2023 Impact & Inspiration Report

Dear Ascend Family,

In 2023, I traveled from South Africa to Alaska, from Chicago to Birmingham. My travels brought home two insights. First, how transformative it is to be in community with leaders who see intersections, not silos and a world of possibilities, not unscalable walls. Second, embracing a more global mindset reveals new perspectives, pathways, and partnerships. We have an abundance of amazing leaders with big ideas who can make an even bigger impact IF we rethink how we use all the capital we have – intellectual, social, human, and financial -- in service of the world we want. One where all children and families are valued.   

We have intellectual capital to leverage. This report shows leaders using collective power to take on the big systems and flip the script. We see Ascend Fellows banding together, like Nate Chomilo, Twylla Dillion, Emily Miller, Kimberly Seals Allers, and Leseliey Welch who are expanding healthy and respectful birth experiences for Black parents in Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and beyond. In Anchorage, Alaska Native Network Partners and Ascend Fellows work together, tapping Indigenous teachings and community wisdom to build opportunities for children and young people.  

We know that growing social capital matters. Interactions and deepening bonds between people lead to trusted relationships, the essential foundation for transforming the systems that need to do better for our children and families. This is why Ascend hosts Fellowship and Network convenings. In 2023, we graduated two Fellow cohorts, and welcomed a new one. Leaders from 10 years of Fellowship classes joined philanthropic and community partners at this year’s VisionXChange. Seeing more than 200 leaders using all their knowledge, creativity, and curiosity to advance the well-being of children and families gave me goosebumps. 

We have human capital we are deploying in new ways. We know it is vital to respect the expertise of lived experience and have put Parent Advisors at the tables where decisions get made. In New Mexico, we launched a Parent Policy Council that advises Governor Lujan Grisham’s cabinet on issues such as transportation, mental health, and early childhood.   

All of this capital – intellectual, human, and social – unlocks financial capital to fund the big ideas. Since our founding Ascend and our  partners have unlocked more than $500 million for whole families from the public and private sector. Ascend has co-created new funding models including the Parent Powered Solutions Fund where Parent Advisors lead the grantmaking process. We have celebrated the success of Ascend Fellows like Leseliey Welch, who has raised a record-setting $4 million to open the first free-standing birth center in Detroit that delivers a joyful and safe pregnancy journey for Black women.   

When we leverage all the capital we have to work with, we unlock the resources that result in big, positive shifts.   

As I look ahead to 2024, I am filled with gratitude and deep conviction that it is time to double down on our purpose and passion. It’s time for the Ascend Network to flex its muscles on what the world is calling for us to do and get right.  

Enjoy this look back from Ascend. I hope it offers you wisdom and inspiration to ensure all children and families can achieve their dreams in 2024. 

Dream + Do

Aspen VisionXChange gathered leaders from across the country. These are the solutions they shared.

Transforming the Landscape of Leadership

Leadership lies in all. That belief powers Ascend’s work to change how our society listens to, learns from, and leads with families with low incomes. Our community of leaders embrace an ambitious and abundant mindset. Together, we are building a movement that reflects the full diversity, resilience, and genius from all corners of our country. Across all sectors, we come together under one north star of intergenerational family prosperity and well-being.

Catching Up with Ascenders

In our first Impact & Inspiration report, we highlighted the exciting efforts of more than 25 Ascend Fellows. One year later, we check in with 5 of those Fellows to see how their work has evolved.

Seismic Shift in Child Welfare

Thanks to the dedication of Ascend Fellows, the child welfare system is changing. Discover how Ascend Fellows are reshaping the child welfare system at the federal and state levels.

Honoring Lived Experience

We could not be prouder to celebrate the expertise, growth, and achievements of Ascend Parent Advisors. Explore their expanding leadership and ambitions, as well as the spirit of Pando that connects them.

Featured Story

Building Evidence

How Ascend convened a diverse group to shape a robust 2Gen Research Agenda

Catalyzing Radical Collaboration

Catalyzing radical collaboration defines how Ascend convenes leaders. Ascend sets the table to have the right conversations at the right time under the right conditions. By listening to and pushing each other, our community of leaders builds buy-in for solutions across systems and sectors. We invest in systems, policy, and social impact leaders for the long-run because it’s only together that we can build the future children and families deserve.

The X Factor

2022 Ascend Fellow Tonja Rucker explains the power of the Ascend Fellowship to foster radical collaboration and enrich professional networks.

Empowered by Art

Learn how artist Bimmer Torres helped Ascend Fellows come together and create a stunning piece of art.

Featured Story

A Brighter Future

Ascend Parent Advisors on the power of building social capital

Unlocking Capital

Unlocking capital is about investing in new people, new places, and new ways. Ascend partners with entrepreneurial leaders across the public, social, and private sectors to create equitable platforms that grow power along with pathways to grow prosperity. Our visionary philanthropic partners are taking the long view, recognizing that financial, intellectual, and social capital are interlocked — and that, ultimately, unlocking capital can unleash human potential. 

Can There Be Well-Being Without Wealth?

In this Aspen VisionXChange panel, Ascend Fellows Andrea Levere, Sherece West Scantlebury, and Kwame Anku think differently about financial capital.

Big Ideas on Campus

With help from the Ascend Fellowship Impact Fund, Ebony Underwood is unlocking intellectual capital in higher education to better serve children impacted by parental incarceration.

Empowering Student Parents, Empowering Our Communities

2015 Ascend Fellow Dr. William Serrata shares how El Paso Community College is empowering student parents.

Featured Story

Problem Solvers

Ascend Fellow Dr. Matthew Biel is equipping a new workforce to support the mental health of families.

Co-Creating & Accelerating Solutions

Through the power of co-creation, we are advancing innovative solutions in research, science, policy, and practice. Ascend partners with diverse leaders and organizations to reorient our economic, education, health and social systems to center on whole families. We take a modern 2Gen approach that focuses on children and the adults in their lives together and centers the voices and expertise of parents, caregivers, and families. It’s how we co-create actionable solutions that meet their needs and aspirations. 

Photo by Dan Bayer

Photo by Dan Bayer

Words of Wisdom

How Ascend Fellows Joe Hobot, Jessica Sanigaq Ullrich, and Deana Around Him are co-creating and accelerating Indigenous solutions.

Photo by Justin Cox

Photo by Justin Cox

Power of Policy

Analyzing the impact of Ascend's Policy Acceleration Partnership award for Minnesota's Office of Higher Education.

Year in Review

A look back at 2023, in photos

To our philantropic partners,

Thank you.

Ascend at the Aspen Institute would like to thank the following institutions and individuals for their commitment to our work and to building the economic security, educational success, and health and well-being of children, parents, and families.

"Change happens at the speed of relationships and trust.”
— Anne Mosle

Ann B. and Thomas L. Friedman
Family Foundation
The Annie E. Casey Foundation
Bainum Family Foundation
Bezos Family Foundation
Buffett Early Childhood Fund
Catto Shaw Foundation
Charlotte Perret Family Trust
Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation
Doris Duke Foundation
ECMC Foundation
Frances Mosle
Imaginable Futures
J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Foundation
John T. Gorman Foundation

Jordan Ruby Fund
Kini Fund
The Kresge Foundation
Liz Blake Giving Fund of the Blake Family
Lumina Foundation
Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies
Merle Chambers Fund
Morgridge Family Foundation
Patrice King Brickman
Richard W. Goldman Family Foundation
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Sheila Walker
The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation
William J. and Dorothy K. O’Neill Foundation
W.K. Kellogg Foundation