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Updated: 2 hours 55 min ago

Why Equity? Three Insights from Dallas’ Facing Race Conference

Fri, 2014-11-21 09:44

Most of us remember Charles “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who miraculously landed his plane on the Hudson River in January 2009 after his engine was disabled by a flock of birds.

As flight control attempted to provide assistance, Sully disabled communications and simply said, “It’s my plane – I’m going to land it.” As a result of his courage and focus, he saved the lives of every person on board his plane.

This story popped into my head as I reflected on my experiences last week at the 2014 Facing Race conference in Dallas, and the conversations we regularly have with communities as they address racial inequality in their local education systems. Just as Sully had the courage to take control of his plane, we all must be committed to having the courage to focus on fighting inequality and help pilot our communities in the right direction.

As an African-American person of color, I was thrilled to join over 1,000 of my peers from around the country at the Facing Race conference and to learn how to greater incorporate race and equity conversations into my work with cradle to career partnerships. I took away some key lessons to share with others who have the courage to battle inequality:

1) Equity is not just an education issue, it’s an economic one.

As an African-American male, I have experienced first-hand the devastating effects of institutionalized racism. I have also experienced the transformative power of an education, and how access to a high-quality education can help people of color overcome our history of institutional racism.

However, I believe that approaching equity from an educational perspective that “we need more high-performing students of color” misses the bigger picture. It is not only important to support students of color with access to the knowledge and resources of a high-quality education to become productive citizens of society. Our failure to do this also has global implications for our country.

Were you aware that China recently graduated more high school seniors with the equivalent of a perfect score on the SAT than the total number of American high school graduates?

Let that statistic sink in for a moment.

It is clear, that if America wants to continue to compete globally, we need to provide every student with the opportunity to learn and succeed academically. If we do not, our ability to create/innovate the world’s greatest products, tools and processes will be vastly outpaced by other countries.

2) We need to understand the power of language.

It is no surprise to many of us that language carries an immense amount of power. It has the power to bring people together as well as tear people apart.

One workshop I attended at the Facing Race conference focused on how, in relation to race, language is particularly important for individuals as well as communities. For example, some have found it appropriate to label undocumented immigrants as “illegal aliens,” or to veil low-income, African-Americans as “the urban poor.” These labels are especially harmful when they are followed by generalizations, such as “if only the urban poor worked harder” or “got a job.”

In order to use language as a tool to build, it is important to first seek to understand, and then to be understood. What are the causes of urban poverty? Could there be factors outside of an individual’s current situation that have contributed to it? Often times, asking these questions provide a path to a solution, as opposed to making an assumption or providing a blanket solution as a result of your own personal experience or opinions.

3) If we want to turn the tide, we need all hands on deck.

For many of my non-black/brown friends, the subject of race can be very difficult. After all, you didn’t “own any slaves” nor have you been “explicitly racist.” However, our ability to overcome our history of institutionalized racism and its present-day implications (note: racism still exists) is the responsibility of not just people of color, but every person who believes in justice.

As I again reflect on the story of pilot Sullenberger, my belief is confirmed that everyone can be a pilot for change in their community, and each of us need embrace a deep-seated commitment to equity if we are to be a part of the solution.

It’s not about the coffee…

Thu, 2014-11-20 13:57

“I don’t care what you do – make coffee, create widgets, work in education – it’s about serving people who need us. That’s what it’s really about.”

During a visit with the StriveTogether team yesterday, former president of Starbucks Coffee Company North America and Starbucks Coffee International Howard Behar told us he realized this the minute he joined the company in 1989. Howard’s leadership helped establish the company’s “people before profits” culture, and build the Starbucks brand worldwide. “It’s not about the Coffee” is now the title of his leadership book, and a key message in his regular speaking engagements on organizational and personal leadership.

In advance of Howard’s visit, the StriveTogether team prepared a few questions to ask him (and grabbed a Starbucks coffee, of course). We were prepared to pick his brain on leadership methods and take away some lessons to build upon in our work with communities.

However, we found out right away that Howard wanted to talk about our country’s education system. He also had a few questions prepared for the StriveTogether team. “Every single day, somewhere, there’s an article about education,” Howard said. “Somewhat naively, I thought, ‘How hard can it be to have a child ready to read at third grade?’”

To help answer his question, he started getting involved in his home state of Washington. Howard talked to superintendents, teachers, parents and students. He asked them, what does it take to make sure all third graders are proficient? And what is keeping us from getting this done? While they all had similar answers to these questions, it was clear to Howard was that this work is not simple or easy.

Continuing his exploration, Howard wanted to hear what the StriveTogether team thought based on experience working with communities trying to change their education systems to improve outcomes for every child. A few key insights emerged from the discussion:

  • This is not an education problem. It is a challenge of leadership and management.
  • Partners must come together around a common goal and be accountable for results.
  • If we want to change the system, we need to engage the people who represent all children we are trying to help.
  • Results cannot be achieved without building and maintaining trust between all partners.
  • Data should be used as a roadmap for how to improve, not a way to place blame.

For Howard, it was not all about the coffee. It is all about taking care of people, and caring enough to listen to what they have to say and ask how they feel. Whether you’re working to change education systems in your community, or growing a major multinational corporation, this message is a great reminder for all of us. We can go nowhere without taking care of each other.

If only it were that easy

Thu, 2014-11-20 10:12

“If it smells bad, can’t we just throw it out?”

Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, a well-known civil rights activist since the 1960s, asked this question about racial inequality to more than 1,600 people gathered in Dallas last week for the Facing Race 2014 Race Forward conference.

We all know racial inequality metaphorically smells bad. Most of us recognize the smell, but how often do we ask someone else if they smell it, too? What would happen if we turned to our neighbors, educators, or leaders and simply asked them if they noticed something that didn’t smell quite right? And what if we decided, like we do when the milk goes sour, to just throw it out?

If only it were that easy.

As StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members are actively exploring the critical role of equity in improving student education outcomes, our team was excited to attend Facing Race last week and participate in a forum to learn and share experiences. It was an honor to join seasoned professionals and emerging organizers with a passion for racial justice to discuss solutions for inequality. I was struck by the wide net cast in support of racial equity – women, men, white, black, Latino, Asian, indigenous, LGBTQ were all represented.

As a white person, this was my first opportunity to engage in discussions around systemic and institutionalized racism using a lens colored with privilege I’ve rarely thought much about. It required me to lean in to discomfort and address realities that sometimes feel easier to ignore.

Dr. Reagon’s question about throwing out racial inequality continues to stick with me. If only eliminating racial inequality was as easy as tossing it out with yesterday’s garbage.  At the most basic level, this makes complete sense. When our food begins to rot or we smell something acrid, we identify it and figure out how to make it stop.

It will take time, commitment and dedicated action to begin to break down structural barriers and systems that perpetuate the racial inequity problem. During the Facing Race conference, the Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC) shared a frame for addressing structural racism using a systems thinking approach. As StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members work toward eliminating local education disparities in their communities by changing systems, this model felt particularly poignant.

The systems thinking approach requires a deep dive into the multifaceted layers that make up our institutions, systems and communities. When a racial injustice is identified, using a systems frame requires that we determine the systemic cause by exploring existing patterns, underlying structures, conscious or unconscious biases and core cultural or institutional values. To truly throw out racial inequality, we must understand and challenge the most fundamental beliefs and behaviors that keep our systems in place.

