Babak Armajani, whom everybody called Armi, had big ideas about what government could do. The former Minnsota revenue official and government consultant died unexpectedly on June 3, at age 67. Missing him was all the more reason to go forward with one of his big ideas, reasoned his colleagues at St. Paul-based Public Strategies Group (PSG), which he co-founded.
Armi wanted PSG to initiate an international awards program for government efforts to solve big, seemingly intractable problems. The winners would receive a free week of intensive PSG consulting services, which otherwise might cost upwards of $100,000.
The result is an award called "Catapult!" The first three winners were announced this week. The big thinking they entail would be right up Armi's alley. They aim to:
- Improve early intervention in troubled families to such an extent that foster care for children is no longer needed in an entire city, Baltimore.
- Get more disadvantaged New Mexico students through college with microlending, keeping those students in school and away from predatory lending arrangements.
- Bolster trust in the federal government by educating citizens about its role, via strategies contemplated by For the People Consortium, a project of the Roosevelt Institute, the Center for Effective Government, and Public Works.
"We got a great response," said PSG chief operating officer Jeff Zlonis. "Armi's idea was to encourage people to do really innovative, public-purpose change initiatives that produce measurably better outcomes and that improve people's lives. It couldn't be small stuff."
I asked whether Catapult! received any proposals from Minnesota. No, Zlonis said. About that, I think Armi would shrug in disappointment, and I'd console him with the biblical line about prophets lacking honor in their own country.