I’ve heard rumblings from folks in a number of states about pending legislation to establish home visit programs for expectant families or families with newborns or pre-school age children. So many families are struggling. Poverty is at an all time high. When hearing about such bills, those who have not been faced with the challenge of navigating impersonal bureaucracies, will likely think, “Thank goodness! Our elected officials are recognizing how hard things are and are stepping up to do something for those people.”
For those who think that, I wish you were right, but the reality is considerably more troubling. I follow money, and it tells a different story. It tells the tale of a sweeping program of “collective impact” cultivated by consultancies like Third Sector Capital Partners, FSG, and the Nonprofit Finance Fund. Strive Together, a non-profit program incubated in Cincinnati, OH under the wing of Gates Foundation-funded Knowledgeworks (promoter of learning ecosystems), will carry out the program.
Interactive map of Strive Together board here.
This initiative has been brought to scale with support from influential banks and foundations led by Living Cities, the United Way, and representatives of the Federal Reserve. Through carefully chosen “backbone organizations” and “conveners,” Strive Together’s pathways are being set up to channel tens of millions of private “impact investments” while harvesting personal data on an almost unimaginably vast scale. Central to this enterprise is the Annie E. Casey Foundation (UPS money) that sought to leverage a treasure trove of “Kids Count” data and trigger an expansive program of impact investing via the creation of Mission Investors Exchange back in 2005. The organization now boasts over 120 members.
Interactive map of Living Cities funders here.
Members of the Strive Network, and its deep-pocketed backers, seek to track human capital “from cradle to career,” reaping profits from digitally managed lives every step of the way. This is becoming possible as ubiquitous computing through mobile devices and wearable technologies is normalized. Digital profiling doesn’t have to be anything fancy; smart phones, tablets, and maybe some type of virtual assistant (digital minder) will suffice.
It is a model that outsources public services (via austerity-enforced privatization) to non-profits that are funded through “pay for success” contracts. These services then push people’s interactions online as much as possible to generate required “impact” data. Debt taken out to pay for the services is securitized (like those toxic, bundled mortgages that precipitated the 2008 economic crisis), which permits hedge funds to legally gamble on human misery in real time. Profiling the poor is a central feature of this system. It is fueled by poverty. Thus, logic dictates, it will never eliminate the source of its profit. Instead, proponents will attempt to shift responsibility for economic violence back onto victims, insisting they simply “make better choices,” preferably with the assistance of a behavior-tracking app.
All of this is tied into the “what works” “Moneyball for Government” agenda my colleague Carolyn Leith helpfully lays out here.
While predatory financiers think they can “short” the lives of the poor with impunity, I choose to believe those who know the truth can disrupt the disrupters. We must commit ourselves to pulling back the curtain on these neoliberal programs masquerading as “progressive” policy, expose the poison pills embedded in them, and fight for the care people deserve as fellow humans, not commodities whose futures are fodder for speculative trading. If this is new to you, and you need more information, see this series and my video “Gambling With Our Futures.”
Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer knows the plan. His wife Connie serves on Strive’s board, and his investment firm just put $59 million into Social Solutions, a software platform to track performance measures in social service delivery. They’ve also directed $50 million into Blue Meridian Partners, a “results-oriented” philanthropy focused on children and youth. Wink, wink, Ballmer’s not just in it “for the kids;” he’s in it for the kids’ data.
Interactive map of Blue Meridian Partners here.
This sheds light on why home visit and ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) scoring protocols are being fast-tracked as “emergency” bills in Washington State right now. The state hosts three different Strive partnerships (Bellvue, Tacoma and South King County, South Seattle) including the Road Map Project, one its first proofs of concept. Last spring, the Ballmer Group brought Andrea (Andi) Smith on board. Smith had previously served as Governor Jay Inslee’s director of external affairs, acting as a senior policy advisor on human service issues. She’s now charged with strategic planning around Ballmer’s “civic activism.”
Watch Ballmer’s speech from a 2017 Dallas County Education Investors meeting in here.
Strive’s influence extends to early childhood, early literacy, and community school programs in nearly seventy communities that touch 13 million children. Click here to see the list of participants: urban and suburban, affluent and poor spread across every corner of the United States. Those funding home visit programs, the foot in the proverbial “cradle to career” door, are the very ones behind the tech takeover of public schools and the development of global impact investment markets.
Home visits are key, because that is where baseline data, including ACE screenings, will be collected on each child. Without comprehensive baselines, it will be hard for the backers of so-called “evidence-based” interventions to take credit for (and profit from) “fixing” children who will be “risk-scored” from birth onwards. This push to lay the groundwork for “collective impact” is also, I believe, a driving force behind California Governor Gavin Newsom’s “child-focused” state budget. He was involved in a “collective impact” program, HOPE, during his time as mayor of San Francisco. Newsom knows what lies ahead, and his Bay Area fin-tech base will be well served if a comprehensive data collection system starting in infancy comes to pass.