At Facing Race, Jaime-Jin Lewis of Border Crossers said that we should “call people in, not call people out.” That’s what systems change work requires – the ability to bring together people from all walks of life, with different backgrounds, experiences and expertise, to effectively facilitate discussions rooted in equity. As communities grapple with racial inequalities in education, it can feel comfortable to address gaps solely through disaggregating data; this is indeed an important first step. For sustainable systems change, the next more difficult step is to call people to the table in authentic and engaging conversations. We have to have the courage to ask each other – if we smell something that doesn’t sit quite right, can we just throw it out?

The true challenge of change

Fri, 2014-11-14 10:33

“Strong fields have strong standards.”

A national thought leader I recently met with to discuss our work said this to me, and it immediately hit home. We are working hard to establish standards, and have been speaking and writing about how to define quality collective impact a lot lately.

Last month, Deputy US Secretary of Education Jim Shelton joined us for “Communities Defining Quality Collective Impact,” a webinar about the collective impact approach StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members are using to improve education outcomes across the country. During the webinar, Shelton agreed with our push toward rigorous, data-driven collective impact and said that communities working on federal place-based initiatives will “have to adopt quality collective impact of this sort in order to succeed at scale.” [Read our Top 10 webinar quotes to find out what else Jim Shelton and other panelists had to say.]

We could not agree more and will continue this push to quality, requiring members of the national StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network to meet foundational quality benchmarks and demonstrate progress over time.

But it takes more than standards to succeed. Our ability to demonstrate the power of collective impact will not happen through the technical standards that emerge. Success will only happen if communities truly own the standards and the change in behaviors the standards will require on a daily basis.

As evident by the questions we received during the October 8th webinar, local leaders in communities across the country are very interested in the technical aspects of how to move collective impact efforts forward. But few are wrestling with the adaptive challenges that will determine if true change can stick:

  • What needs to change to get organizations in different sectors – philanthropic, non-profit and education – to use data each and every day to make decisions?
  • How will the community respond in new and compelling ways to the dramatic disparities the data will uncover?
  • How can new community voices engage in scaling what works to overcome ideological education battles?

It is the responses to questions like these that will determine if we are successful long-term with collective impact. As Deputy Secretary Shelton said during the webinar, we will be successful if we have the courage to face and answer the tough questions as individuals and partners.

Technical standards will emerge and are important for making collective impact a strong field. Communities like Dallas, Texas and Portland, Oregon who joined us for the webinar will keep working every day and sharing what is working in their communities to shape standards for others to model. But the true key to success in education-focused collective impact work will be whether we actually embrace how these standards challenge us to change what we do every day to ensure the success of every child, every step of the way.


Order the free recording of “Communities Defining Quality Collective Impact” to learn more about the StriveTogether collective impact approach and hear stories about how cross-sector partnerships on-the-ground are implementing innovative approaches to support the unique needs of every child.



A Deep Dive into Community Engagement: Discussion and Tips from the City Heights Partnership for Children

Fri, 2014-11-07 10:18

Guest blog post by Tia Anzellotti with City Heights Partnership for Children

How do you define community?

It’s a big, important question asked of attendees at the 2014 StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network Convening at the “Deep Dive” session led by the City Heights Partnership for Children. The session was focused on promoting authentic community, family and parent engagement.

Defining community is a question that can determine the best way to work with a community and a shared vision and goals.

Luckily, we had a group of very vocal attendees from diverse communities across the U.S. who were eager to answer this question. We divided the attendees by table, provided them with large sheets of paper and markers, and encouraged them to answer these three questions:

  1. What vision do you have for your community?
  2. How do you define community – in work and personally? Is this different? If so, how?
  3. Who comprises your community?

What we found is that although we all work in disparate areas of the country and in unique environments, there were common themes identified around the concept of “community.” These themes lined up with the community engagement tips shared by the panel of City Heights Partnership for Children staff and parent leaders who presented at the session:

Theme 1: Turn outward. Community means inclusion and equity. It means co-ownership

Example: United Way of San Diego County’s CJ Robinson explained how the nonprofit uses the Harwood approach, hosting community conversations and listening without presumptions or prejudices. The qualitative data gathered from hearing directly from the community during these conversations is as important as the quantitative data from community demographics to determine needs and goals.

Theme 2: Build relationships. The idea that “It takes a village to raise a child” is rooted in community. Everyone involved must be invested – establishing partnerships and connecting the dots

Example: The Partnership for Children’s Torrey Albertazzi emphasized that engaging parents cannot just be about “checking off” their attendance at a meeting or event. It’s important to know who they are: Does a mother need a Vietnamese interpreter or translated materials? Does the parent care most about increasing literacy or attendance? What are the names of their children, and what sports do they play? Establishing relationships with parents and other community members is critical as you get them involved.

Theme 3: Take action! Community is about people taking action. What’s already working and how can we expand it?

Example: Parent leader Yolanda Chilapa spoke about the success of the Partnership for Children’s Literacy Toolkits that helped parents prepare their incoming kindergartners for school. Some parents lamented that they had not done these activities such as reading along and journal writing with their older children. Chilapa told them, “It’s never too late to begin.”

Theme 4: Own your role. Everyone has an important role to play. The roles will look different; for example, what a healthcare worker would do versus what a parent would do, but everyone has something to contribute. Ask community members for their thoughts, create spaces for them to raise their voice and show them that their voice is valued

Example: Noemi Corona, a City Heights parent leader, passionately explained that she is involved in so many groups in order to make a difference in the lives of her four daughters. She wants to show them the importance of participating and creating change, so they can proudly say, “My mom was there.”

As one attendee noted, there is “no finish line to engagement” – it is an ongoing exercise and process to keep everyone motivated, heard and focused on real, sustained systems change.


Tia Anzellotti is the director of partnerships for City Heights Partnership for Children, anchored by United Way of San Diego County. The City Heights Partnership for Children is supporting every child, every step of the way to ensure the children of City Heights, and ultimately the San Diego region, are supported and successful from cradle to career or college.

New books tell cradle to career collective impact story

Wed, 2014-11-05 09:01

Community leaders, investors, educators and students of social change have two new books to reference on collective impact. “Striving Together” and “Smart Cities” hit store shelves this fall, and both tell a similar story about data-driven collective impact as the critical path to improving community-wide education outcomes.

Striving Together

“Striving Together,” one of the nation’s first collective impact books, was co-authored by Jeff Edmondson, Managing Director of StriveTogether, and Nancy L. Zimpher, State University of New York Chancellor and Chair of StriveTogether’s National Advisory Board.

The book explores the history, lessons and transformative effects of collective impact and the beginnings of the national StriveTogether initiative. “Striving Together” tells the story of how a diverse group of community leaders across sectors came together to institute a rigorous approach to improving education as a system. This gathering of leaders was the genesis of the StrivePartnership, which served as the inspiration for the theory of collective impact.

“Our stories – and the experiences of others in Portland, Richmond, Seattle and Houston – are chronicled in Striving Together so that no community ever has to start from scratch again,” said Edmondson. “The StriveTogether framework helps community partnerships renew their civic infrastructure and create a better future for kids in and out of school, and this book is the story of how it all started. We were fortunate to work with a formidable group of leaders who were deeply committed to a common vision for improved student outcomes.”

