National developments over the recent weeks and months accurately point to the fact that our society requires new directions. Major issues exist in intergroup relations as reflected in the incidents that generated the Black Lives Matter Movement; in the recruitment of our young as ISIS fighters; in the broad scale availability of pistols and assault rifles in our communities; in the economic insecurity of working class Americans; in the engagement of our children and persons with disabilities in our criminal justice system; and in the inability of our major political institutions to function effectively, to name just a few. Clearly, we do need new directions to cope with and address these intractable social and cultural problems.
If we are to begin to address these problems, we must improve our human and social capital. Thus, we need to propose a plan to our next president that seeks to address foundational issues—grand challenges—with our human and social capital. The following represents a first effort to outline such a plan.
What are the fundamental problems confronting America’s human and social capital today? These are the things that influence how happy or unhappy we are with our lives, how motivated or unmotivated we are in our work, and how energetic or flagging we are in our communities.
Over the past three years, the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW) has developed a set of 12 Grand Challenges that define fundamental problems with the human and social capital in American society today (here).The Academy has posed these 12 issues as challenges for the social work field, and has initiated a project around each one. I would like to pose them as fundamental problems for all of us collectively.
The 12 Grand Challenges are organized into three clusters—those that address health, those that address well-being, and those that address equity. Each of the clusters encompasses four challenges.
Health. The goal of this cluster is to improve the health of our community populations across the entire life cycle. The four specific challenges are:
- Ensure healthy development for youth
- Stop family violence
- Close the health gap
- Advance long and productive lives
Well-being. This cluster seeks to improve the well-being of our community populations. The four specific challenges are:
- Eradicate social isolation
- End homelessness
- Create social responses to a changing environment
- Harness technology for social good
Equity. This cluster seeks to improve equity for our community populations. The four related challenges are:
- Reduce extreme economic inequality
- Build financial capability for all
- Promote smart decarceration
- Achieve equal opportunity and justice
Let me be so bold as to suggest that health, well-being, and equity of our community populations ought to become the foundational domestic agenda for our next President.
All three are foundational issues in all societies; each is a particular challenge in the United States at the present time.