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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.

Remember to Listen: Three Insights from the National Urban League Conference

Tue, 2014-07-29 10:38

At last week’s National Urban League Conference, I joined a panel discussion with four amazing individuals who have dedicated their lives to improving education for children around the country. As I listened to the featured speakers that introduced the session and talked with other panelists, I was blown away by the insight shared, not only by those on stage, but also from the audience. I came away from the experience with many insights, but these three stand out as reminders for each and every day of our work.

1)      Listen to understand different perspectives.

Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League, introduced Senator Rand Paul to open the session. As part of the introduction he made a clear point that we need to be open to dialogue with others no matter their background or political perspective. He urged everyone to seek to understand through listening in order to better understand and shape one’s own perspective. As we work to join together across sectors and among leaders at all levels, we need to be open to what we can learn from those we may assume see things from a radically different perspective. This is how we learn and how we begin to find new and creative solutions to our most pervasive challenges.

2)      Listen to children and youth.

Laysha Ward, President of Community Relations at Target, highlighted an initiative they are supporting to ensure the voices of children and youth are heard. As we work to build civic infrastructure that focuses a community on using data to inform decisions, it is critical we don’t lose sight of these voices. As one of our Cradle to Career Network members reminded us years ago, data without stories means nothing. As a critical piece of that story is the voice of those experiencing our disjointed education system right now.

3)      Listen to community voices.

While the comments of the panelists I was fortunate to be with on stage were profound, perhaps the strongest voice came from the audience through the questions they posed. Almost all of them asked about ways to create a safe and nurturing environment where learning can occur in the first place, especially for those who are most often left behind. It can be tempting to focus on the academics – what seems to be at the core of learning. But parents and caregivers are first and foremost focused on ensuring those they love are safe and sound, so they can reach the potential we all should see before us.

As Bernadeia Johnson, Superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools, noted at the outset of the panel, “We need to focus our energies more on what is needed most for kids and families.” If we listen and make sense of what is around us collectively, we will clearly be in a better position to focus the time, talent, and treasure of our community around what will have the greatest impact on the lives of those we seek to serve.

Panelists from left to right: Bernadeia Johnson, Superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools; Patricia Stokes, Urban League of Middle Tennessee CEO; Charles Ogletree, Jesse Climenko Professor of Law at Harvard Law School (moderator); Melissa Bradley, Corporation for National and Community Service chief strategy officer; Jeff Edmondson, StriveTogether managing director; and Michael Lomax, United Negro College Fund president and CEO. 


Finding Our People…..Just Like the Girl in the Bee Suit

Tue, 2014-07-15 20:00

In the Blind Melon 90s alternative rock video, “No Rain,” a young tap-dancing girl in a bee suit wanders throughout town looking for someone to appreciate her talents after being laughed off stage. At the end of the video, the lonely girl discovers a field full of other people dancing in bee suits – she finally found like-minded people who shared her passion!

At least week’s StriveTogether Expert Convening in Salt Lake City, Nate Waas Shull of the All Hands Raised partnership in Multnomah County, Oregon said he felt “like the girl in the bee suit” from that video. By being in a room with representatives from other expert cradle to career communities, he knew he had found like-minded people who shared the same passion: achieving better outcomes for kids by building civic infrastructure.

“We have a field,” Nate said. “There is a field emerging for this work!”

While Nate’s reflection gave us all a big laugh, it keyed in on a larger theme for the Expert Convening: We have a growing body of knowledge for how to actually achieve the eloquent and powerful concept now known as collective impact that is indeed very different than collaboration (Read more: The Difference between Collaboration and Collective Impact). And more importantly, we need to create opportunities for the practitioners in the field to come together with their peers – just like the girl in the bee suit – to enjoy the company of like-minded individuals, as well as to capture and codify knowledge as much as possible. This is what it will take to ensure we don’t revert to the status quo: tinkering around the edges rather than changing what we do every day to get better results.

The main goal of this particular gathering was to dig into the adaptive and technical processes involved with planning and implementing action that improves academic outcomes on the ground. This is a key area where we see partnerships getting stuck as they work their way through the Theory of Action. During intensive working sessions, attendees mapped out answers to the following key questions:

  • What types of actions are communities executing to improve outcomes at scale?
  • Who plans and implements action that achieves real impact?
  • How do community partnerships use data for continuous improvement?
  • How do they ensure accountability for action over time?