Learn more and purchase Striving Together

Smart Cities that Work for Everyone:  7 Keys to Education & Employment

This new book by Tom Vander Ark, founder of education advocacy firm, Getting Smart, includes insights from over 50 thought leaders on seven keys to improving education and economic outcomes:

  1. Innovation Mindset
  2. Sustained Leadership
  3. Talent Development
  4. Collective Impact
  5. Aligned Investment
  6. New Tools and Schools
  7. Advocacy and Policy

Jeff Edmondson of StriveTogether and Greg Landsman of StrivePartnership in Greater Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky contributed to the “Smart Cities” conversation as part of the chapter on collective impact and a recent Getting Smart blog post, Quality Collective Impact = Impactful Innovation. “Collective impact, done well and with rigor, can help us form smarter cities,” Edmondson and Landsman wrote. “It can do this by helping us continue to iterate on what already works, while focusing efforts to innovate on where communities actually face clear gaps.”

Learn more and purchase Smart Cities

Federal investment in collective impact can scale education reform

Mon, 2014-11-03 19:00

The StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network has grown to more than 50 partnerships in 28 states and Washington, D.C., and it’s apparent that people are noticing the potential the Theory of Action and our collective impact approach have in changing outcomes for kids.

Throughout the last six months, we’ve had wonderfully productive and insightful conversations not only with the communities throughout the Cradle to Career Network, but also with the U.S. Department of Education, the White House and other federal policymakers. During our recent Communities Defining Quality Collective Impact webinar, Jim Shelton, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Education said communities working on federal place-based initiatives will “have to adopt quality collective impact of this sort in order to succeed at scale.”  We couldn’t agree more.

As our approach grows in popularity and effectiveness, we need to develop a collective advocacy agenda to help support all Cradle to Career Network partnerships in their inspiring work on the ground and to help these successes grow and build momentum across the country.

To do that, KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of National Policy Lillian Pace and I have released a paper that calls policymakers to action. “Improving Student Outcomes through Collective Impact: A Guide for Federal Policymakers” focuses on our unique, rigorous collective impact approach, the potential we have to impact federal education reform, and our recommendations for the federal government in aligning resources to support the work.

As the largest investor of our nation’s education system, the federal government is in a unique position to help scale our work. We encourage policymakers to invest resources in communities that have formed collective impact partnerships, such as those in the Cradle to Career Network. We encourage the federal government to work together with communities toward a shared agenda, while strategically allocating resources, carefully monitoring the work, and evaluating the progress in those investments.

We need to rally our leaders to support our work. We need their help in tearing down barriers that slow us down. We need support from Washington, D.C., in aligning goals and coordinating funding streams so we can work, collectively, to change outcomes for kids throughout the entire country.


How you can help:

  • Contact your elected officials and federal policymakers. Tell them about the work you’re doing and the outcomes you’re seeing.
  • Share our Guide for Federal Policymakers paper with your partners and on social media. Get the word out.

Quality Collective Impact in Action: City Heights Partnership for Children

Wed, 2014-10-29 20:00

Albany. Anchorage. Cincinnati. Dallas. Milwaukee. Portland. San Diego. Seattle.

These are just eight of the close to 50 communities across the U.S. that are bringing education, non-profit, business, philanthropy, government and community partnerships together to focus on improving education outcomes for kids. As part of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network, these communities are working through a common collective impact approach built upon lessons learned on the ground and a commitment to data-driven decisions and continuous improvement.

In this Quality Collective Impact in Action blog series, we highlight stories from these eight communities who were featured in “Defining Quality Collective Impact,” an article featured in the Fall 2014 issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review.

In San Diego’s City Heights Neighborhood, Parents Take Charge of School Readiness Initiative

Learn more about City Heights Partnership for Children at

The elementary school gym was set up as it would be for any celebration of success — tables of snacks, a stage and podium, rows of folding chairs, teachers and principals in attendance. But on a sunny fall afternoon last year in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood, the celebration wasn’t for the students. It was for the parents.

Throughout the previous spring and summer, 30 parents volunteered to help engage fellow parents throughout the City Heights neighborhood. Their goal? Getting families the right information, in the right place, at the right time.

The right information was a simple bag of materials, including crayons, pencils, flash cards, books, scissors, magnetic letters and a day-by-day workbook, with kindergarten readiness workshops for parents to ensure kids start school ready to learn.

“We come into the schools and try to reach all those families,” said Mary Rivera, a parent volunteer who helped run workshops last summer. “We do the workshops and we explain all about the program and how it is going to help, and we try to guide them through the toolkits.”

The toolkits and workshops are a product of a collective impact initiative through City Heights Partnership for Children (Partnership for Children), a local StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network partnership anchored by the United Way of San Diego County. Data analysis found that students entering the 10 local elementary schools often lack the basic literacy skills they need to make a successful transition to kindergarten and read proficiency in the early grades. The vast majority of students grow up in poverty and more than half speak English as a second language.

The Partnership for Children pulled together community partners who focus on literacy issues to develop the toolkit.

“We talked with (partners) about the tools they use with families to help kids learn letters, names, sounds, numbers, colors and how to write their name,” Partnership for Children Director Tia Anzellotti said.

The partners pooled resources to create a workbook written in English, Spanish, Somali and Vietnamese, the most prevalent languages in City Heights. The workbook guides parents through a series of daily activities focused on building early literacy skills, including reading aloud to their children, and identifying letters and numbers. The Partnership for Children is collecting data on the impact of these toolkits, so they can track progress and continuously improve their effectiveness.

The parent workshops, held at the elementary schools during the summer, have been well attended with 25 to 40 parents at each session, reaching a total of 900 families this year. Workshops are designed to be parent and kid-friendly, providing food and daycare for the hour-long sessions.

And because fellow parents hand out toolkits and lead the workshops, often offering bilingual options for Spanish-speaking families, it feels different than it would if it came from the school, Central Elementary School in City Heights Principal Elizabeth Castillo-Duvall said.

“When it comes from another parent it feels more supportive than if it is coming directly from the school,” she said. “You can build a relationship with them that is different.”

It’s a noble cause; parent engagement is important to the students and the school.

“My message to parents is ‘we cannot do this alone,’ whether it is for their child or the school as a whole,” Castillo-Duvall said. “The time they invest in their own students benefits all of us.”

3 Lessons from the Birth of a Community Partnership

Mon, 2014-10-27 20:00

My parents have always told me that one of the best feelings of their lives was the births of their children. I’m sure that they felt an immeasurable amount of joy, knowing that as a result of their love and care while I was in my mother’s womb (with my twin brother), they were able to experience the hope and promise that comes with a new life.

While I don’t have children myself, I can now say that I can understand to a degree what my parents felt through my work helping to launch cradle to career community partnerships.

Last week, ImpactTulsa released its inaugural community report to nearly 200 community stakeholders. This event did not just report key education challenges, it was a birth of a brighter future for the Tulsa community. It was received with joy and pride in the knowledge that six months of hard work and dedication by so many individuals and organizations bore not only the fruits of a community report, but also the promise of what lies ahead for children in Tulsa.

