Shirley Sagawa

Senior Fellow


Shirley Sagawa

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Shirley Sagawa is a visiting senior fellow at American Progress. 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 American Way to Change, highlights ways that volunteer and national service is an important but underutilized strategy to solve problems in American communities.

Sagawa 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.

Sagawa’s previous 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. An earlier work, 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. She blogs regularly for The Huffington Post.

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. She currently serves on the boards of directors of the National Women’s Law Center, City Year, and Pyramid Atlantic.

Sagawa graduated magna cum laude from Smith College. She holds an M.Sc. 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.

Latest by Shirley Sagawa

Service as a Strategy Report
Then-Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds the hand of Nikita McFarland, a student at Isles YouthBuild Institute, Friday, February 29, 2008, in Trenton, New Jersey. (AP/Mel Evans)

Service as a Strategy

At a time when resources are limited and civic groups and public sector agencies need innovative approaches to meet community needs, national and volunteer service offers a cost-effective strategy to address pressing problems facing these entities.

Shirley Sagawa

The Great Public-Service Talent Search Report
National service is an ideal vehicle to connect with underutilized talent groups, including youth, retirees, veterans, and parents returning to the workforce—individuals who often express an interest in service. (AP/Rogelio V. Solis)

The Great Public-Service Talent Search

While a multifaceted approach is needed to address human resource issues in public service, the strategic expansion of national service has much to contribute to the development of “talent” in the helping fields.

Joy Moses, Shirley Sagawa

Boosting Youth Employment Article

Boosting Youth Employment

Shirley Sagawa explains why federal programs to help American youth enter the workforce and serve our country are key to our national economic competitiveness.

Shirley Sagawa

How Quickly Can National Service Grow? Report
Our City Forest AmeriCorps members hit the streets to doorknock in San Jose neighborhoods, encouraging residents to apply for their free street tree though the Trees for All program. (Flickr/Our City Forest)

How Quickly Can National Service Grow?

National service programs have shown that they can grow quickly while maintaining quality, and they have plenty of room to keep expanding, reports Shirley Sagawa.

Shirley Sagawa

Why We Need to Help Unemployed Youth Article
Then-Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds the hand of Nikita McFarland, a student at Isles YouthBuild Institute, Friday, February 29, 2008, in Trenton, New Jersey. (AP/Mel Evans)

Why We Need to Help Unemployed Youth

A new study finds teen employment at a historic low, and this should be a wake-up call for investing in youth service programs, writes Shirley Sagawa.

Shirley Sagawa

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