Many organizations are hindered by the very funding mechanisms that make their work possible because they aren’t able to move upstream…but there is another way. Outcomes Financing is an innovative way for governments to invest in better results for their communities and only pay for what works. These projects start with a critical community need and local leadership. This episode features Andi Phillips, co-founder and managing partner at Maycomb Capital, and Mark Sturgis, founder and CEO of Seeding Success.
Hello, I’m Monroe Nichols, Director of Policy and Partnerships at StriveTogether, and today’s host of Together for Change. Here we share expert perspective on what’s possible in communities, and how we can work together to build to last. You know, often we hear the word build, we think about something in its final form, like a physical structure or building, that final tangible thing that we can touch, and feel is the outcome. There was a timeline, a specific goal, and a finish date, and we cut a ribbon. What’s interesting to me, oftentimes is that so many nonprofits and mission driven organizations have specific results they’re working toward, but oftentimes the way they are funded is prohibiting them from really solving those deep underlying issues. You know, thinking about homelessness, nonprofits are those working to address issues and hunger, what a lot of times their funding is really based on, you know, how many beds they have, or how many meals they gave out, not necessarily how they’re working to solve those underlying issues that led to mine in that situation in the first place. As a result, our sector for a very, very long time was somewhat hindered by the very funding mechanisms that made their work possible because they weren’t able to really dig deep, they had to really just respond to things right in front of them didn’t get enough time to think about what are those issues driving those circumstances. Today, though, we’re going to hear about the different approach. It’s called outcomes financing, it’s an innovative way for governments and to invest in better results for their communities and only pay for what works. These projects start with a critical community need, with local leaders, working hand in hand with private sector leaders. And so today, we’re going to take a deep dive to get perspectives from a funder and an organization working on the ground. Joining me today is Andi Phillips, co-founder and managing partner at Maycomb Capital, and Mark Sturgis, the founder and CEO of Seeding Success in Memphis, Tennessee. Welcome, both of you, to the podcast. How are y’all doing?
Nice to be here.
Just to get us started, I’m really interested in the lead up, we talked about there needs to be a, there’s kind of a critical community need at the center of how this work gets kicked off, which is, which is not really a surprise. But I’m really interested in, Mark, before we get to deep into the science and the process underpinning the outcomes based financing. I’m really interested if you could share this just kind of the lay of the land in Memphis, Tennessee, what seeds of success is working on right now to kind of give a picture of how even this partnership really started.
Yeah, I mean, we can go as deep as we need to, Monroe, on that kind of issue of need and the context of trying to solve some of our community’s deepest issues. But I think if you put Memphis in a national context first.
And this is a place with a very deeply rooted racial inequality that stems all the way back to the founding of this country, and the systemic and opportunity that has existed. And so when we’re talking about systemic issues and solutions, we’re looking at going all the way down to those root causes. And in this case, really focused on the racial inequality of access to early learning, and care and preparation for, you know, successful education career in life.
And so, in Memphis, we had spent over a decade, cobbling together program after program to serve children from the earliest years of life. And that began to take root as a critical community priority. But the political will to invest in that, at enough scale, that it made a systemic difference just was not feasible. We had to tax referenda fail, for various reasons, to put actual structural financing into early childhood programs like pre-K.
And so as a community, we started to reconfigure our approach. And so, we looked at federal grants. And as everyone knows, grants are usually time bound and time limited. And that gets you half part of the way but not all the way. And so, we were able to successfully compete for a preschool development block grant. That was part of the or later stage Obama administration, my administration’s efforts to bring federal resources into communities to support pre-K. And that enabled us to do a pretty broad expansion of about 50 Pre-K classrooms. But that wasn’t nearly enough.
And, again, those funds were drying up after five years, and so somewhere along the way, in that our creative solution making process I ran into Andi Phillips at a StriveTogether conference. And we just started thinking about what it would look like to bring outcomes financing as a potential solution to help Memphis actually get where we want it to go. And so that was kind of the initial touch point. And after that, you know, a lot of lot of digging in and figuring out kind of how to do it. But it really enabled us as a community to have another tool in the tool chest, to get children the resources they needed to succeed. And we’ve seen incredible outcomes as a result of our early childhood programs here in Memphis.
