At the 2023 Aspen VisionXChange, 80 visionary Aspen Institute Ascend Fellows — a group of innovative leaders across the country who disrupt the status quo and co-create solutions, reaching over 12 million families annually — came together with other changemakers from across the country and across Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. Over the course of three days, they shared their dreams, demonstrated disruption as a lever for positive change, and reveled in the delight of a shared vision of all our children and families thriving.
“People who have been impacted by challenges often have the best insights and motivations to solve them. Putting these leaders at the decision-making table opens up new ways to solve old problems. At Ascend, we know leadership lies in all of us. Ascend was founded at the Aspen Institute to swing for the fences and play to win. It’s time to flip the script from celebrating the family that beat the odds to changing the rules of the game so that all families are able to achieve their dreams.” – Anne Mosle, Executive Director, Ascend at the Aspen Institute
Ascend at the Aspen Institute works to spark and spread breakthroughs in intergenerational family prosperity and well-being. The program’s gathering — more than a decade in the making — united a diverse set of leaders to connect and lend unique perspectives to each other’s work. Whether in healthcare spaces, schools, or family homes, Ascend believes that advancing economic mobility and well-being in communities means leading with these key approaches:
Dreaming is integral to our humanity and progress.
Throughout the event, participants were given the space to dream of a world where systems of care, economic inclusion, mental and maternal health, and justice infrastructure are built to bolster us, not stand in our way. And even when the changes to transform our systems seem out of reach, Ascend believes we have to embrace our moral imagination to stand up to the naysayers and bend that proverbial arc towards justice.
To dig into this idea more, participants engaged with fellow visionaries including St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and Millennial Action Project President and CEO Layla Zaidane, who discussed what it will take to transform American politics and bridge divides. In another inspiring session, Indigenous leaders explored what early childhood and education could look like — and how it would improve the wellness of the next generation — if each person was more connected to their family, community, and culture.
Transformation won’t come from the top.
The power of a strong collective voice is the real catalyst for growth, and creating vibrant and thriving communities is the foundation on which systems change is scaled. In order to realize a vision for a healthier, more fulfilled, and more connected society, each of us must focus on taking better care of ourselves and those around us. At VisionXChange, family was front-and-center as participants listened to leaders like Leseliey Welch, Co-Founder of Birth Detroit and Birth Center Equity, about welcoming new life gently and grounded in community. In another session, panelists contemplated the dreams we all have for our children, and asked “What do we do differently when we recognize everyone is deserving, that parents do the best they can in challenging circumstances, and that children thrive when they’re with those who love them?” In a discussion about opportunity, financial and philanthropic innovators discussed how to change the flow of capital to lift families out of poverty.
Thriving is impossible in survival mode.
We are worthy of joy, safety, and connectedness to each other. Ascend believes that getting there means overcoming intergenerational trauma, rethinking systems, and building better networks of support. VisionXChange participants envisioned strong mental health as a way of life in our systems and communities, and not as a topic only tackled during a crisis. They also discussed centering joy on the Black birthing experience, improving early childhood educational outcomes, and using wealth as fuel to uplift marginalized communities and create sustainable and lasting change.
Improving the world starts within ourselves. By co-creating the solutions discussed at VisionXChange and continuing to build momentum across sectors, Ascend Fellows will move the needle and transform hearts, minds, policies, and practices in communities.
Watch a recorded session from the event and join Ascend as a dreamer and doer in building a better tomorrow.