In reflecting on ImpactTulsa’s journey, I can offer three lessons that I believe are instrumental in the birth of a partnership:

1. Communities must make an unequivocal commitment to the use of data 

Without a doubt, this is one of the most challenging pieces of this work.

Why do I say this? Imagine walking into the office of an investment broker on Wall Street. All around the room you will see computers, TV screens and iPads all filled with data that is being used to inform future investments. It would be almost unfathomable for an investment broker to make a financial decision without first consulting the data.

The same approach applies to cradle to career collective impact work, as partners must use data, from community-level data to student/programmatic-level data, to drive decisions. Further, it is important that the community partnership commits to disaggregating that data in order to paint the clearest picture of where education disparities lie.

When a partnership is able to make an  early commitment to data, stakeholders will trust that decisions made by the partnership (just like those of investment brokers) are made through meticulously analyzing data, not just by conducting meetings.

2. Collaboration must evolve to collective impact

To put this simply, collaboration is not a new phenomenon. From teaming together to take down a woolly mammoth, to building the great pyramids of Egypt, or even playing a sport – humans have been collaborating since the beginning of time.

However, as we evolve to create new technologies or methods of efficiency, traditional collaboration has also changed. This evolution, what we call “collective impact,” is a required approach for cross-sector partnership success.

When most communities approach StriveTogether to help launch a partnership, they understand the process of bringing stakeholders together. However, collective impact requires much more than that. With a collective impact approach, there is a commitment to quality and rigor that requires the consistent use of data to measure effectiveness.

Once partners understand and embrace the rigorous nature of collective impact, the foundation needed to sustain the partnership and drive change will be in place.

3. Public and private entities must align investments and commit for the long haul

One of my favorite analogies to illustrate our work is that of a cathedral builder. Do you know how long it took to build the Notre Dame Cathedral? Over 180 years. The builders who laid the first stones which made up the foundation of one of the world’s most iconic cathedrals were not around to see its completion.

Unless we discover the fountain of youth, many of us may never see the day when we fully achieve the community goals we set out to accomplish. However, public and private funders must understand this patience, and ensure that their organizational decisions are made with future impact in mind.

We have seen this happen in many communities, just like it has in Tulsa. In Cincinnati and Dallas, for example, funders have aligned long-term educational investments with the outcomes the local partnership has established. This creates a ripple effect because public and private entities are no longer funding organizations that they’ve funded for years, but are now committed to funding practices proven to actually make a tangible long-term difference in the lives of children.

These initial challenges may be difficult, but they are very possible to achieve if everyone is committed to being a part of the solution.

You can find the tools to change the world

Sun, 2014-10-26 20:00

Key Insights from the 5th Annual Cradle to Career Network Convening

“No matter where your heart is, you can find the tools to change the world.”

These words were delivered by Dr. Vanden Wyngaard, Superintendent of Albany Schools, from the stage of the 2014 StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network Convening October 16th in San Diego, CA. In the audience, over 400 educators, elected officials, community leaders, business executives, nonprofit professionals and policymakers listened intently to her story. This quote captured what the Cradle to Career Network is and will be all about in the coming year:  finding the tools and doing whatever it takes to do this work. This work can change the world by changing the outcome for children.

I am more than inspired by the over 400 individuals from the 53 community partnerships that have engaged more than 8,000 organizations working across the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network. Together, we can build a more equitable education system. We can change the future for millions of children. And, we are working together to build the tools to get there.

As Cindy Marten, Superintendent of Public Education, San Diego Unified School District and chair of the City Heights Partnership for Children initiative said from the stage, “I am not trying to be a super hero. I am simply here to do the work.” She spoke for everyone in the Network. This is about rolling up our sleeves and taking on new challenges.

At the annual convening, community leaders shared an immense amount of knowledge, success stories and lessons they have learned over the last year.  Three core insights rose to the top during our three days together, and are shaping actions steps and tools that the entire StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network can use to drive change in their communities:

1)    Model the courage needed to focus AND act on equity

“The question is not if the community ready to have a conversation about equity, but if our partnership is ready to facilitate this conversation.” –Jarrod Schwartz, Just Communities

Jarrod was part of a powerful panel session during last week’s event that proposed addressing equity issues by focusing on “the head, the heart and the hand.” The head is focused on how we use data to help others understand the challenge, the heart tells the stories that go with the data to motivate people to identify solutions, and the hand represents the tools needed to make equity a focal point in all aspects of the work. Many cradle to career partnerships committed to incorporating all three aspects of this work into how they operate every day.

Our goal for the next year: Focus on identifying and lifting up concrete examples of how communities are making equity a core part of their work each and every day as they advance through the StriveTogether Theory of Action toward Proof Point.

2)    Use data to improve action every day 

“The definition of continuous improvement is simple:  it’s our commitment to meet and exceed expectations of those we serve on an ongoing basis.”  –Christopher Jordan, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s James M. Anderson Center for Health Systems Excellence

This definition is a powerful reminder for all of us that we can’t just use data at the community level to set goals and figure out where to focus our energy. We need to use data on the ground to identify what practices actually lead to better results for kids on the ground so we can meet and hopefully exceed expectations. This means using data as often as possible – every day if we can – to identify ways to improve what we do.

Our goal for the next year: Develop as many examples of using data for continuous improvement as we can and to fill up the ballroom at our next Cradle to Career Convening in Minneapolis/St. Paul with concrete lessons on how to do this challenging work.

 3)    Build cross-sector ownership to change how communities do business

“(Cradle to career work) is an acknowledgment that we have a moral and ethical responsibility to work together to improve outcomes for youth.” –Dan Blake, Cradle to Career Sonoma County

As partnerships mature, it is becoming clear that a major key to success is not just the collective work partners take on. Just as important are the individual ways that partners change how they do business each and every day. It could be a school principal modeling how to do continuous improvement day-in and day-out, an investor that works with a network of practitioners to craft a funding opportunity rather than just releasing an RFP, or a business that loans staff to help partners better collect and utilize data every day. Whatever it may be, it is important for partners to own the vision at multiple levels: individual, organizational and collective. Every level is critical to follow through on this moral and ethical responsibility to improve education outcomes.

Our goal for the next year:  Identify concrete examples that partners in each sector are changing the way they work individually and collectively every day to move outcomes at scale.

Using our collective voice

As we improve in these three areas, we will be able to better leverage our collective voice to influence policymakers, investors and thought leaders who shape the field. As Jolie Bain Pillsbury of Annie E. Casey Foundation said, “Currently, a marketplace for results does not exist. You all can create one.” As we get more practical wins on the ground that address disparities and lead to population level results, we can drive resources to the communities making tangible improvements. In a recent policy paper we drafted with Network members, we  encourage federal policymakers to invest resources in communities that have formed cradle to career collective impact partnerships because they can and will get a better return on investment. This is a start to leveraging our community voice and we will be positioned to do so much more in the coming year.

Tell us what you think!

What is your take on these key insights and actions needed to change systems in your community to support every child, from cradle to career? Add your comments below or tweet us @StriveTogether.

Top 10 Quotes from Cradle to Career Network Event Day 1

Thu, 2014-10-16 20:20

An immense amount of cradle to career passion, vision and knowledge was shared today, Day 1 of the fifth-annual StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network Convening. Here are our Top 10 quotes from the over 400 attendees and 50+ communities represented at the conference. Share additional quotes and reflections in the comments below, or on Twitter using #makingwavesC2C!