When considering how home visit programs are likely to play out, it is important to recognize healthcare and social service sectors are experiencing data-driven, austerity-imposed, digital hostile takeovers not unlike what we have seen in public school classrooms. Medical professionals and care workers, like teachers, are losing autonomy to standardized protocols, rubrics, imposed scripts, and oversized caseloads. Cameron’s Graham’s compelling brief offers important insights into the chilling reality of social workers, called navigators, who attempt to work with the confines of the St. Mungo’s homeless social impact bond in the UK.
As much as these workers may want to do the right thing by families, their ability to do so will be severely constrained unless they can collectively push back against financialized, privatized service delivery. I eagerly await the day rank and file teachers, nurses, and social workers realize what is happening, make common cause, and unite to fight the tech-surveillance “collective impact” agenda.
Clayton Christensen, Harvard business professor and promoter of blended learning, has targeted both education and healthcare for disruption. Data is the new oil and much of it flows through schools and care settings. They are coming for it. “Pay for success” programs in Santa Clara County, California, which include Strong Start and the Big Lift, were catalyzed by Fred Ferrer who brought Christensen in to pitch outcomes-based contracting. Ferrer spent his career at The Health Trust, focused on public health, during which time he also served on the board of Rocketship Charter Schools.
As a consultant to Santa Clara County, Ferrer prepared a 2018 report, Universal Access to Early Childhood Care, Education and Health Services, in which he pitched a concierge model of school-based social workers that would work with families in two of San Jose’s low-income school districts. The catch is that the county ALSO hosts an interoperable data warehouse funded by Mark Zuckerberg and is the target of significant impact investments via the influential Silicon Valley Community Foundation and other venture philanthropies.
It seems entirely possible Ferrer’s recommendations, while appearing benevolent, are actually setting vulnerable families up to be exploited by social service agencies through data profiling. All sorts of data are being co-mingled for analysis: mental health, judicial involvement, health, and academic. With predictive analytics on the rise in child protective services here and abroad, people should be concerned.
Last week, the UK’s “What Works Centre for Children Social Care,” led by former head of New York’s “nudge unit,” shared plans to begin a program of machine learning on data collected by caseworkers, which has raised considerable alarm. Understanding the ways social services have historically been used as weapons to control the poor, particularly Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, it is easy to see how something as seemingly innocuous as a home visit, could go terribly, terribly wrong. If you can’t picture it, I suggest reading Louise Erdrich’s short story, American Horse, and imagine that scenario today with the addition of Internet of Things tracking and AI enforcement.
See my previous post on Silicon Valley pay for success here.
Interactive version of the map below here.
What would the home visit / social work equivalent of a Rocketship charter school model be? Caseworkers assigned tablets and tasked with gathering copious data via screening tools tied to a child’s unique identifier? Maybe a slew of parenting apps are part of the picture? Parents monitored to see if they download recommended programs and participate consistently? Will new moms be leaned on to accept listening devices like the LENA “talk pedometer” (below) in their homes? Will parents be sold on the supposed benefits of online pre-k? Will subtle product placements for affiliated charter franchises be casually inserted into conversations?
In a January 2019 report on early childhood trends, Big Ideas, Little Learners, the Omidyar Network outlines many investment opportunities in early childhood education and health. Technology-mediated brain training is touted, because research (much of it underwritten by hedge fund interests) indicates it’s more cost-effective to shift non-cognitive data than academic knowledge. Hedge funds need dynamic data to enable their betting. For that reason SEL data is where investors are directing their efforts, underwriting rubrics and systems to productively manage behavioral “success” at home, in the grocery store produce aisle, in pre-k, in classrooms, and on playgrounds.
That’s what KIPP charter schools have been up to all along; their franchise, an enormous test bed of behavioral conditioning. They were tasked with refining cost-effective techniques for broader roll out. Now, it seems, with the passage of the Foundations for Evidence-based Policymaking Act that time has come. We’re looking at pre-k charter proposals now. Surely that influence is going to trickle down into home settings soon enough. The drumbeat of digital bootstrapping grows louder and louder as messaging around “growth mindset” and “resilience” for parents and children butts up against the dire realities of lived experience with increasing force.
Source: Beyond Content: Incorporating Social and Emotional Learning Into the Strive Together Framework, 2013.
