Xavier de Souza Briggs

Professor Emeritus

Xavier (Xav) de Souza Briggs is a senior fellow at Brookings Metro. He is also a senior advisor and co-founder of What Works Plus, a collaborative of philanthropic donors promoting equity and resilience through America’s generational investments in infrastructure and climate action.

Known for his wide range of interests and track record of building and reshaping fields, Briggs is an expert on economic opportunity and inclusive growth, racial equity and pluralism, housing, urban and regional development, and democratic governance in the U.S. and abroad. Briggs has testified before Congress on several of these topics. An award-winning educator and researcher, he is also an experienced manager in philanthropy and government.

His recent work at Brookings has focused on inclusive markets, good jobs, equitable climate action, and tangible ways to advance equity in the way government works. He has helped catalyze public conversation about: how big federal bets on “new industrial policy” can generate real and lasting economic benefits for the workers and communities that need it most; the power of equity impact analysis to help government serve everyone more effectively and regenerate public trust; lessons of the pandemic economy about how to make worker-centered innovation the new default in business; the importance of a “one fair wage” minimum for businesses as well as their workers and local economies; the need to address a disconnect between changing racial attitudes and institutional change in America; the urgency of engaging communities and investing in “shovel-worthy” infrastructure, not just “shovel-ready” projects, to ensure that historic federal investments expand access to wellbeing and promote equity; what a more democratic and equitable federalism would require and what it would mean for America’s future; and how to develop successful communities of practice, to drive learning, collaboration, and better outcomes, in and around the public sector.

Briggs’ books include The Geography of Opportunity: Race and Housing Choice in Metropolitan America, which won planning’s top book award; Democracy as Problem Solving: Civic Capacity in Communities Across the Globe, a four-nation comparative study and finalist for the C. Wright Mills Prize for best scholarly book on a social problem, and Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Povertywinner of the Louis Brownlow Award. His views have appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, CNN, FortunePlanning magazine, and other major media, in English and in Spanish.

In 2020, he served as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Business, Public Service and Sociology at New York University and was a volunteer on the Biden-Harris Transition Team, conducting agency reviews, serving on the volunteer interviewer corps, and advising on business recovery, climate action, racial equity, worker empowerment, improving government effectiveness, philanthropic partnerships, and other issues.

Prior to joining Brookings, Briggs served for six years as vice president of the Ford Foundation, redesigning and managing its inclusive economies and markets work globally along with regional program teams based in China, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. He led the foundation’s efforts to develop an actionable framework for understanding and challenging the drivers of inequality in our world, and also to build the field of impact investing and commit $1 billion of endowment assets, the largest-ever for a private foundation, for that purpose. He served on the executive committee of the board of Living Cities, a consortium of America’s largest private foundations and financial companies.

Previously, Briggs was professor of sociology and urban planning in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he launched the popular open-source tools of the Community Problem Solving Project and Working Smarter in Community Development and served as head of MIT’s Housing, Community, and Economic Development Group. From January 2009 to August 2011, he helped run the White House Office of Management and Budget, as program associate director handling policy, budget, and management issues for roughly half the cabinet agencies of the federal government and many independent agencies.

Earlier in his career, Briggs worked as a community planner in six low-income neighborhoods of the South Bronx, leading a project team that centered racial and economic equity and sustainable investment and won the American Planning Association’s top national award; a senior policy official at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he helped negotiate the redevelopment of public housing and lead the design of new economic development programs to generate impact investment in low-income rural and urban communities and of federal support for more sustainable regional growth and land use; and a faculty member at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Briggs currently serves on the boards of the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral SciencesDemos, the Global Impact Investing NetworkJUST Capital, and One Fair Wage, as well as the steering committee for the nonpartisan Resilience Roadmap Project. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Public Administration. Briggs was a Rotary Scholar in Brazil; he holds an engineering degree from Stanford University, an MPA from Harvard, and a PhD in sociology and education from Columbia University.