  1. “No matter where your heart is, you can find the tools to change the world.” -Dr. Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, Superintendent, Albany Schools
  2. “The question is not if the community ready to have a conversation about equity, but if our partnership is ready to facilitate this conversation.” – Jarrod Schwartz, Just Communities
  3. “When it comes to equity, we always want to talk about the symptoms, and not about the disease.” -Richard Crews, Thriving Together, Valley of the Sun United Way
  4. “Behind every data point we look at, there is a real child with a real story that deserves to be heard.” -Reba Dominski, Target
  5. “Our aspiration is to create a learning ecosystem that produces the results we want to achieve. Our [education] system isn’t broken. It’s currently designed to get the results that we are currently getting.” – Colin Groth, StriveTogether
  6. “I don’t believe that your demography should determine your destiny.” -Cindy Marten, Superintendent of Public Education,  San Diego Unified School District
  7. “This work is so incredibly messy and uncomfortable…We can never lose sight of the hope.” -Dan Ryan, All Hands Raised
  8. “Be gentle with the data, be gentle with yourself and be patient.” – Tarik Ward, The Commit! Partnership
  9. “Context and data equals insight, but insight does not always lead to action” Kathy Merchant, Greater Cincinnati Foundation 
  10. “We need student level data so we can put our finger on exactly what works and drive it.” -Jeff Edmondson, StriveTogether




Making Waves: Action that Moves Outcomes

Thu, 2014-10-16 17:24

More than 400 educators, elected officials, community leaders, business executives, nonprofit professionals and policymakers are together in San Diego today for the fifth-annual national StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network Convening, “Making Waves: Action that Moves Outcomes.” The StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network represents more than 50 community partnerships from 28 states and Washington, D.C, all working to connect cross-sector leaders around a common vision – improving education outcomes for kids.

Sessions kicked off this morning with a video expressing the power and passion of this group gathered together to share lessons learned and best practices in cradle to career collective impact work.

Follow the cradle to career collective impact conversation on Twitter at #makingwavesC2C!


Top 10 Quotes from “Communities Defining Quality Collective Impact” Webinar

Thu, 2014-10-09 08:59

StriveTogether’s Jeff Edmondson joined U.S. Department of Education Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton, Living Cities President and CEO Ben Hecht, All Hands Raised CEO Dan Ryan and The Commit! Partnership Executive Director Todd Williams, on October 8th for the “Communities Defining Quality Collective Impact” webinar hosted by the Collective Impact Forum.

Here are our top 10 quotes from this powerful discussion on quality collective impact:

  1. “All the communities doing My Brother’s Keeper and other federal initiatives like it are going to need to do rigorous collective impact if they’re going to do it right.” –Jim Shelton, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Education.
  2. “Acceptance of what the data says is the first stage of change. Data should not be a hammer to beat people up, but a flashlight to light the way.” –Dan Ryan, All Hands Raised.
  3. “Communities should urge local funders to join them as a full partner in this work of collective impact and recognize they will need to invest in it to achieve greater results at scale…we need to help them recognize that process is the new program.” –Ben Hecht, Living Cities
  4. “Community voice helps you to interpret data and use existing assets effectively.” –Todd Williams, The Commit! Partnership
  5. “Collective impact is just another word for collaboration, unless you fully commit to using data for continuous improvement and that is captured in the Theory of Action.”  –Dan Ryan, All Hands Raised.
  6. “Collective impact is on the verge of becoming just another buzz word…all the communities working day-in and day-out to achieve deep impact in the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network developed the Theory of Action to bring rigor to this concept and make sure it leads to improvements in a concrete set of six outcomes.” –Jeff Edmondson, StriveTogether.
  7. “The smarter we get about how to blend funding streams, the most sustainable this work to build on what works will be…We need to make sure we structure programs at the federal level to support collective impact and the infrastructure these communities are building.” –Jim Shelton, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Education.
  8. “Discipline & courage to have difficult conversations & act on disparities is critical to achieve the results we all want to see at scale.” –Jim Shelton, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Education.
  9. “We have seen 15-20 point gains in literacy rates through leveraging existing community assets based on our work to use data to identify and lift up what works.” –Todd Williams, The Commit! Partnership.
  10. “Partners should not come together around money to implement some wild aspiration. We need to come together to change our own behavior and get better results. Money should follow.”  –Dan Ryan, All Hands Raised.

Join the conversation! Tweet us @StriveTogether or add comments below. How is collective impact working in your community?

Quality Collective Impact in Action: The Commit! Partnership

Mon, 2014-10-06 11:08

Albany. Anchorage. Cincinnati. Dallas. Milwaukee. Portland. San Diego. Seattle.

These are just eight of the close to 50 communities across the U.S. that are bringing education, non-profit, business, philanthropy, government and community partnerships together to focus on improving education outcomes for kids. As part of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network, these communities are working through a common collective impact approach built upon lessons learned on the ground and a commitment to data-driven decisions and continuous improvement.

In this Quality Collective Impact in Action blog series, we will highlight stories from these eight communities who were featured in “Defining Quality Collective Impact,” an article featured in the Fall 2014 issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Collective impact efforts increase preschool enrollment in Dallas

Learn more about The Commit! Partnership at

Posters were plastered in every corner of Dallas County—in laundromats, libraries, the YMCA and recreation centers. Ministers spoke from their pulpits and stuffed inserts into weekly bulletins; Rotary groups, The Lions Club and city councils discussed at their regular meetings. Short commercials, in English and Spanish, aired before movies at local theaters.

The message was simple: Preschool registration was quickly approaching, and 37,000 students who were eligible for free programs were regularly left out. Their parents and guardians didn’t know about eligibility… or about the $136 million in state funding available for preschool.

“We realized this through aggregated data,” Commit! Partnership Chief Strategy Officer Tarik Ward said. “This realization helped us galvanize the community around a clear data point and opportunity for improvement.”

More than 45 Commit! partners assembled to spread the word and distribute 45,000 fliers to parents and guardians throughout Dallas County.

“We really created a big wave of information,” said Teri Wilson, Grand Prairie Independent School District Chief of Staff, a Commit! partner. “When we all aligned our efforts, it made a big difference for us. We saw increased numbers for registration, because Commit! got us to the table and talking to each other.”

That’s what Commit! does best: brings together partners from all community sectors to focus on improving kids’ lives throughout the county.

“Everyone raised their hands,” Commit! Director of Community Engagement Jonathan Feinstein said. “Some folks sponsored the printing of the fliers. Others talked on the radio and from the pulpit Sunday mornings to get the word out.”

Through these combined efforts, Dallas County saw 1,300 more families enroll in preschool.

Better together than alone

The Commit! Partnership has 15 full-time staff and a couple dedicated volunteers. It brings together more than 15 early childhood providers, more than 20 K-12 districts and schools, 10 post-secondary institutions and more than 40 philanthropic funders, along with numerous parent and teacher groups, business organizations, civic leaders and nonprofit and faith-based organizations.

The Commit! Partnership also convenes a Leadership Council, seven Support Councils spanning the cradle-to-career continuum, and four Action Networks focused on kindergarten readiness, early literacy, early math, and college access and success.