That’s great. Yeah. And I love that you put in just a small little plug for the StriveTogether convening, like, you know, I’m, you know, I was gonna ask you later on, like, how do you make this happen? Now you just tell everybody, just go to the StriveTogether convening and all the things just, the world just gets better for you if you go to that convening, which is in Chicago this year, by the way. So Andi, shifting to you, I’m really fascinated, because I remember in the early days of hearing about outcomes financing, I was maybe a little confused at how it worked, right? But I know it had to be born from something. And I imagine are some pitfalls that you saw maybe in traditional philanthropy, that that led you to co-founding, you know, this, this, this approach to investing in communities and engaging leaders. And in those types of things. I am so interested as you thought about the pitfalls and shortfalls of traditional philanthropy and how that misled you all to do in the work that you do. Maybe less about what you’re doing in Memphis, currently are, but just get into the work that you do every day. How’d you get there? What inspired that idea? And then secondly, how do you convince people this is something that you should be doing?
Great question. And so what I would say is, you know, when, when you look at a lot of what happens in communities, one of the things I think that got figured out over the last 20, or 30 years, was the role that private capital and investment can make in building the bricks and mortar of communities, whether it’s building low, affordable housing, building mixed income, housing, building schools, etc. And that has been very, very powerful. What hasn’t quite been figured out. And the work we’re doing that I think that I’m so excited about and is sort of why I quit my job to found MayComb is really about how can you not only invest in the bricks and mortar of communities, but also invest in the people who live in those communities. Because without people that have access to economic opportunity, all the buildings in the world don’t really map, at least from where I sit. And when I think about philanthropy, I think philanthropy is critically important. And my hope is that approaches like ours, help philanthropies stay laser focused on things like innovation, capacity building, you know, those sort of necessary preconditions for community change.
But in real life, government is the largest purchaser of services for people who are poor and disadvantaged. And their trillion dollars of spend across local state and federal government, philanthropy can’t touch that. And what I will often say is, we’re not going to philanthropy our way out of poverty. It’s a tool, but at our peril, to not try and get government into the game. And so what we’ve really tried to do and the reason we started the community outcomes fund is to say, how do we take those dollars that government is spending, and make sure those dollars are getting aligned with as where you started it with the results that we all want. And the idea is that maybe we can stop arguing about how much money is being spent. And just like redouble our commitment and making sure that the dollars that are being spent are really driving towards outcomes. And so that’s really what we’re trying to do.
Our capital, our flexible mission aligned debt is a way of helping service providers operate in that new outcome-based funding environment. We provide the upfront working capital, so that they can deliver the services, get to the outcomes that everybody wants, that then sort of release the government payment that then repays our investment. And if the project falls short, we then stand shoulder to shoulder with our partners and we’ll forgive the remainder of the loan and the accrued interest and that’s what we were able to do in Memphis.
It’s very complex, but when you talk about it, right like when I’m hearing you talking about like, it makes it makes complete sense right like It’s amazing that you take them. And as you’re talking, I was really thinking about all the recovery dollars that are being spent right now and new things that are happening. And are we learning enough? What’s going to happen, those things go away, or we’re going to still be able to invest on the public. So that trillion dollars just talked about the public side? To invest in these things. It didn’t get a question where he how many times that you’ve been in Memphis before you met Mark.
So I had the good fortune of having done work in Memphis before I met Mark. And so I had been there many times knew some of the other organizations on the ground. But it had been a while and, you know, meeting Mark at that amazing StriveTogether convening and…
Coming up in September.
About… Yep. Hearing about his very determined but quiet vision for universal needs based pre–K in Memphis, and understanding what that potential impact was, it was a “you had me at hello” moment. So we were back in Memphis in the heat of the summer.
You complete me. Oh, man, that is commit… You know what? This part of the country, I’m in Oklahoma, but this part of the country in the summer, if you go in there, that means your commit, that’s commitment all of itself. Okay, Mark, question for you. We got, we got Andi, you meet Andi at this amazing Strive convening. And you know, you guys, you all are talking. You’re excited, you’re energized. You go back to Memphis, to tell everybody in Memphis about this idea. How did folks respond to it? Did they understand it early on? What did you have to do to communicate to community leaders and local leaders on the ground that, hey, this is something that we ought to be engaging in, in Memphis, Tennessee?