In this uncertain 4th Industrial Revolution future where the entire concept of “work” remains fraught and uncertain, investors plan to continue concentrating their wealth by distracting the public and selling them on the importance of “soft skills,” “whole child education,” and “brain training.” They will, of course, downplay the digital tracking, profiling, and surveillance that comes along with it. In 2013, Strive created a task force to examine metrics for social-emotional learning and figure out which traits were “malleable.” That the report dismisses “critical thinking,” because it is not correlated to academic “success,” is quite telling. In retrospect, though, it shouldn’t come as a surprise given that public education (now extending to early education for toddlers and even infants) has historically been used to reinforce social stratification undergirded by structural racism, a case laid out by Tim Scott in his post “Common Schools and the Nationalistic Aims of Public Education in the U.S.”
Omidyar Network, author of the Big Ideas, Little Learners report is a global impact investor focused on ed-tech, digital identity, fin-clusion and e-government “solutions.” Its founder is Pierre Omidyar of eBay. The organization has its fingers in many pies: pre-k digital identity (Amply), prison labor impact securities (The Last Mile), Blockchain credentialing (Learning Machine), and behavior-tracking apps (Hopelab). The organization heavily invests in disruptive education and early childhood models that center on technology (Bridges International Academies online scripted curriculum for Global South clients) and data surveillance (Zamzee, family activity tracker). While their pitch for early childhood education sounds compelling at first blush, the image below, a pre-k model advanced by one of their grantees in South Africa, tells the tale. You can paint a cargo container and put in a few windows, but that doesn’t make it humane. When they pitch poverty apps, look beyond the “shiny” and remember Innovation Edge’s cargo container pre-schools.
Pierre Omidyar’s wife Pam launched a “scientific” enterprise called Hopelab that employs gamified social science research to change behaviors from medical compliance, to emotional regulation, to family fitness. They’ve also partnered on the Nurse Family Partnership’s pay for success home visit pilot program in South Carolina to test Goal Mama. This app was designed to deliver digital nudges to pregnant moms deemed to be “at risk,” because we all know the only thing that stands between a low-income parent and economic stability is well-designed software…
Click here for the slide share the South Carolina Nurse Family Partnership used to pitch the Goal Mama program.
Interactive map for Hopelab / Goal Mama and Omidyar Network’s projects here.
The screenshots from Omidyar Network’s report show how it has positioned itself to benefit from the growing number of impoverished families who rely on social services like Medicaid, the infants pawns in a brazenly calculating scheme. It should be noted that Omidyar Network is not merely an individual investor, it is a key player in a larger social impact network that includes even more powerful interests like the Vatican. Social entrepreneurs, benefit corporations, and venture philanthropists have been extremely busy over the past decade crafting markets for digital interventions that will shape behaviors to benefit tech companies and the impact investors who partner with them to achieve what they call “measurable social benefit.”
For this market to function, all the players must agree to comprehensively screen poor families, identifying them within a deficit framework as having “gaps” that are “fixable.” The “solutions” for these gaps must be ones that focus on altering individual behavior, never systemic causes that could lead to radical solutions that would be true solutions. Technological interventions, often supported by neuro-scientific “evidence,” are foregrounded. Deals will line up venture philanthropy backers who pay for the digital services. Everyone then sits back to wait while “majority minority” populations are compelled to create data later “harvested” for a tidy sum after conditions of the outcomes-based contracts are met.
South Carolina’s Nurse Family Partnership’s home visit program is the intended model to scale as noted in a 2017 project overview prepared by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. It was funded in coordination with the state’s Medicaid program as a pay for success venture with support from the Harvard Government Performance Lab.
South Carolina Pay for Success, Nurse Family Partnership Home Visit interactive map here.
With the passage of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (FEPA), home visit programs are an impact investor’s dream-come-true. I know. I was in DC for the bipartisan celebration of the Social Impact Partnerships Pay for Results Act, which allocated $100 million to get the pay for success party started. Home visits were front and center.
The Nurse Family Partnership is a venerable institution that’s been around for over 40 years and annually serves nearly 35,000 families in 42 states. I’m sure it has done commendable work, but in anticipation of a vast expansion of home visit services, an examination of their current funding sources is warranted. The following funders are among those that have contributed $10,000 or more in the past year according to their website.
Nurse Family Partnership Major Donors, interactive map here.
Arnold Foundation: John of Enron fame and his wife Laura are major backers of “evidence-based” “what works” “outcomes-based” contracting, supporters of secret policing surveillance programs, and developers of racially biased bail algorithms. They were key players in advancing the passage of FEPA and SIPPRA.
Ballmer Group: The investment fund of Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft, whose wife Connie is on the board of the Strive Together “collective impact” network and who has invested in social solutions impact measurement software. Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn and its ties to the LRNG badging program gives it an advantageous position with regards to youth digital workforce portfolios.
Bezos Family Foundation: Amazon Web Services, with its multitude of national security contracts, would probably love an expanded system of data collection on poor families. Jeff’s mom, Jacklyn has shared a stage with human capital economist James “I’ll guarantee you a 10% ROI on early childhood investments” Heckman at a recent Aspen Institute event and serves on multiple committees of Paul Tudor Jones’s Robin Hood Foundation.
