With rising income inequality frequently cited as a major social issue in need of new solutions, calls for new thinking are emerging from every quarter.
The latest proposal for innovative solutions comes from The Alliance for the American Dream, an initiative of Schmidt Futures, which has granted $1.5 million to the University of Utah “to solicit and develop ideas for ensuring a vibrant middle class in America.”
The Alliance’s starting point is that “a healthier and larger middle class reduces income disparity and provides enhanced opportunity and economic mobility.”
Its initial challenge has a specific, concrete charge: the university will work with other individuals and groups throughout Utah “with the intent to increase net income for 10,000 of the state’s middle-class households by 10 percent by 2020” by using new technology and policy ideas.
“This project, which will bring together students, faculty, staff and the community, aligns perfectly with our role as the state’s flagship institution,” said President Ruth V. Watkins. “As a top-tier research university, we recognize and embrace our duty to make positive, real and lasting contributions to our state. We are excited to see what promising ideas come forward to improve our community and provide equitable access to opportunity and prosperity.”
Why the University of Utah? The school’s ability to involve a wide range of community and campus partners was noted as a specific strength during the selection process.
Also, Eric Schmidt, the founder of Schmidt Futures, lived in the state in the 1990s. Schmidt is now a technical advisor to Alphabet Inc., a member of its board of directors and its former executive chairman. (Alphabet Inc. is the parent company of Google.)
“We are happy to welcome the University of Utah as an inaugural partner in the Alliance for the American Dream,” Schmidt said. “Utah looks like quite different than when I lived here in the 1990s, and yet many of the features that made it a great place to do business then continue today — an energized and giving population, an innovation mindset and a willingness to pilot new policies and ideas.”
The school says it will launch a process in coming weeks to solicit ideas from throughout the state by late fall. Ten proposals will be selected; each will receive up to $10,000 to further develop the idea.
A broad-based local advisory board will select the three best technology and policy ideas from that group. Each of the three proposals will be eligible for an additional award of up to $30,000 to aid in refining the idea.
The university will work with the final three teams by providing access to facilities, and connections to resources and faculty. The school will then forward those proposals to the Alliance, which will provide up to $1 million in additional support to the best ideas that emerge from across the nation.
“The conversations the Alliance will engage in are timely and important as we look toward further diversifying our economy,” said Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox. “This initiative will help us develop critical infrastructure for continued economic growth in our state.”