Great question, because I do think that a lot of times, particularly communities like Memphis, who see national partners in and out all the time, I’ll be very transparent, we probably had 10 social impact bond, social financing, conversations. Due diligence is, you know, people paying all these people to come in and tell us how to do financing in Memphis. And not a single one of those projects moved forward over the last, you know, 5, 6, 7, 8 years.
It was until we had a partner who was willing to come and do the deep exploratory work, the deep relationship building work that it takes to enable a complex project like this to move forward with trust. It also takes a backbone organization on the ground, who’s willing to do the translation work, to do the community building work, and to hold the space and container for those conversations to actually happen. And I think that’s part of the power of a public private relationship, that the StriveTogether network and partners, like Seeding Success are able to create, almost like a landing pad for innovation and ideas, to really take root in a community. And so I think what we were able to do very effectively, and, you know, kudos to Andi and her team on this as well as to figure out the right roles and responsibilities and in socializing this opportunity. And so in some conversations, Seeding Success will be the lead with, you know, make them as a Q&A partner and ready to jump in when needed. And then some conversations with, you know, very technical, interested parties like our CFOs at the city of Memphis, or Shelby County government or the mayors who want to know, politically, what does this mean for them.
You know, having a voice like Andi’s in the room to take the lead on that is critical. So it’s a partnership, now, the kind of clarion call was that this federal grant was ending, and a thousand 4 year olds were at risk of losing access to pre-K. So we were never, ever going to let that leave the room. And so if it was the mayor, or a community partner or practitioner, or a current provider who was providing those services, they knew we were there to help fill that gap.
And then we were able to leverage, you know, this monumental project to not only fill that gap, but then move towards expansion of services beyond what the current federal grant was enabling. And so again, this is one of the tools and in, I think, a broad array of tools in the toolkit that backbone partners, you know, through our network are learning about and can have access to, but it does take that deep relational context to move complexity forward and this space.
Yeah, I think you just made perhaps the most eloquent case for civic infrastructure, right? Like that’s, that’s exactly what you’re talking about. I mean, and I think that you spoke to it very, very well. I’m gonna just kind of raise myself back up to 30,000 feet again, they will go back deep again, but I’m curious to know, Mark talked about mayors and city county mayors, that kind of stuff and those local leaders on the ground where maybe may come stepping up and talking with is was incredibly helpful. As you are doing this work across the country? How are those conversations with those local leaders like it like how are they socializing to this approach across the country, I imagine there’s going to be some folks who, who are listening to us right now who say, “hey, this is really interesting, how am I going to engage my mayor or my county commissioner, or my county mayor, or whomever about this?” Tell me about those conversations that you’ve had with those elected leaders across the country and maybe some partnerships at Maycomb has to kind of get that into the ether across the country may share about that?
Yeah, it’s a great question. And we spend a lot of time talking to public sector leaders and leaders, like Mark who are on the ground and communities. And a couple of things. One is increasingly I think, as you point out, with the influx of American Recovery Plan dollars, I think there is the conversations about how that money gets spent. And really sort of talking to government leaders about making sure that three or four years from now, we’re not standing here, understanding how many dollars went out the door, but have no idea what we’ve been able to accomplish. And I know that’s a song that the StriveTogether partnerships have been singing for a long time. But I think this influx of money, as well as some of the requirements about reporting back to Treasury, about outcomes, make this an incredible moment in time to make the case about really changing how government is funding the services.
That said, what we know is that I can’t walk into the Shelby County Mayor’s office, the, you know, city, mayor of Memphis, the government leaders in South Carolina on my own. We know that in order for us to be effective, we need very strong partnerships on the ground. When we went to Memphis, one of the things that was clear is that Mark and his team at Seeding Success, really understood what the need was. They understood what was the right sort of recipe for helping make sure that those kids who needed pre K not only got access to pre K, but got access to high quality pre K, that was going to really make a difference in their lives. They understood who the local players were, who were the civic leaders who needed to be brought to the table, the those that are elected, and those that are not elected. And so what we figured out is that what we can bring to a community are flexible impact aligned investment dollars, technical expertise in how to think about outcomes, financing, and how to help government structure and outcomes based contract experience helping folks manage the RFP and procurement process.
