways sharing about our weekend or an exciting new project. And in full disclosure, I must admit, we were kindly asked to be more mindful of our volume as a team. In even fuller disclosure, we were asked more than once. In even fuller, fuller disclosure, I was possibly the worst offender. Even though this story is clearly a more literal example of disruption (and ends with myself and the rest of us more extroverted team members doing our best to keep it down), I still think it’s worth sharing because it captures so much of the spirit of LEO. After all…

LEO’s been disruptive since the start

In the early days of LEO, there were no other domestic poverty labs of its kind and no one else bringing researchers and providers together in this way—still one of the most unique aspects of LEO. And now, the 11 organizations that make up our 11th cohort are in the midst of the partnership process we’ve built and refined over the past 10+ years. You’ll learn about these partners in this issue of Illuminate. Get ready to feel inspired as these partners are disruptors in their own right!

Like our friends at Transformative In Prison Workgroup (TPW). We’re partnering with three TPW member organizations to evaluate their programs, all different, but with the central goal to change outcomes for incarcerated individuals—a population so often left behind. But these organizations prioritize these individuals, not only through the services they offer, but also by their efforts to emphasize the voices of those who have been or are currently incarcerated. So often, social programs are designed based on what we think we know instead of letting those most affected speak what they need. But disruption is usually nothing new to those our partners serve.

Poverty is an agent of disruption

Few things are as powerful a disruptor as poverty and the company it often keeps. Things like falling into homelessness, interaction with the criminal justice system, poor health, childhood trauma, being born in the wrong neighborhood, racial inequity, the list goes on and on. Or as you will read about in this issue, the often devastating outcomes for kids in the foster care system. It’s hard not to wonder what a child’s life might have looked like had it not been so disrupted. But these outcomes are not something we have to or should accept.

Evidence disrupts assumptions

I’m sure you’ve heard us LEO folks refer to our provider partners as “poverty’s fiercest adversaries.” Certainly true. But at least for the rest of this issue, let’s think of them as “poverty’s fiercest disruptors.” Innovative organizations bringing solutions to upend poverty and brave enough to put those solutions to the test. Research is hard and scary and time consuming. Being willing to do it in the first place is outside the status quo. But our partners do it anyway because they want to know what works and they want to be sure they are giving clients their best. We often say research should serve people, not the other way around. Here’s to all the incredible work our partners are doing to make this research possible and disrupt poverty. And refusing to let it remain the other way around.

Explore the many facets of disruption by reading the rest of this edition of Illuminate below!


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