Learn more about cradle to career collective impact work in Dallas and across the country on a live webinar, October 8th at 1 p.m. EST. Todd Williams, executive director, of The Commit! Partnership, joins U.S. Department of Education Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton, StriveTogether, Living Cities and All Hands Raised in Portland, Oregon for the “Communities Defining Quality Collective Impact” webinar hosted by the Collective Impact Forum. Learn more and register.


Quality Collective Impact in Action: Anchorage United for Youth

Mon, 2014-09-22 15:21

Albany. Anchorage. Cincinnati. Dallas. Milwaukee. Portland. San Diego. Seattle.

These are just eight of the close to 50 communities across the U.S. that are bringing education, non-profit, business, philanthropy, government and community partnerships together to focus on improving education outcomes kids. As part of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network, these communities are working through a common collective impact approach built upon lessons learned on the ground and a commitment to data-driven decisions and continuous improvement.

In this new Quality Collective Impact in Action blog series, we will highlight stories from these eight communities who were featured in “Defining Quality Collective Impact,” an article featured in the Fall 2014 issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review.

90% by 2020: Anchorage United for Youth
An interview with Kameron Perez-Verdia and Jann Mylet with the 90% by 2020 partnership team at United Way of Anchorage

90% by 2020 is a commitment by highly engaged business, education, community and civic leaders to ensure Anchorage children and youth are ready, successful and prepared for life. Harnessing the resolve of the whole community, 90% by 2020 partners are taking action to identify, improve and align the practices and policies that lead to improved outcomes, for every child, every step of the way. United Way of Anchorage plays a key role to convene and support this partnership as one of its community education initiatives. Learn more at

Q: What accomplishment of the 90% by 2020 partnership are you most proud of?

Kameron: I’m most proud of the building of our leadership team. This team brings together people from a cross section of industries – education leaders, civic leaders, non-profit profit leaders. It’s a really diverse and powerful group of people who had a very clear purpose for being there, and that was to improve outcomes for our students from cradle to career.

We’ve created an environment where they have become a group of advocates, a group of cheerleaders, a group of champions. They see themselves really as a more of a movement where they can leverage their individual organizations and personal networks in a collective way to accomplish something that could not be accomplished if they were by themselves.

Q: Anchorage has a unique culture, geography and climate, with a school district that covers 2,000 miles and students speaking 93 different languages. What makes your partnership unique?

Kameron: We are really proud of the innovative approach that we are taking with the 90% by 2020 partnership. We really feel like we’re bridging this balance between the rigorous, collective impact, data-driven approach, with a community will-building and shifting social norms through social media, marketing and engagement.

The Anchorage community itself is unique in a lot of ways. The Anchorage school district has an incredibly diverse population, mostly in terms of language and culture. It’s impacted our approach, in that we focus on making sure that the work we’re doing and the people who are involved are as reflective of the community as possible. We’re also very conscious of that, for instance, when we put out our community report. When we release disaggregated data, specifically around differences in economic reality, race and ethnic groups, we are highly conscious of how those messages are sent out and the potential impact.

Q. You just released your first community report card including baseline data around the key education indicators you’ll be using to guide action and measure impact in Anchorage. How did the Anchorage community react to your first report card?

Jann: I think it has been a powerful tool on an internal level – our shared process of distributing the report has helped the leadership team itself become recommitted to their engagement. It also helped with getting organizations to take part in the network formed around outcomes we are committed to improving, and it has pulled people into the next level of conversation a little deeper about what the work really is and how to get involved.

Kameron: The main data in the report card focused on the six core outcome areas (kindergarten readiness, third grade reading, eighth grade math, ninth grade on track, high school graduation, post-secondary education / career attainment), and was disaggregated by economically disadvantaged, non-economically disadvantaged, race and ethnicity. So, the release of the report did engage particular community groups. For instance, a woman who is a leader in the African American community was shocked when saw the 8th grade math scores for African American kids was at 44% in terms of proficiency. She immediately contacted our leadership and asked to join the team, and wants to be on the 8th grade math action network was well. We saw the same response from some of the Alaskan Native and American Indian leaders, as well as native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander leaders who saw some of the same numbers. It really helped encourage people to want to be engaged in the work.

Q. As part of your report card release and effort to build community support, you set a goal to have 100 conversations in 100 days. What drove you to set this goal?  What are you learning from the conversations?

Jann: Our community will building committee asked the leadership team to use their networks to get the word out. We’ve had about 20 conversations so far, and we still have a couple months to go. I think they’ve been really successful. People have met with their boards and employee groups. We’ve had one-on-one conversations with people at the local university and with a local coalition of pediatricians. I’m hopeful that it will help us really spread our message in an organic way.

Kameron: I had a conversation with a CEO of a major corporation here who is a member of the leadership team, and his main takeaway was that we need to make it about them and not about us. How does this work impact you as a small business owner? How does this work impact you as a parent? How does this work impact you as a teacher or construction worker? He was really thinking about taking the key messages around outcomes and data and utilization of community resources, and making these conversations about the key people he was talking to. That’s where it becomes really powerful. The other key piece that resonates with these conversations are the stories. At the end of the day, people remember stories and they connect with stories.

Q. Building a community-wide focus on continuous improvement through the use of data is one of the core principles of quality collective impact work. Some of our partners often refer to this as using data as a flashlight on areas to improve, rather than a hammer to place blame. Can you tell me some examples of how you have used data to build this culture in Anchorage?

Kameron: There are organizations in our partnership that are very sophisticated and comfortable using data in the network. And there are others who aren’t as comfortable. The key for us is taking it out of the theory and getting them to work on things together. Then it becomes very real.

One example project involves the YWCA working with the Girl Scouts on a project centered on engagement and attendance at the 8th grade level. They’re identifying girls who are really struggling with attendance, and will be working with them to increase engagement through building empowerment, resiliency and better understanding themselves and others.

It was really interesting to bring these two organizations, both who are focused on empowering girls, together to work on a project. For us, this is a great example of getting out of the abstract to focus on a specific project that puts organizations together to figure it out. It has created some real opportunities for organizations that previously have not used data to think about how it is possible for them.

Q. Connecting out-of-school data with in-school data to impact outcomes is a common challenge. How are you approaching this?

Kameron: That is a huge underlying focus of this work. This work is not about trying to get the school to do something different. It’s really about what our community can do to impact outcomes for kids. Of course the work is going to influence schools. But it’s really about what we as community organizations and businesses can do to improve outcomes. A lot of the contributing factors and indicators are nonacademic, but we’re trying to impact academic indicators. We’ve looked at kindergarten readiness and work specifically around engaging with parents on how to improve literacy in their home and really about how to build greater social emotional development with their kids prior to entering kindergarten. It’s really about being the child’s first teacher and being intentional about the activities and the conversations parents are having with their kids.

Investors: Critical Roots that Drive Quality Collective Impact (Part 4)

Wed, 2014-09-03 20:00

This is the fourth and final blog in our series about the role of investors in quality collective impact. Download the StriveTogether and Grantmakers for Education paper, “The Role of Investors: Lessons Learned on Critical Roots that Drive Quality Collective Impact,” to learn more.