But what we know is in order for a project to get from an idea to actually delivering services, because that is what we are trying to do, right? Like, we are not about coming into a community and spending three years analyzing what might happen. We’re about coming into a community, finding the right partners, and getting services that are high quality, and aligned around outcomes delivered to people who need them. So we bring a real sense of urgency. It’s well, and we know that in partnership, that is our fastest path.
That’s great. You know, I think it was Ross Perot, who said if you see a snake on the ground, you kill it. You don’t point a committee on snake, right? You know.
Thanks to you for bringing up Ross Perot.
That’s a deep cut.
Yeah, well, and you know, I’ll also say my grandfather who was quite different from Ross Perot, both politically and net worth wise, I think this is when playing dominoes. So I’m not sure this is a great life lesson. But he would always say if you study long, you study wrong. So one of those, we’ll take one of those. I am interested in this concept of, you know, kind of tracking if we know these things are highly effective, but we do in our world have to verify that with data to see if things are going the way that we had play and see if we’re on track and you know, I know so I in addition to my role at stripe together, I started the Oklahoma legislature.
And years ago we had some reentry programs and they were Pay for Success programs. So you know, there’s a couple foundation to pay for and then they, the goal was for the state to then take over paying for those programs. This is very, very similar, although this is maybe slightly more complex and sustainable than what we did in Oklahoma. But I am curious to know, as you thought about because, Mark, I know you all are handling federal grants. So you’re used to tracking data. But did you think about this particular partnership where it is more local, and you do have partners that maybe aren’t just looking at this with all the other grants everywhere, but having a deep dive into how things are going? How do you track those intended outcomes? And what kind of conversations at that spark between seeing success local leaders, and may come? And I would actually invite you, Andi, also, to jump in on that. That question is just like, how did this spark the conversation that you all are having in what was similar about a conversation you had in the past? But what was different and unique with this partnership, and the kinds of conversations you are having around outcomes data?
Yeah, and another great role to highlight the critical piece that civic infrastructure plays in a community, right? So there’s this great thing called the StriveTogether Theory of Action that we’ve been working against for a long time.
We’re gonna put you on a commercial, Mark. And that’s just, I’ve already decided.
And, yeah, I’m a walking billboard.
From day one. So you know, the data question has been at the heart of our advocacy approach forever ‘cause we know that without evidence and impact, you know, we gotta go beyond anecdotes to action. And so through the federal grant that we had, we had established a set of data, and metrics across the funded programs in that grant, we were able to leverage that small piece of the broader early childhood ecosystem, to then build out this outcomes model, which now governs the full array of, of city and county investments into pre K. And that required Seeding Success. Our district partners, Shelby County Schools, Bartlett Public Schools, Millington Public Schools, and our achievement school district, and a set of charter partners to actually have reliable and valid data.
The federal program was actually I would say, probably less rigorous than what we’ve created now. And what we have created now is a longitudinal data set, that is actually countering the narrative and tendency, particularly, that pre-K fades out, the impact of pre-K fades out by third grade, that it’s not a long term benefit, that it’s not the thing that every other piece of national data tells us it is. And so now we have data from children who received our pre-K intervention who are now in seventh grade. And that longitudinal data says that they are still outperforming their peers who did not receive the intervention, a lot like the longitudinal data in Oklahoma and other communities Chicago, that shows how impactful this early intervention really is.
But that would not have existed without an intermediary data partner holding that data almost in in escrow, for this very moment to say to our elected officials, you can’t afford not to invest in this program, you all sit and talk about the urgency of literacy, the urgency of school readiness. Well, here’s the data that the very data that says this is the exact decision you should make. And we were able to pass a policy commitment to universal pre K needs based pre K in the city and county unanimously.
