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15 Years of Working for Society--From the Heartland

Sagamore Institute is a heartland think tank. That means we prioritize problem solving over debate and we work to ensure opportunity for all of our neighbors. To illustrate, we invite you to explore 15 of our favorite stories from the past 15 years since our founding.


Creating Sagamore with Dan Coats & Jay Hein

In early 2004, as Dan Coats was preparing to return to the United States following his service as US Ambassador to Germany, he and Jay Hein determined that America needed a think tank based in the heartland’s values and geography. In contrast to the noise and rancor coming from Washington, D.C., Sagamore Institute was formed that same year to tackle difficult issues with civility and focus on solutions not ideology.


Empowering Minority Entrepreneurs with Jaylon Smith

NFL’s Jaylon Smith wanted to be a business owner since his pre-teen years in Southeast Fort Wayne, Indiana. However, it wasn’t until he became a world-class athlete that he gained access to capital. As a star linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys, Jaylon is using his NFL platform to close the economic and educational gap for minority entrepreneurs. He calls this his “purpose beyond athletics” and he invited Sagamore to serve as his impact investing platform.


Reforming Welfare with Tommy Thompson

Sagamore co-founder Jay Hein served as a policy aide to Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson (pictured center, with Jay Hein and British leader Ian Duncan Smith) in the 1990s. Hein later wrote The New Wisconsin Idea to describe how Thompson completely overhauled his state’s welfare system, leading to a 90% reduction in welfare assistance and record levels of employment for single mothers. The book also explains how Wisconsin’s model served as the blueprint for the 1996 welfare reforms passed by Congress and inspired similar reforms in the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Germany, and Israel.


Reviving History with Dr. Bill Bennett

Improving education and strengthening citizenship are vital missions of Sagamore Institute. So, it was a great honor when former U.S. Education Secretary Dr. William J. Bennett invited us to be his partner in restoring excellence in U.S. history education. Dr. Bennett’s landmark two-volume series, America: The Last Best Hope, recaptures the conviction about American greatness and purpose. With Sagamore’s help, Dr. Bennett’s textbooks achieved increased adoption in Indiana, and his stories are now being taught to children across the country.


Bringing Farming Excellence to Liberia

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first woman elected president on the continent of Africa. She is also a Harvard trained economist. As she toured the Liberian farm built by Sagamore fellows Gina and Travis Sheets, she exclaimed, “I didn’t believe that a farm of this quality was even possible in my country.” The Sheets created their farm to be an agricultural beacon and training facility to uplift the national economy.


Increasing Peace in the Middle East

Since Jimmy Carter forged the Camp David Accords with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1978, the world has expected peace in the Middle East to come from political agreement. Forty years later, a diplomatic solution remains elusive. Sagamore has been privileged to help fill this gap through a partnership with the Israeli-Palestinian Economic Forum and its efforts to build businesses co-employing otherwise rivals in the West Bank.


Expanding Educational Opportunity

Every year in Indiana, Sagamore serves 70 schools, 1000 donors, and 1200 students with the Scholarships for Education Choice program. Through Indiana’s 50% tax-credit program, donors have given more than $40 million dollars to provide opportunities for low and middle-income families to choose a private school where their children can thrive. Through our J1-Visa Program, administered by the U.S. State Department, Sagamore is helping schools across the nation meet the teacher shortage, giving international teachers good jobs, and students a better education. In downtown Indianapolis, Sagamore formed operating partnerships with a classical, liberal-arts charter high school called Herron and teacher-mentor program called Elevate. These two innovations demonstrate that educational excellence is possible in every zip code.


Helping Ex-Felons Thrive

America has 5% of the world’s population and yet 25% of the world’s prison population. The mass incarceration problem derived from bipartisan get-tough-on-crime laws in the 1990s and only slowed with President George W. Bush’s restorative justice policies 10 years later. Today, the Prison Entrepreneurship Program is one of America’s leading reentry programs. 100% of the 2500 PEP graduates were employed within 90 days of release, and 400 of those started their own businesses. Sagamore was tasked with helping scale PEP’s model nationally and creating a venture fund to invest in alumni businesses.


Honoring the Navajo "Code Talkers"

Putting ideas into action is Sagamore’s sine qua non. As a think tank, we are in the ideas business. As a heartland think tank, we realize that ideas without action are meaningless. As such, we created the Celebrating American Ideas Award to honor the most inspiring examples of those who took an idea and changed the course of history. The inaugural winner was the Navajo “Code Talkers” who helped win World War II by using an unwritten language to create the only military code never broken by an enemy.


Promoting the "Mitch Daniels Playbook"

Mitch Daniels is an exemplary heartland reformer. Sagamore fellows worked alongside Mitch and memorialized his successful welfare, education, and finance reforms in a playbook called The Indiana Way. Lead author Ryan Streeter also created The Aspiration Agenda to illuminate a pathway to Midwestern economic competitiveness.


Revitalizing Indianapolis' Downtown

In the 1970s, Indianapolis mayor Richard Lugar, his successors, and other civic leaders chose sports as the pathway to revitalize the city’s economy. The signature success of this strategy was the 2012 Super Bowl, which highlighted economic development efforts and opened a new chapter in neighborhood revitalization. Sagamore researched the history, convened many of the leaders, created common language, and co-produced a documentary to tell this remarkable story.


Helping the Church Produce Common Good

Senior Fellow Amy L. Sherman, Ph.D., runs Sagamore’s Center on Faith in Communities, which inspires, educates, and equips the Christian community for the work of mercy and justice among the poor. The author of six books and over 80 articles and essays, Sherman is best known for her book, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, which won honors as Christianity Today’s 2011 Book of the Year, in the Christian Living category.


Protecting the Warfighter and the Democratic Order

Sagamore has hosted the National Center for Complex Operations to advance new technologies to support America’s warriors,  and Senior Fellow Alan Dowd writes regularly on America’s role in the world through our Center for America’s Purpose. Vice Admiral Mike Bucchi (pictured here) serves as a Sagamore board member helping to advance our national security agenda.


Building Better Citizens

Our nation was founded on the idea that citizens should be at the center of the American Experiment. That means citizens need to be informed and engaged for our democracy to survive and thrive. To that end, Sagamore hosts the annual Indiana Conference on Citizenship where, together, we explore ways to build and become better citizens.


Sagamore in the Nation's Service

Sagamore board members and staff have left the heartland to spend a season of service in Washington DC or other global posts and then returned home.

Dan Coats, Co-Founder | Director of National Intelligence, US Ambassador to Germany, US Senator & House of Representatives

Deborah Daniels, President 2006-08 | US Assistant Attorney General

Jay Hein, President 2004-06, 09-Present | Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives

Don Eberly, Senior Fellow | White House & State Department

James T. Morris, Board Member | Executive Director of the UN World Food Program

Ryan Streeter, Senior Fellow | US Department of Housing and Urban Development, White House Domestic Policy Council, Special Assistant to the President

Dr. Leslie Lenkowsky, Board Member | CEO of Corporation for National and Community Service

Dr. Carol D’Amico, Board Member | Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education, US Department of Education