If there is one insight we hope partners take away from this series on the role investors play in collective impact it is this: they wear many more hats than just one with a dollar sign. The philanthropic community can have a unique influence in collective impact initiatives beyond their traditional capacity as funders of the work. They can help shape a different mindset about their role by promoting a shared community agenda, investigating public/private braided funding and balancing points of view with community leaders. They can help build connective tissue by leveraging their networks, supporting critical partnership functions and promoting real-time knowledge sharing across communities. Finally, they can help communities develop the leadership skills necessary to successfully drive action.

This blog post focuses on the last item in that list, because collective impact requires new and adaptive types of leadership. Career paths to provide people with skills necessary to move this work forward are still nascent as the field continues to emerge and evolve. Investors can support infrastructure to cultivate leaders, while reflecting on their internal roles and processes that can ultimately lead to systemic change.

Lesson Three: Invest in Leadership  

Partners engaged in collective impact recognize the need for strong leaders to catalyze and accelerate the work. In conversations with investors, it also became clear that there is a need to cultivate and support emerging leaders. Investors identified the three key ways to leverage leadership in communities:

Building the talent pipeline:  Develop community members and organizations – don’t just push people to the table expecting a miracle. Leaders with technical (ability to act as an expert to implement strategy) and adaptive (ability to develop strategies based on the people and environments involved) skill sets critical to build relationships and guide partners around a shared agenda do not evolve overnight. Investors can help support leadership skill-building and development opportunities for individuals that they see could have potential to lead this work. Unfortunately, few formal education programs that result in degrees meet the needs of this work, so we are looking to professional development programs like those described in the next section as ways to potential build the talent pipeline.

Training leadership: Leaders should think about what they can do differently every day to contribute to reaching community-wide goals. In many cases, this requires an innovative shift away from traditional ways of “doing business.” To meet the challenges presented by collective impact, leaders need ongoing training that incorporates a number of skill sets: continuous improvement, communication, utilizing data –just to name a few. Developing innovative professional development opportunities can make sure leaders are prepared. StriveTogether is working with the Annie E. Casey Foundation on a leadership training program that enables partnership staff to address the technical and adaptive challenges inherent in collective impact.  This methodology, as an example, is called Results Based Leadership and it challenges leaders to constantly keep the result at the center as they work through both the technical and adaptive issues that hinder meaningful and deep change that is needed to dramatically improve outcomes across communities.

Changing investor staff roles: As investors intentionally and purposefully engage in community partnerships, they have addressed the need to alter internal responsibilities from managing grants to being an active partner in communities. Critical staff will need enough time to build trust with partners and join the work.

Ryan Chao of the Annie E. Casey Foundation reflected on this topic during Collective Impact Forum’s May 2014 “Catalyzing Large Scale Change: The Funder’s Role in Collective Impact” conference in Aspen, Colorado“Investors often think of external capacity needed by partners,” Ryan said. “We need to also think of the internal capacity of investor [organizations] as a way to shift norms and develop a culture of patience.”

To accentuate this point, Ken Thompson of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, introduced what we now call Thompson’s Law:  “Your ability to even consider changing how you operate is inversely proportional to how frantic you are.” Essentially, when people are managing day-to-day responsibilities with collective impact work added on top of everything else, it becomes far more difficult to deeply and meaningfully engage in the activities of a partnership. Staff roles can transform to integrate intentional participation in collective impact as part and parcel of a job description.

Another example of this shift in investor staff roles has been seen in several partnerships where the local United Way serves as the anchor entity. Through a partnership we have with Target and United Way Worldwide, seven community partnerships are being led by local United Ways in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Anchorage, Alaska; Memphis, Tennessee; Phoenix, Arizona; San Diego, California; Spokane, Washington; and St. Paul, Minnesota. To shift investor staff roles, the United Way of Central New Mexico, for example, has hired additional staff to specifically lead this work and its integration into the way their organization leads community change each and every day.

In summary, there are many ways investors can engage. But as the old adage says, “Leadership is everything.”  So making sure both communities and investors have the capacity needed to lead this work as important a role as any.

Investors: Critical Roots that Drive Quality Collective Impact (Part 3)

Fri, 2014-08-22 15:15

This is the third blog in our series about the role of investors in quality collective impact.  

We continue to uncover ways for investors to engage in collective impact well beyond providing funding for local cradle to career partnerships using the  recent StriveTogether and Grantmakers for Education paper titled “The Role of Investors: Lessons Learned on Critical Roots that Drive Quality Collective Impact.”  Today, we explore lesson two: building the connective tissue.

Lesson Two:  Building the Connective Tissue

Through discussions with engaged investors, we discovered that they can help build the connective tissue needed to achieve collective impact by focusing on a few key areas:

  • Using convening power
  • Supporting critical backbone functions
  • Promoting and disseminating knowledge on lessons in real-time

Concrete actions related to each of these three areas with insights from investors are outlined below.

Using Convening Power

Specific actions related to this area include:

  • Leveraging large network of connections and relationships
  • Expanding the support base beyond financial commitments with added social, political and physical resources and capacity
  • Validating baseline capacity needed to execute the work

Investor influence can help bring the right people to the table. It contributes to the critical foundation-building work that sets collective impact work up for long-term success, while also building an early sense of momentum.

Wynn Rosser of Greater Texas Foundation reflected on this lesson during Collective Impact Forum’s May 2014 “Catalyzing Large Scale Change: The Funder’s Role in Collective Impact” conference in Aspen, Colorado. Collective impact requires partners to play to their strengths,” Wynn said. “It’s absolutely not about everyone doing the same things. Rather, it’s thinking about what partners are really good at and bringing those partners together to use local data to set local priorities that lead to measurably improved student outcomes.”

In most communities, investors are really good at all three of these actions:  bringing partners together – especially those that don’t normally work together – as well as validating new capacity that is hard for some to grasp in the early stages of this work.

Supporting Critical Backbone Functions

 Three specific actions in this area include:

  • Investing in staff that are part of the backbone structure
  • Building data infrastructure to collect, manage and utilize data
  • Providing support for other key backbone functions by housing core staff, championing a policy agenda, implementing a communications plan, or facilitating networks

As Ryan Chao with the Annie E. Casey Foundation said, “In order to take on this complex work, it takes both on the ground capacity for partners and capacity to use and share data. A baseline degree of capacity is needed, particularly once relationships are formed, to engage in and execute collective impact.”

The partnership backbone is not necessarily one single entity, but a function, in which various partners, organizations or committees can play a role in fulfilling. Typically, communities focus on the central staff alone as the lone organization. This is certainly critical and investors do often house the core staff like the executive director and data analyst, especially United Way’s and community foundations. But there are other key roles that a host of community partners can play as part of the broader backbone function, such as the items listed in the third bullet above.  Multiple investors in a given community could play these roles as well.

Promoting the Dissemination of Knowledge and Lessons in Real Time

 Actions related to this area include:

  • Providing social cover for practitioners to focus on continuous improvement
  • Encouraging, enabling and rewarding partners for sharing lessons learned
  • Disseminating rapid-cycle prototyping to scale practices having an impact

Ryan Chao also noted, “Investors can contribute lessons and best practices to a community and serve as a portal to share experiences with the broader field,” Ryan added. “To be powerful, lessons can be shared in real-time as the work is ongoing. This requires a deft touch to share candidly while being respectful of what partners are doing.”