And now we’re pushing that data into our statewide advocacy work, because our local data is so powerful, and counter to the narrative of our state longitudinal data, which is less rigorous, less valid, and less holistic. So yeah, data is at the heart of everything we do. But in terms of connecting the dots between data and advocacy, and then data and solution making. I think that’s been a really critical function that we’ve been able to help lead civically.
So Andi, as we, taking what Mark talked about, because it’s really that’s really interesting to me, because it, it does fundamentally change the conversation you’re having with elected leaders and policymakers as it relates to are you going to make this critical investment and it’s really important thing, right? Like, we have the data information that shows that it works. You’re not taking my word for like, I think that we all, if you were to ask anybody, they’d be like, yeah, for sure. It’s great for kids to be involved in a quality pre-K program. But you know, you go to policymakers, you have all these competing interests. And so it sounds like the way in which data has been presented has fundamentally changed those conversations. So I’m thinking about the conversations that you’re now having right as a, as a investing partner, getting your other big investing partner to kick in their side. I’m wondering about how those conversations have changed, for you are just a conversation themselves how those conversations go, not just in a city like Memphis, but I do want to hear about the Memphis experience. But as you’re going around the country and talking about this up Roche, talk to me about how talking about it just from the standpoint of, hey, we know this works, because we have the infrastructure to prove it, we have the data to show it. Hey, this is, this is where you all should be. We’ve already got some skin in the game, which is amazing. This is amazing story to tell.
Yeah. And so the way we approach the conversation about data is very much that there are two sides to it. There’s data that Mark is talking about, that is really setting the stage for what kind of impact and sort of what evidence is there that programs are effective? And that’s critically important, is that evidence building phase. Equally important, I would say, is, you know, directly tied to what we’ve done in Memphis, and what we’ve done in other places, which is how are you using that data in real time to ensure that you continue to maintain those results that you’ve been able to have historically. And that is not how government has typically funded human services, even when government has said, “oh, we’re doing and making an evidence-based policy decision.” That means you’re looking backwards to what worked in the past. And then you’re going to deliver it today. And what you’re going to do is assume that on a go forward basis, it’s going to work. And we know what they say about when you assume, right?
We have an editor. We have an editor. You tell us, Andi, what do they say?
No, but seriously, I think where we’re coming to it from is that this date, again, across the board data is the critical component here. And the idea of having a trusted local intermediary, that is the keeper of that data is key. It is both using that data for research and advocacy and evidence building, but then using it also for operations. Because what we know is and what we all learn during COVID is just when you thought you knew what was happening in the world, the rug got pulled out from under our collective feet.
And, you know, my team, in very close, you know, led by the team with seeding successes, affiliate first aid, spent the summer of 2020 saying, wait a minute, now we’re talking about a world where we’re delivering pre-K remotely? How do we make sure we’re still doing right by those four-year-olds, and we got the providers in the room, the county was in the room, we were in the room, first state was in the room, Seeding Success was in the room to say, how are we going to collectively hold ourselves accountable.
And the scaffolding of outcomes financing forced us to do that, right. In a more typical government contract, because it was cost reimbursement, you just maybe submit a budget mod, and you try your best, and that’s good. But this forced a different level of discipline to really say, how are we going to figure out what matters. And we stuck with our pre-K literacy outcome, we stuck with our kindergarten readiness outcomes, we created some really good metrics around what we were going to deliver to the kids. And what we saw at the end of that year was, I think, results based on standardized northern assessment tools that we could all be really, really proud of.
The last point I would make, which is I think, really important, is that most of the data, if not all of the data we’re using is not new data, is data that was already being was in place was being collected, seeing success has been able to improve the quality of that data. But it didn’t require an entire new data system. And I think that’s something that’s really important to remember, as well, that the value of that civic infrastructure, but also that in order to do outcomes financing, you don’t need to create something new.
