Innovation on Behalf of Young People

Two remarkably innovative events in Boston’s recent history have both benefited the young people of the city and created dynamic models for other cities—and in one case the entire nation. One was path-breaking because
it brought together groups that had rarely worked in unison in the past and became a model for an entire generation of Boston-founded public-private partnerships. The other began as a small Boston-based idea and grew into the favorite program of a President of the United States, resulting in a far-reaching government funded initiative. Both strengthened ties between Boston’s adults and the young people that, to them, represent the future.

The Boston Compact

The Boston Compact is Boston’s historic, flagship agreement that laid the foundation for public school improvement and guaranteed the commitment of the business and higher education communities to Boston Public School graduates. The Compact’s scale and longevity made it stand apart, and helped to spawn other similar efforts in other cities—and other public/ private partnerships throughout Boston.

Through the first Compact, signed in 1982, the business community—represented by the Private Industry Council—committed summer jobs and priority hiring policies for students. Higher education institutions—represented by the Boston Higher Education Partnership—pledged scholarships and priority admissions for Boston graduates. The Boston Public Schools committed to improving the schools in concrete ways that would be measured by test scores, increased attendance, and reduced drop-out rates.

The development of the Compact would have been an important innovation in any city. But, coming eight years after Boston had been torn apart by racial violence associated with the integration of the Boston Public Schools through busing, it was nothing short of astounding. The Compact’s mutual accountability arrangement—the contributions of each stakeholder being contingent up on the contributions of others—was unique at the time. City leaders who generally did not work together did so through the Compact and, while there had been individual partnerships of a similar kind in other cities, a multilateral agreement of this sort had never been developed before.
The Compact has lasted for more than 20 years.
In fact, it became the first of many public-private partnerships in Boston in the late 1980s and 1990s—and paved the way for the Boston Plan for Excellence in the Public Schools, the first private endowment to fund public education in the country.

The Significance of City Year

The home page of City Year’s website opens with the engaging challenge, “Young enough to want to change the world—Old enough to do it!” This visionary program, founded in 1988, provides high school and college-age students with the opportunity to devote a year of their lives to rigorous community service and civic engagement. City Year began as privately-funded, non-governmental, non-religious movement. Today, it is a program of Americorps, which was inspired by its innovative model. Every day, it continues to change the world and the way we live in it in significant ways.

City Year is now a program of Americorps, which was inspired by its innovative model

City Year members volunteer in a myriad of social settings, including public schools where they mentor students and organize character development and leadership building programs. City Year volunteers assemble for an annual “Convention of Idealism,” where they share ideas and goals with corporate and civic leaders. They lead moving celebrations of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. each year on the national holiday. In exchange
for these activities and much more, volunteers receive an educational stipend—and a world of experience.

Based on an idea developed by two Harvard Law Students, Alan Khazei and Michael Brown, City Year began with a pilot project in Boston involving 50 members. Its subsequent local success helped the organization grow to its current size: some 8,000 members and alumni, aged 17 to 24 years, spanning 15 cities and 11 million cumulative hours of service. Most recently, groundwork has been laid to expand the program globally to include Johannesburg, South Africa.