The dissemination of learning in real-time could not be more important. In general, there is a fear among partners in the social sector of sharing lessons about what did not work. We have been working to embrace the concept of “failing forward” in order to overcome this fear. If investors are willing to share where they have made mistakes, as well as sharing where grantees may have struggled and actually applied lessons from those struggles, it can go a long way to helping build a culture of honest information sharing AND help other partners avoid similar mistakes down the line.

Hopefully these insights are helpful. You can watch a video of these and other investor reflections from the Aspen event.

Next week: How investors can support building collective impact leadership.

Investors: Critical Roots that Drive Quality Collective Impact (Part 2)

Fri, 2014-08-15 14:34

In Judy Peppler’s words, investors should have a “much different role than that of a ‘funder’ who writes a check and sits in the back waiting for a report.” We couldn’t agree more.

We explore this idea in the recent StriveTogether and Grantmakers for Education paper, “The Role of Investors: Lessons Learned on Critical Roots that Drive Quality Collective Impact.”

Through quality collective impact work, we need to reimagine ways for community partners to engage and contribute. Each of the lessons detailed in the paper provides perspective around critical – and innovative – ways investors can be woven into the fabric of a community partnership.

But at the beginning, we all must think creatively to use investors’ time, talent and treasure proactively through quality collective impact.

Lesson One:  Adopt and Embrace a Different Mindset

Without a doubt, this lesson is fundamentally vital for philanthropists engaged in collective impact on the ground. Leslie Maloney with the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation, an education investor and executive committee partner of the StrivePartnership of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, told me that effective engagement really does require a cultural mind shift.

“Investors need to ‘listen’ to understand what the shared agenda is for the community to identify opportunities for investment,” Leslie said. “It is no longer about leading the charge but rather about supporting the charge in strategic and highly-leveraged ways.”

We discovered that investors can adopt and embrace a different mindset by focusing on a few key areas:

Shift from “our” agenda to a shared community agenda and investment

  • Align investment priorities or interests to improve outcomes within a broad community-wide agenda
  • Investment and action do not need to operate in siloes – a common agenda can move both forward with authentic and intentional engagement

For example, the KnowledgeWorks Foundation made the commitment early in the development of the cradle to career Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky StrivePartnership to house partnership staff, but committed to never chair the partnership. This has been critical to ensure the work reflects the interests of the broader set of community stakeholders. In Norwalk, Connecticut, the Norwalk ACTS partnership helps philanthropic partners, through collaboration in a Funders Network, to shift from a singular program focus to an agreed-upon community outcome focus.

Promote the development of public/private braided funding

  • Leverage existing funds and ensure investment is combined with others to achieve greater impact
  • Sustainability requires private and public resource alignment to generate systemic change

Doug Wood, Program Officer with the Ford Foundation, highlighted the need to “tap public resources for sustainability long after private money is gone; this structure also provides a direct conduit for systems and policy change.” A great example of this: the United Way of Salt Lake is pioneering a completely different way for public and private investors to work together through Social Impact Bonds. This groundbreaking work in the education space is focusing private dollars on innovation and public dollars on sustained impact. Perhaps most importantly, it is helping leaders across the country think in news ways about what we can do with the concept of public/private partnerships.

Balance being a good partner and having a point of view

  • Be honest about your point of view, while respecting the needs of the community
  • Allow other leaders to emerge and shape the direction
  • Ensure partners stay focused on the outcomes

Wynn Rosser of Greater Texas Foundation reflected on this lesson during the Collective Impact Forum’s May 2014 “Catalyzing Large Scale Change: The Funder’s Role in Collective Impact” conference in Aspen, Colorado.“We need permission to come into communities, to bring these ideas and this way of working, and not come in as the investor that has all of the answers,” he said. “We need to respect the local leaders and the local data, but at the same time, roll up our sleeves.”

Engaging investors in a partnership can be a balancing act; when an investor enters the room, some community partners feel compelled to follow their lead specifically because they hold the key to dollars – the lifeblood of many organizations and initiatives. Conversely, investors can be hesitant to engage in a collective and collaborative way; cognizant of their power to direct or disrupt, they may feel relegated to passive participation at best. To mitigate this tightrope act, one investor eloquently phrased an investor mantra in this way “be at the table, but sit at the back.” When a partnership engages investors in roles beyond fiscal support, investors become woven into the collective thread building cradle to career civic infrastructure.

Watch a video of these and other investor reflections from the Aspen event.

Next week: How investors can help build the connective tissue needed to achieve collective impact. 

Investors: Critical Roots that Drive Quality Collective Impact (Part 1)

Wed, 2014-08-06 09:30

We all know that funding is critical to driving change in our communities. It is easy to see dollars – public or private – as the lifeblood of any initiative’s sustainability. However, it is also easy to look past the larger role that investors can play in collective impact work. In the end, investors can engage in community-wide action in meaningful ways that transcend the traditional roles that have been defined over time that too often focus on putting resources behind individual programs and services.

The role of the investor in quality collective impact work may be harder to quantify when we get beyond dollars and cents, but is critical to building the roots needed to grow sustainable “civic infrastructure” – the organization of all community resources around
a single vision with focus on measuring and improving results overtime. If investors are intentionally and actively involved in initiatives focused on long-term solutions to complex social problems, we can maximize the value of their philanthropy and change the paradigm on their role in such work.

To explore how this shift could occur and specifically the key roles investors can play in rigorous collective impact partnerships, we collaborated with Grantmakers for Education to create a new paper, “The Role of Investors: Lessons Learned on Critical Roots that Drive Quality Collective Impact.”

This paper discusses three key lessons learned from conversations with philanthropists engaged in on-the-ground collective impact initiatives across the country. In summary, we learned that investors can help communities by:

    1. Adopting and embracing a different mindset. Quality collective impact requires investors to roll up their sleeves with partners to identify the ways they can best engage to achieve impact. Engaged investors can lead to a dramatic shift in the way investors operate as a collective impact partner in any community.
    2. Building the connective tissue. Through their networks, investors can help build the cross-sector connections needed to achieve collective impact and build civic infrastructure.
    3. Investing in leadership. Investors experience training leaders within their own organizations can help lift up and support leadership development for those driving collective impact.

To learn more about each of these lessons and the role investors can play in quality collective impact work, download “The Role of Investors: Lessons Learned on Critical Roots that Drive Quality Collective Impact”.

Next week, in part two of this four-part blog series on the role of investors, I will discuss lesson one in more detail and share examples of how cross-sector partnerships benefit as investors embrace a different mindset around collective impact.


We want to hear from you! Do these lessons resonate with your community? Are there other roles investors can play to drive quality collective impact from cradle to career? Leave a comment or tweet us @strivetogether by using #collectiveimpact.


Lessons outlined above and discussed in our new paper were drawn from a panel session StriveTogether and Grantmakers for Education co-hosted at the Collective Impact Forum’s May 2014 “Catalyzing Large Scale Change: The Funder’s Role in Collective Impact” conference in Aspen, Colorado.

During the session, five panelists from the investor community shared their perspectives and experience in working with collective impact. The panel used the StriveTogether Theory of Action – a hypothesis for quality collective impact developed by over 30 communities building cradle-to-career partnerships – to reflect on the role of investors at various stages of development.

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