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Our History

How we became 2,300+ business leaders improving the current and future workforce through smart investments in the earliest years.

Our History

ReadyNation is an organization of business leaders dedicated to improving the current and future workforce through smart investments in children, youth and their families. We are the preeminent organization of this kind in the U.S. and worldwide. ReadyNation works on issues from early childhood to young adulthood. Our biggest body of work focuses on the earliest months and years of a child’s life when children’s brains and personalities are being formed, parents can be helped most, and investments do the most to improve later job readiness, work productivity and family wellbeing.

Though as a business organization we are only a little more than decade old, our roots run deep into the past. For more than two centuries, American business leaders have seen the value of investing in families, child wellbeing, and education. The means and institutions for doing this have changed over the decades, but the purpose remains the same. Coming out of the late 1800s, for example, it was clear to business leaders that modern manufacturing and science required a better educated society. To answer that need, the steel manufacturing magnate Andrew Carnegie built and endowed libraries across America. By the 1980s, as education research began to point to the value of starting early, Brad Butler, Procter & Gamble’s CEO and board chair, led one of the early studies of workforce preparedness. That 1987 study was among the first to identify the staggering cost of underinvesting in children. “We concluded that most children don’t drop out in high school. They drop out in first grade.” Butler warned that in the 21st century, educationally disadvantaged children would constitute 30% of people entering the workforce. “Each year we wait, we lose another 800,000 kids. We have to start now to fix a problem that will be crushing.” In 1989 and afterward, Honeywell’s CEO, James Renier, championed establishing Success by 6 programs within United Ways across the country. As important as these efforts were, they were not enough.

The problem Butler identified three decades ago has metastasized into a situation in which, according to Defense Department research publicized by our sibling organization Mission: Readiness, approximately 70% of young adults 17 to 24 years-old are unable to qualify to serve in the U.S. armed forces due to a few primary conditions, such as poor education, a history of crime or substance abuse, and obesity. These same young adults are also having a difficult time finding jobs in the mainstream economy because most employers are looking for the same kinds of new employees the armed services want. Businesses need employees with a good basic education and fitness, and who are attentive and alert. Data on the failure to have high school diplomas, clean police records, and reasonable physical fitness are well documented. Now drug dependencies are coming into special focus. In mid-2017, a Denver grocery supplier reported that in some weeks, 90 percent of applicants for jobs in their warehouse tested positive for drugs that make applicants unsafe employees. Quest Diagnostics, a clinical lab that follows national employment trends, reported that job applicants are testing positive for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamine and heroin at the highest rate in 12 years.

To address these challenges, ReadyNation members across the country are stepping forward calling for the kinds of evidence-based initiatives that increase high school graduation rates, improve health, and reduce crime and drug use. In media writings, speeches, testimonies before legislatures and in meetings with legislators and other government officials, ReadyNation members are explaining the workforce and economic benefits of research-based investments across the age span that help children become productive adults, starting in early childhood.

John Pepper, heir to Brad Butler as a former Chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble, continues the tradition of leadership as a national advocate and co-chair of ReadyNation’s CEO Task Force (the other co-chairs are Jack Brennan, former CEO of Vanguard, and Jim Zimmerman, former CEO of Macy’s). As Pepper often points out, in addition to the dollars-and-cents wisdom of investments in early childhood, they are “the social, moral and economic imperative of our time.” Another national leader, Roy J. Bostock, Vice Chairman of the Board of Delta Air Lines and former Chair of Yahoo! Inc., emphasizes, “As a Republican and a business leader, my primary focus is bottom-line results. I care about solutions that work – the kind of policies that transcend ideology. That’s why I’m a proud member of ReadyNation, an organization that advocates for bipartisan, research-based solutions that are proven winners.” Robert Dugger, a ReadyNation founder, former hedge fund partner, and ReadyNation’s Advisory Board chair, explains the priority this way, “Ready-for-life young adults are the most important product our society produces. Without them there is no future. An evidence-based investment that increases the success prospects for one parent and one child, increases prospects for generations.”

ReadyNation is the result of a summer 2003 conference-call decision by James Heckman, a University of Chicago economics professor and Nobel Prize winner; Arthur Rolnick, former Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota research director; and Rob Dugger. In that call, they discussed the roles each could play to increase public awareness of the investment urgency and high economic returns on sound early childhood programs, and decided to support the organization of a working group to rigorously discuss the investment returns on specific programs.

The group was called the “Invest in Kids Working Group” with Dugger serving as its administrator. As described in the group’s ten-year plan, its purpose was to (1) document the microeconomic investment returns on specific early parent and child health and education programs, (2) estimate the macroeconomic benefits of full scale implementation of high-return programs, (3) investigate ways to finance high-return programs, (4) describe the full dimensions of the economic sector that raises children to young adulthood, and (5) determine the best way to use the acquired knowledge in state and national policymaker education efforts.

Soon after the Working Group got underway, Sara Watson of The Pew Charitable Trusts became a regular attendee. Since 2001, Watson had been managing the Trusts’ ground-breaking national campaign to advance quality pre-kindergarten for all American three and four-year olds. A hallmark of the Trusts’ very successful initiative was engaging a wide variety of “unexpected champions” to advocate for pre-k, including business leaders, law enforcement, military, seniors, K-12 educators, physicians and others. A second characteristic was publicizing and commissioning economic research to continue to make the evidence-based case for early learning.

From the original seven people, the Working Group grew to more than 800 people in a year and a half. By the mid-2000s, the Working Group was overseeing a wide range of early childhood research and evolving into a national business advocacy resource. To manage the research more effectively and speed its advocacy development, on January 1, 2006, Dugger and Watson converted the Working Group into a donor-advised project within The Pew Charitable Trusts with Watson as Executive Director. The new group was called the “Partnership for America’s Economic Success” and was funded equally by the Trusts and outside private investors including Dugger. Inside the Trusts, the Partnership completed much of its research, convened numerous national summits on the benefits of early child investment particularly on workforce development, and began to develop a national network specifically designed to identify, recruit and mobilize executives to communicate directly with state and federal policymakers.

In 2007, Council for a Strong America created its second member organization, to mobilize business, called America’s Edge. In 2011, The Pew Charitable Trusts wound down its pre-k campaign, and the Partnership “went public” under the new name of ReadyNation. After a brief affiliation with America’s Promise, ReadyNation re-positioned itself as one of the five organizations within the Council for a Strong America, merging with America’s Edge. Soon thereafter, ReadyNation expanded its policy agenda to include not only early childhood, but also evidence-based programs to improve parent effectiveness, transition from school to work, career and technical education, protecting high education standards, child health, nutrition, child welfare, and other essential initiatives that help children become productive adults.

ReadyNation now has more than 2,300 American business members, and a CEO Task Force on Early Childhood. ReadyNation members have given speeches, testified, met with policymakers and generated hundreds of media pieces, all calling for increasing investments in parents and children to strengthen U.S. competitiveness. In 2018, ReadyNation members participated in campaigns that increased state funding for kids by $1 billion and federal funding by $8 billion.

ReadyNation’s success has been noticed by others and now has a worldwide presence. ReadyNation International assists business leaders in other nations establish business champion organizations in their own countries, starting with Uganda, Romania, Australia and Brazil. In 2015 and 2018, ReadyNation held the first two Global Business Summits on Early Childhood. On January 1, 2019, after exactly 13 years at the helm, Sara Watson stepped down as Global Director of ReadyNation, and was succeeded by Nancy Fishman and Daniel Frank as Co-Global Directors.