Yeah, I think that’s a really, that’s a really important point to make. Sometimes there can be a false sense of fear of jumping in on a strategy because it seems like oh, oh, we can do Memphis had to build a whole new data infrastructure or Memphis and do this. But what I’m hearing you say is, hey, this starts with that critical need. And us getting around the table to say how do we meet that need, right? And then us reporting back to this to this thing is in this particular place, it’s working, or we need to make some improvements, but what we’re handing over is a Great way to hold ourselves accountable, some critical partnerships that are on the ground. But we’re also handing over something that’s high quality in this, here’s the new standard for how we invest in things. And it doesn’t take, it certainly takes a lot of effort. But what I’m hearing you say is, hey, it’s not, it’s not you got to change everything about your community. In fact, you have to figure out how you how to use the things you got, and strategically deploy them well, to get to where you want to go. It’s really interesting. So for folks keeping score as they’re listening, I’m gonna give them the cliff notes version of how we got to where we are today, right?
So Memphis, Tennessee, Mark and the team are working there. Some challenge around some, maybe some grants are leaving, I might be out of order here, but 14 hundred kids I think are going to find themselves not at a pre-K program anymore. He finds Andi at this StriveTogether convening, they talked about some really complex strategies for improving things in Memphis, Mark goes back to Memphis convinces everybody it’s the thing to do, and then Andi comes to Memphis, convinces all the people, this is the thing to do. I know this is a cliff notes version of it. But tell me about the reality now, right, like so I know, you have the data to show, the longitudinal data to show that seventh graders are better off? How has the public sector responded in Memphis? What’s the funding environment, the public sector now?
Yeah, I think this is the this is the fun part, right? That’s looking at the evolution of a system from a siloed set of programs and operators to a unified aligned set of practices and programs that result in systemic improvement. And that’s what we’ve seen population level improvement and kindergarten readiness, we’ve seen racial achievement gaps, basically erased at kindergarten, socio economic gaps virtually erased at kindergarten. For students who receive this high quality pre-K intervention.
We have civic infrastructure that’s grown, we have an amazing partner, operational partner in first aid Memphis, who is leading that day to day operations now, through administrative resources that city and county government have put into the space to help coordinate the system. We have incredible pre-K operators who learn from each other every month about what’s working by using the data that’s being collected. And we have a much greater political will and commitment to this work because the data has reliably trended over the last three years, even during a pandemic, in positive directions for the children who received these resources, as well as their families, because we designed this program and a two generational concept.
And so today, we’ve finished a three-year contract with city and county government to coordinate these resources. And they have put another three-year contract on the table that will sustain and continue these programs with additional resources over the next three years without the promise of outcomes, financing and risk mitigation on the table. So we know that this has been successful. And it will continue to succeed with the infrastructure we’ve built, and the partnerships that we have with our city and county park investors. So, you know, I’m very excited about the future, and the impact that this whole commitment and partnership has made in our community, from a community that wanted to figure out how to do this, it’s something we wanted to do. We didn’t necessarily want to raise taxes or figure out, you know, a new funding stream. But we were able to take what we had, with some additional commitments, and with the kind of back or backing of a national partner like Maycomb, to mitigate the risk of new public capital coming into the space, prove out the program, and its success and its impact. And now sustain that into its next iteration.
Mark, I’m interested, I don’t know if you can, if you can ballpark or quantify a what, what was the total amount of like some of those federal grants that you all were utilizing may still be utilizing some of those now, but what was that versus what, you know, the local public sector is putting in now. Now it sounds like you clearly got other partnerships. But it seems like there’s a time where you guys are sending grants off to DC to get some resources, but now because that local leadership, so I’m going to local need you all are making decisions in Memphis about what’s going to happen in Memphis and not having that happen somewhere else. So like, Do you have a sense of what the kind of ballpark of the total investment between city county and even the state now going into Shelby County and Memphis is as a result of this work?
You know, as executive director of a Cradle to Career backbone organization, my math skills are on point. So let me let me, let me ballpark that and then we can fact check this later. But, you know, the original federal grant was a four-year grant, which was around $40 million. So though that was roughly $10 million a year, and that was going into pre K, administrative costs, all those things, and it was a ramp up program, when that ended, we were able to secure a another ramp up of investment from city and county.
So today, the annualized investment is around 16 and a half million dollars. And so you’re talking, you know, over the last three years, you know, a huge expansion of those resources. So, you know, from 40 million now closer to 60 million over the last three years in total funding, and that will, I think, continue to grow, because like I said, we’re taking that data, we’re finding state resources now that have gone under allocated or unallocated, and we’re pushing the state to think about investments in people that they have typically been adverse to make, primarily because of policy reasons. And so we’re taking those policy barriers off the table, I am finding and securing additional resources, even as we speak.