Blue Meridian Partners: A collective fund of a half billion dollars for “high-impact” youth serving programs chaired by Stanley Druckenmiller, hedge fund manager and close friend of Paul Tudor Jones, founder of the Robin Hood Foundation.
Duke Endowment: It has invested $50 million in Blue Meridian Partners.
Google.org: The philanthropic arm of the big data behemoth that dominates cloud-based software in US classrooms, has its eyes on Internet of Things managed healthcare delivery through it’s “smart city” spin-off, City Block, and a hand in prison-based.
The New Venture Fund: Has ties to the Connected Learning Alliance, digital badging, and workforce pathways programs.
Non-Profit Finance Fund: Consulting firm formerly headed by George Overholser, now of Third Sector Capital Partners, that promotes use of pay for success nationally.
Oak Foundation: Another “next-gen,” digital learning proponent.
Overdeck Foundation: Major supporter of social-emotional learning interventions that embrace interventions targeting “malleable” traits that promote academic “success.”
Schwab Foundation: Supports Summit Learning, charter schools, redesigned “innovative” education models including work-based learning programs.
Tipping Point: David Lurie has set up this organization as Robin Hood Foundation West with support from Silicon Valley tech moguls.
We live in an era where data is gold. Poor people needing services (or education) are seen as potential goldmines by predatory financiers, assuming their poverty can be “profitably managed.” We are sliding into a new economic paradigm, one where people are valued as consumers of social services and producers of “impact data.” If we don’t speak out, eventually large segments of the population will be tracked via screen and wearable technologies, generating data linked to public benefits whose value is contained and regulated through digital platforms.
Picture linking up Sesame credit, nudges, surveillance of the public sphere, and dynamic pricing to digital housing vouchers or SNAP benefits via government issued smart phones. It’s not a far-fetched plan. The Gates Foundation, among others, is pushing a shift towards “government to citizen” digital payments through the Better than Cash Alliance. They equate it to investing in public infrastructure, only with the added benefit of being able to impose de-facto digital surveillance on populations that, when unified and motivated, could upend the status quo (or at least eject the likes of Amazon from their communities). Their goal? Manage people as individuals. Make it about pushing the poor to make better choices. Keep the poor accountable rather than the systems designed by oligarchs to impose poverty and concentrate wealth.
It is a horrible situation. It is hard to get up every day knowing this is coming, and yet it is undeniable that this machine is advancing at full tilt. I believe those at the top think that with slick branding and enough money to offer “seats at the table” to anyone who might be inclined to say, “hey, the emperor has no clothes,” they will get away with it. The fact that this is coming with bipartisan support, perhaps even more so that it is coming from the liberal corner means to fight it, people must have a deeper understanding of the nature of social justice and racial capitalism.
People of privilege, people holding onto a “white savior” mentality are going to have a hard time understanding the dangers behind these “helpful” home visit programs. People who think Democrats can do no wrong are also going to have a hard time calling it out, because it is baked into many of the supposedly “progressive” policies that the liberal main stream has been promoting for years, not realizing how fin-tech and impact investing were inextricably woven in. How do we have conversations about systems of paternalistic technocracy that are swiftly deploying programs of toxic whiteness under the cover of progressive ideals? In this moment of meme culture and knee jerk reactions, I’m not sure, but I’m willing to try.
It is crucial that we try.
Based on all of my research it seems clear that unless home visit legislation can be structured to support the interests of the people over investors, home visit campaigns will be a colossal set up to harvest data from the poor; sell them on digital non-solutions to economic dispossession and structural racism; and profile their children into suitably low-level slots in the cradle to career human capital pipeline.
If home visit initiatives truly wanted to be supportive of all families they would:
1) be optional
2) not be conditioned on data collection or reliant on longitudinal data systems
3) not involve assignment of unique identifiers to parents, children, or care providers
3) guarantee families the right know what data is being collected, review it, challenge it, and delete it at will
4) not advocate digital interventions or monitoring
5) prohibit machine learning on and / or AI processing of collected data
7) offer support that is culturally-responsive
8) treat caseworkers as professionals, ensure they receive a salary with benefits commensurate with the importance of this work, and provide training and support grounded in face to face relationships not CBE online modules
9) require service providers be accountable to the communities they serve
10) prohibit use of “pay for success” finance and “outcomes-based contracting”
Addressing systemic conditions that engender poverty should be adopted instead of solutions that put primary responsibility on individual behavior. There is no one “correct” way to parent. Governments must not attempt to coerce families to conform to conditions of “whiteness” that reinforce historic systems of domination. We must do better. Please use this information to educate your communities about what is coming. We must work quickly to put protections in place.