On May 1st and 2nd of 2012, the Asset Building Program at the New American Foundation hosted a symposium and ideas summit in Washington, DC to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the publication of Michael Sherraden’s seminal book, Assets and the Poor. Published in 1991, the book challenged the prevailing approach to welfare policy which focused on income maintenance and immediate consumption and as an alternative articulated a perspective which emphasized the role assets play in promoting social development over the life course. The book set the stage for a new way to think about social policy and sparked interest in a wave of novel policy interventions, such as Individual Development Accounts, matched savings initiatives, and universal children’s savings accounts provided at birth.
Sherraden’s insights and the growing interest in asset building policy efforts helped give shape to a growing and influential field of practitioners committed to the asset building approach to social policy. In subsequent years, this “assets perspective” has been particularly valuable in continuing to explore ways that public policy might create new opportunities for families with low incomes and few financial resources to move forward in their lives. In many respects, the asset building field and a growing set of policy prescriptions has remade the way we collectively approach social policy efforts.
The 21st anniversary of the publication of Sherraden’s book offers a unique opportunity to look back on developments within the field to learn from this transformation as well as to look forward to the challenges ahead. Over the two-day symposium, a select group of practitioners, policymakers, funders, and advocates gathered to discuss the current state of the asset building field, examine its impact on social policy efforts, and explore ways to more effectively incorporate the “assets perspective” in future policy efforts. These proceedings are designed to capture the essence of the symposium discussions.
Click here to read the entire symposium proceedings.