It’s so awesome, Andi, you know, it’s like 102 degrees in Oklahoma, and I’m getting goosebumps. And I’m sure listeners are as well. And Mark, you said something at the end there. And I think it’s something Andi shared as well that, you know, it’s really interesting, because there’s not, you know, Tennessee, red state, and we got blue states and all that kind of stuff. But it sounds like you know, when you show the evidence, this stuff, you can have a conversation a policymaker, right. I think what’s so powerful about this work is that there’s some folks out there who are bleeding hearts, who are, who were there. But there’s also some folks who are, you know very much about the bottom line and results in death. And does this work. And there’s, I think there’s a place for both right? But this this speaks to both this speaks to everybody sitting around the table, whatever perspective they come from.
So Andy, I was saying, I’m, you know, I’m getting goosebumps about the things that have happened in in Memphis. And I think those goosebumps are also because it’s proven. It’s possible, right? Like we talked about, sure, it’s hard work. But you don’t have to go build a whole new data infrastructure, you need to pull a Spartan together and figure out how we’re going to track things and make sure we have, like all those things, right. But for folks who are listening, who really want to take something like this on, they’re interested in outcomes, fencing, funding partnerships, how can they best be positioned for the conversation to do so what are things that you’re looking for in the ground? You talked about the uniqueness of, of Mark and his team and Seeding Success? I’m sure there’s other things about a community that need to be important, you know, you’re going into the community never been to before? What are the things that you’re looking forward to say, “hey, this is possible in this place?” Share a little bit with us about that?
Sure, you know, I think that when I when, when I think about what was right, in Memphis, I think it is what is often right in other places, it is a deep understanding of what the need is. And sort of a sense that you can deliver a set of services against that very pressing need, you know, whether it is that there is an issue around, you know, academic achievement, and access to opportunity and sort of getting kids ready for school like it was in Memphis, or folks, another project we’re looking at right now is around folks who don’t have access to employment opportunities, because they lacked the soft and hard skills necessary to actually get and keep a job, right. And so it’s a real sense of what is the need, and also a vision of what it is you think, your partnership or the sort of collective folks in your community can do to address that need? And that clarity is sort of point number one, on that. The next is, are there folks with political will, who have control of real dollars on the government side that will go along with you? Right? And I think that some of the work that mark and the team had done in Memphis was really about the conversations with the city and county that said, “hey, pre k should be a priority, right?” So you have to have those government folks. And and I think that means bringing community leaders along with you, in agreement that this is a problem that they want to solve. And the other piece is data infrastructure. But when you talk about employment, all that data exists, we all report tax, and income data on a state level.
Andi, I’m interested in, we only have a couple minutes left, but specifically thinking about the philanthropic community across the country. Like what are some things that you think philanthropy should be thinking differently about, given what you’ve learned in Memphis, given the things that you’ve seen, like what what are some nuggets that you would give folks who are thinking about ways in which they can engage in this way, specific to the folks in philanthropy in these communities.
So I think two things. One is investing in helping folks like Seeding Success and other communities get access to data and build the infrastructure to use that data. Because that becomes the critical tool. Right? It, as when you’re solving any problem, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know where you’ve been, and you don’t know where you’re going. Right? You need that data to be able to tell you that. So I think that piece of it is really critically important. I mean, I also would say, I would give a plug for civic infrastructure, that you need folks on the ground who are looking laterally, and not looking vertically, right. They’re oftentimes service delivery folks, amazing organizations, they’re focused on a particular population or a particular set of services. And so they have a very vertical approach. I think the value add of civic infrastructure is saying, No, we’re gonna look across, and definitionally, what that means is having a broader view of what the needs are in the community, what are the tools and bringing that broad view to broker between government, private sector investors, national folks, local folks, and essentially knit together those resources, to then address the range of needs.
