A new, more hopeful trajectory for society


The first iteration of the Harwood Institute started 30 years ago out of Rich Harwood's one-bedroom apartment.

As a social enterprise, the focus was to be a lean, nimble organization with an outsized amount of impact. Even as the organization has grown, we continue to hold strong to those core tenants of efficiency and compounding impact.

The Harwood Institute and its Board have made a commitment to work with the hardest-hit, most challenging communities in the country and globally. This is for two reasons. First, we believe that our work is most valuable to those who need it most. Second, our efforts over the past three decades continue to prove that enduring change begins at the local level. These bottom-up, efforts are what create the conditions for larger, systemic change.

Since day one, our impact strategy has been to focus on what matters to the people of local communities. By spreading this emphasis, we produce a new trajectory for society – one with growing momentum for expanded civic confidence and shared responsibility.  

In 30 years, our work has spread to

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30 Year Impact Study

Our organization has always been committed to transparency. We know that people want proof that we follow through on the things we claim to do. Over the past two years, The Harwood Institute has engaged in an excavating our history and consolidating those lessons to help inform our practice. This has sparked a new project based around our impact.

Over the next two years, we are taking the individual pieces of evidence about our success and engaging in a comprehensive impact study of our 30 years of work. Not only are we systematically examining our efforts – for both our successes and failures – but also using that information to continue to improve our work.

We are also opening our books – so to speak. We are allowing a select group of foundation presidents and non-profit leaders to see the entire process, from start-to-finish, including the good, the bad, and the ugly.

We believe it is fundamental that organizations in the social sector be clear on both our intent and efficacy. The Harwood Institute continues to strive towards those goals as a model for success in a field with abnormally high failure rates for organizations.

Highlights of our work

Collective Action in Battle Creek, Michigan

With funding from the Kellogg Foundation, we shifted the community’s civic culture which led to new social and civic enterprises, buildings and healthcare for the immigrant Burmese population and major increases in reading proficiency among kindergartners from 5% to 71% in one year.

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A National Library Movement

We partnered with the American Library Association with Gates Foundation funding to transform 10 libraries to be more relevant and impactful, with an independent evaluation lauding results. Approach now scaling across library systems in Texas, California, Michigan, Indiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Florida and others.

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Healing and Hope in Newtown, Connecticut

Led process to decide the fate of the Sandy Hook School following the 2012 massacre. Guided the community from trauma and despair to healing and hope—and a unanimous decision on the school.

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Strengthening Education in Mobile, Alabama

Partnered with the Mobile Area Education Foundation to bring about long sought-after school transformation, including a school levy passed for the first time in 41 years, re-upped with 87% support; a controversial pay equity system to bring skilled teachers into urban core; and new STEM initiatives. Before efforts, 27% of schools met state standards; four years later, 85%.

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Global United Way Partnership

Partnered with United Way Worldwide to transform United Ways from a funding pass-through to a network that mobilizes communities. More than 250 local United Ways—and many internationally—are now using the Harwood approach, leading UWW CEO Brian Gallagher to refer to our approach as foundational to the future of United Way.

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Rapid Growth in Australia

Partnered with the Local Community Services Association to spread approach to 270 neighborhood centers. Within three years, leaders in 4 of 5 states, the federal government, the country's largest energy company, major funders and the country's largest collective impact initiative are adopting our approach.

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