While the output of these discussions will help shape tools that will benefit many communities across the Cradle to Career Network, observing these six partnerships working together highlighted the potential for broader impact. We are in the midst of a powerful movement connecting communities across our country on a common mission and methodology. Each community may have its own goals and actions, but the Network is focused on one thing – engaging communities in new and innovative ways to support the success of every child, every step of the way.

“Think about the magnitude of what we are really doing,” Todd Williams, of the Commit! Partnership in Dallas County, Texas, said during the convening. “You get a sense of how powerful this can be.”

The shared knowledge and commitment to quality collective impact across the entire network is core to this movement. We commit to making sure we do everything we can to help communities doing this work in a deep and meaningful way to connect and learn from each other. I hope you will join us in this movement to increase our impact together!

Read reflections and commentary shared on Twitter during the Expert Convening at


Waterbury’s Bridge to Success Achieves National Quality Designation

Fri, 2014-07-11 15:38

The Bridge to Success Community Partnership (BTS) in Waterbury, Connecticut, has been recognized with a unique quality designation from StriveTogether. BTS is one of only 49 communities in the StriveTogether nationwide cradle to career network.

“StriveTogether network evaluators were impressed with the level of community engagement in Waterbury,” KnowledgeWorks CEO Judy Peppler said. “Bridge to Success’ active collaborative action workgroups bring together like-minded and passionate public and private partners, parents and caregivers to improve the lives of Waterbury’s children. We are excited to welcome them as one of the 49 StriveTogether community partners.”

Part of what is making BPS successful is the dedication of the involved partners. Nearly 100 organizations are working together to prepare the youth of Waterbury for success from cradle to career.

The Partnership celebrated the recent designation at a press conference yesterday, where Peppler welcomed through group into the Cradle to Career network. Waterbury’s mayor, Neil M. O’Leary, as well as several other civic leaders were present to laud the current and future successes of BPS.

Bridge to Success Community Partnership is a member of the Cradle to Career network with StrivePartnership.


Cradle to Career Brain Power!

Thu, 2014-07-10 10:26

I’m writing this post in the midst of StriveTogether’s first-ever Expert Convening, a unique event that is bringing together six of the most advanced cradle to career network partnerships to discuss ways they are using data to drive action to improve student outcomes. Yesterday, day one of the two-day event, was jam-packed with interactive working sessions and in-depth discussions with attendees. Our discussions centered around how these communities are driving change through community-wide collaborative action. We learned about some exciting successes:

  • The Commit! Partnership of Dallas County, Texas, said action is improving access to libraries, proficiency scores and pre-school enrollments
  • The StrivePartnership of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky told us kindergarten readiness scores are improving through community-wide action
  • E3 Alliance of Austin, Texas, shared that collaborative campaigns are impacting student attendance rates and providing measurable return on investment
  • All Hands Raised of Multnomah County, Oregon, said the community’s 9th Grade Counts program is getting students on track with credits and attendance
  • Milwaukee Succeeds of Wisconsin discussed how tutoring pilots are showing positive results for kindergarten through 3rd grade reading proficiency
  • The P16Council of Greater Bexar County, Texas told us that action is improving student attendance in San Antonio

We are honored to be here in the same room with these collective impact experts. The amount of knowledge and hands-on experience together here in Salt Lake City equals some amazing cradle to career brain power!

We are fortunate to also have representatives from United Way of Salt Lake, a partnership currently exploring ways to improve education outcomes locally through collective impact, here with us to help the group reflect and identify key outputs from our discussion.

One of my key takeaways from day one is the importance of the Cradle to Career Network in bringing together the communities leading the work on the ground. This is really hard work. It takes patience. It takes humility. This event is providing these collective impact leaders an opportunity to connect and build a sense of camaraderie over shared experiences. It was really inspiring to see the partnerships interact with one another, challenge each other and learn from one another while co-creating knowledge that can help other partnerships.

Thank you to all of our experts who took the time to be here this week in Salt Lake! The brain power harnessed through this event is providing invaluable insight that will help shape StriveTogether tools and resources for the entire network of cradle to career communities.

Tell us about how your community is working toward collaborative action that moves outcomes by sharing comments below, or join the conversation on Twitter by following @StriveTogether and #actionSLC.

Expert convening attendees work on process mapping key
community actions for cradle to career collective impact work.

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