I love that because you know, it’s something we talked about, I think, you know, in StriveTogether world, and I think anybody who’s looking critical at local challenges, this idea that, you know, we, and you all approve this habit within ourselves to solve these problems in our community on the ground, like it may take some innovation, that type of stuff, but like, the thing that cannot be solved for is how strong partnerships are on the ground, and how well people are able to stretch themselves past on the walls of their own organization, which I think is incredible power, incredibly powerful. So Mark, on the flip side, so you are one of 68, 69, 70 executive directors and the StriveTogether network and, and obviously a broader group, outside of our network with organizations that are thinking about how do you build this kind of collaboration within a place? What from your perspective, given what you saw with your partners, and when Seeding Success, interacting with those partners? What can organizations do to best prepare themselves for an approach like this? So less about coming in, and what am I looking at the lay of the land? But what about the folks who really have to be part of that, that civic infrastructure in place? How do they get themselves prepared to take on a challenge like this is really an opportunity like this in their community?
Well, let me take that question and answer maybe some additional questions that you didn’t ask. I think the bigger question is, like, are we trying to change systems or not? Are we trying to change the function of government and practice so that actually outcomes improve or not? And, you know, being prepared for that? I think we’ve done an amazing job as a network of building a theory of action, building a set of capacities and capabilities that drive that change. And we’ve got to double down on the communities and partners who are doing that work, so that we can do this across the country at scale, and tell a bigger narrative about what changing practice looks like and changing systems looks like. So you know, yeah, there’s a lot of individual things we’ve done as an organization to pull that off. But I think as a network, it’s really about us leaning into these types of capabilities, innovations that we know work, and proving them out at scale. And I think that’s what we’re doing. That’s what we’re pushing towards, both as a network as a local partner. And as a national partner, like Maycomb being involved in multiple areas of the country where we’re working, I think those, that’s at the heart of this work is, you know, we can be prepared for like reactive opportunity. But we also have to set the table for the types of systems we want to work in. And that means for a private investor. You know, it’s easy if there’s a great business or real estate development, that private capital is going to flow in at the front end easily because there’s a promise of return on the other side, right? Well, it’s the same space for social impact. Either you want to be at the table and see that scaled impact occur. Or you’re just you’re just playing at the edges and so my push is that if we’re going to do this, let’s do it. Let’s get private capital moving in a way and and he’s a great partner, but she can’t be the only one. You know, let’s get private capital moving away that drives these practices that drives government to react differently because of the return on this but benefits all of us and not just a handful. And so, you know, that’s kind of the question I’ll answer is like, you know, what are we trying to do. And I think if we’re trying to change systems, it takes this type of level of innovation, the type of capabilities that StriveTogether is building across the country through partnerships like ours. And it requires a private investment that reflects the urgency of now.
That’s great. Andi, you got anything you want to add there?
I think I would just underscore Mark’s final words, which is, we all need an unbelievable sense of urgency right now. Because there are the dollars, and there are vast needs that have been laid bare to all of us. And shame on us if we don’t all try and do things differently. Because now is the moment.
Well, I want to thank both of you for coming on to the podcast today. We’ve made it all the way through. But you know, I will say just a takeaway for me, and I won’t say it any better than the two of you have said it. But I think about my couple of roles in life, a member of the StriveTogether team, the policy team, an elected official, and a parent. And I think about what you all have talked about today, there’s different points in which we were having this conversation, that I felt myself having a reaction based on all those individually at one point. And then like altogether at some other points, what you all have done is truly amazing in Memphis, and I think it’s most amazing, because it’s something that is born not out of a hope that somebody will, you know, help us do something that was a reality. And it’s like, hey, you know, we’ve, as Mark said, we’ve been down these other roads, but that community resilience, show back up and with with a partner in that spark, and then that that local will, I can’t even imagine the untold numbers of thousands of, of children and families in Memphis, who are not only better off today, but are going to be better off over the long haul. And Mark you spoke to really, I think the call for all of us, right is that this does not have to be a special example in one community. This ought to be the way that we are practicing across the board. And so I appreciate you both for today. To those who are listening, stay connected to us by visiting strivetogether.org where you will find transcripts of our Together for Change podcast series. Thank you all very much. Thank you again, Mark. Thank you, Andi. And I will see both of you in Chicago.
In September at the StriveTogether national convenience.
Wouldn’t miss it.