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The American Way to Change

How National Service and Volunteers Are Transforming America

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About the book

About the author

Reviews and press coverage

CAP book event

Podcast with Shirley Sagawa (mp3)

Buy the book

About the book

Our nation faces crises in nearly every important aspect of American life—struggling students, poor health, climate change, and limited economic opportunity to name a few. Many people look to government to solve these problems. But while government has an important role, none of these problems can be solved by government alone. In fact, none can be solved without the committed efforts of the American people, taking action on their own or in concert with others.

Service is the American way to change America. Volunteering is on the rise, and there is every reason to believe that more people would serve if only they were asked. The human capital we need to deploy against our biggest challenges is poised and ready.

Unfortunately, service—by volunteers and national service participants—is often left out of the public problem solving tool box. It is time to get serious about solving the problems that are holding us back as a nation by making it possible for ordinary citizens to play a part. We now have the know-how and evidence to support large scale efforts to use service to address our national priorities.

After decades of incremental progress, the United States is at a critical juncture in the history of national service. Across America, national service programs are changing lives, tackling tough problems, creating innovative solutions, and engaging citizens in their communities. With the recently enacted Kennedy Serve America Act, the national service movement is suddenly positioned to achieve significantly greater impact—if we can leverage its true potential and manage this important labor force of volunteers effectively. This book spells out how.

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About the author

Shirley Sagawa is a Visiting Fellow at American Progress. While at American Progress she will develop recommendations for a national service policy through work on a comprehensive book on the topic, a series of white papers addressing how national service can strengthen communities, and conversations with a variety of policy experts on the future of national service. She will consider which types of service would be most valuable to our nation; what we can realistically expect as outcomes of a national service policy; the cost of such a program; and how service can be a strategy to help advance other policy goals.

A national expert on children and youth policy, Shirley Sagawa has been called a “founding mother of the modern service movement” for her work on national service. Her new book, The Charismatic Organization: Eight Ways to Grow a Nonprofit that Builds Buzz, Delights Donors, and Energizes Employees (with co-author Deborah Jospin, Jossey-Bass) describes how successful nonprofits use social capital to broaden their reach and deepen their impact.

Her previous book, Common Interest, Common Good: Creating Value through Business and Social Sector Partnerships (with co-author Eli Segal, Harvard Business School Press) describes how business and social sector organizations can collaborate for mutual gain. Shirley Sagawa was named a “Woman to Watch in the 21st Century” by Newsweek magazine and one of the “Most Influential Working Mothers in America” by Working Mother magazine.

Sagawa has served as a presidential appointee in both the first Bush and Clinton administrations. As Deputy Chief of Staff to First Lady Hillary Clinton, she advised the First Lady on domestic policy and organized three White House Conferences, including the first-ever White House Conference on Philanthropy. As Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, Sagawa was instrumental to the drafting and passage of legislation creating the Corporation for National Service. After being confirmed by the Senate as the Corporation’s first managing director, she led the development of new service programs for adults and students, including AmeriCorps. She also directed strategic planning for this new government corporation.

Sagawa was the founding executive director of the Learning First Alliance, a partnership of national education associations. She has served as the Chief Counsel for Youth Policy for the Senate Labor Committee, where she was responsible for child care, early childhood, and national service policy. She was responsible for drafting the National and Community Service Act of 1990, as well as early childhood legislation. She has also served as senior counsel to the National Women’s Law Center as an expert on children and youth, education, and military family issues.

She currently serves on the board of directors of the National Women’s Law Center, the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, and the Hands On Network, where she co-chairs the AmeriCorps Alums Leadership Council. She also serves on the Aspen Institute’s Nonprofit Sector and Philanthropy Program Council and the Advisory Committee for the Aspen Institute Initiative on Intersectoral Relations.

Shirley Sagawa is the co-founder of sagawa/jospin, a consulting firm that provides strategic counsel to nonprofits working in the fields of civic engagement, youth, philanthropy, education, and law. Her work includes developing, with New Profit, a leading venture philanthropy organization, a national policy agenda for social entrepreneurs.

Sagawa graduated magna cum laude from Smith College. She holds an MSc in Public Policy from the London School of Economics and is a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, where she was notes editor of the Harvard Law Review.

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Reviews and press coverage

Leaders agree: with the many challenges facing America, we are at a critical moment when real change is needed. Service can play a central role in that transformation, and this book spells out how everyone can participate.
–Lisa Paulsen President & Chief Executive Officer, Entertainment Industry Foundation

The stories of everyday people changing the nation through service come to life in this book. Shirley Sagawa has been at the center of service policy for two decades, and if we follow the blueprint she offers, together we can solve the pressing problems of our day.
–Alan Khazei, Founder, Be the Change, Inc., Co-convenor, ServiceNation, Co-Founder, City Year

Shirley Sagawa has written an invaluable how-to book for accomplishing nothing less than the transformation of our nation. Shirley was present at the creation of the America’s Promise Alliance in 1997 and, more significantly, guided its recent "re-invention." If we are effective today, it is because we benefited from the lessons she brings to life in this book.
–Marguerite Kondracke, President and CEO, America’s Promise Alliance

No one has a better sweep of the ways and means Americans can use their power to change the world than Shirley Sagawa. This book highlighting some of the most innovative and successful programs of our time should be read by any policymaker or active citizen who is looking for effective strategies to solve our most critical social problems.
–Senator Harris Wofford, former college president, author of Of Kennedys and Kings, former CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service

Shirley Sagawa is the godmother of national service and volunteerism. In this book, she takes her ideas to the next level and outlines a new approach to national problem solving—one that asks each of us to help reshape America.
–Senator Jeanne Shaheen

This book, by one of the country’s most influential advocates for service, shows how we can improve the quality of life in America’s communities through policies that encourage a lifetime of service.
–Stephen Goldsmith, Chairman of the Corporation for National and Community Service and Author of The Power of Social Innovation

Gone are the days of volunteers just stuffing fundraising envelopes. Sagawa vibrantly showcases our new opportunity to leverage civic energy to make a lasting impact. Policy makers, community leaders and volunteers: this is your roadmap.
–Karen Baker, California’s Secretary of Service and Volunteering

CAP book event

Podcast with Shirley Sagawa (mp3)

Buy the book

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Allison Preiss (economy, education, poverty)
202.478.6331 or apreiss@americanprogress.org

Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, health care, energy and environment, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7141 or tcaiazza@americanprogress.org

Print: Chelsea Kiene (women's issues, Legal Progress, Half in Ten Education Fund)
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Tanya Arditi
202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

TV: Rachel Rosen
202.483.2675 or rrosen@americanprogress.org

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org