Future-Focused Philanthropy: Investing in the Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative

For the past six years, I had the privilege of serving alongside the region’s most distinguished funding professionals via the Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative (Collaborative), housed under Washington Area Women’s Foundation. It was a true bright spot in my 10+ years working in the CSR space and on education-related issues while at The Boeing Company. As I turn a new page in my career, allow this outgoing chair to offer a few reflections on why the Collaborative remains one of the soundest investments available to future-focused funders.

The Collaborative is a force-multiplier for good. A collection of top regional foundations and corporate funders, the Collaborative creates a coordinated system of philanthropic resources to improve access to high-quality early care and education (ECE) for low income families. Funders contribute a modest investment, pool it with the other members and collectively determine where to allocate investments. Working as a team, the Collaborative greatly extends the scale of impact individual funders have on their own. And for many foundations that may be considering a first foray into the ECE field, it’s hard to find a better vehicle that will expand your reach, and your knowledge-base, so easily.

The Collaborative is driving real progress on substantial systemic changes across the region. At a macro level over the past three years alone, the Collaborative leveraged over $37M toward high quality early education interventions and, through partners, influenced nine policy changes to better strengthen safety and affordability. Through strong leadership at the Women’s Foundation, the Collaborative is applying a racial equity lens to these investments.  Additionally, the Collaborative is spearheading the regional effort to create a consistent strategy on workforce development for ECE providers, which is backed by the National Academy of Sciences. The Collaborative is facilitating the dialogue between the region’s policy developers, enabling them to align their goals and build a cooperative workforce plan. Given the mobility of the region’s talent and market pressures on wage growth, consistent policies on competencies and credentialing will be greatly needed.

The Collaborative offers members a real leadership platform. The public is demanding more from our ECE sector. That’s a good thing. But the sector remains grossly under-resourced and underappreciated, even from the philanthropy community. Dollar for dollar, ECE investments offer the most effective use of education funding, mitigating the need for costly interventions later in the K-12 pipeline. Working through the Collaborative, membership provides a real opportunity for companies and other brand-conscious foundations seeking differentiation and impact. The Collaborative provides numerous vehicles for member entities to showcase their efforts in this space. And collectively, given the leadership and composition of the members, it represents one of the strongest voices from the funding community on ECE issues.

I look forward to seeing the Collaborative’s continued accomplishments in the months to come. And I hope to see more bright minds and diverse perspectives from the region’s top companies and foundations at this unique funder table. Only then will we really move outcomes forward for young children and families.

–Tom Bartlett, Former Co-Chair of the Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative.

Tom Bartlett was the Senior Manager for Boeing Global Engagement and Co-Chair of the Washington Area Women’s Foundation Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative. Together with his partner, he is launching a new impact investing firm aimed at helping more non-profits access impact capital. Working with investors, donors and non-profits, they seek to unite unexpected allies in the creation of social change.

 

Community Colleges: Innovations to Improve the Lives of Women

Community CollegeThe Women’s Foundation’s most recent grantmaking round included many investments targeting education and training to help women access good jobs that pay family-sustaining wages and offer benefits. For several years now, these investments have included a focus on community colleges. Research shows that a post-secondary education can have a tremendous impact on earning potential. Community colleges are accessible to first-time or nontraditional students (like working moms)—with local campuses and classes that can accommodate a work or family schedule—and offer the opportunity to partner with employers to meet local workforce needs. For these and other reasons, community colleges offer a pathway out of poverty for women and girls.

This year we renewed our investment in Northern Virginia Community College, where they are taking a two-generation approach to education. Locally and nationally, Northern Virginia Community College is a leader in fostering relationships with community-based partners to better connect with and support the educational attainment of underserved students. Their two-generation work is a relatively new effort to establish partnerships with local child care centers and home-based child care providers to support the post-secondary educational attainment of both lower-income staff and the parents of children in care. The relationship also establishes very early post-secondary exposure for young children (through things like campus field trips) and starts an early conversation with parents about planning for college.

The College’s model offers seamless transitions for students, and provides case management and “intrusive advising”—a proactive approach to connect with students, check in, offer resources and help with career planning—all designed to help address barriers to college success. Women work to achieve post-secondary credentials while simultaneously engaging in college readiness interventions for and with their children. In year two of this new effort, the College plans to enhance its work by expanding the range of college readiness services, and provide asset building and wrap around services to boost post-secondary success, including new screening for public benefits, financial literacy resources and an emergency fund to assist with immediate financial needs. The College is building a model two-generation approach that incorporates many of the strategies that The Women’s Foundation has seen as core to building economic security.

The Foundation is also continuing its investment in Montgomery College. In past years, our Stepping Stones investments have supported direct training and credential attainment for women. This year, our support is aimed at the development and implementation of a new “Student Career Preparation Workshop.” The workshop series will be designed to precede student entry into career training programs, helping women better explore career options and plan for the training they’ll need to reach their goals. That could mean lining up scholarships, or figuring out a plan for child care during school and once they’re working. Exploring career options will also help them better understand what a particular job entails, the career pathways to succeed in the profession and learn about local in-demand fields they might not have considered. By designing a workshop to precede student entry into career training programs—whether open enrollment courses or grant-funded workforce development initiatives, like those Stepping Stones has supported in the past—Montgomery College hopes to help women better-match with training programs, and better support the students who need it most. Once designed and tested, the model has the potential to improve education and employment outcomes for women, and can be replicated or scaled.

Finally, with the Foundation’s support, Prince George’s Community College is providing coaching and supportive services to women at the College pursuing a degree or occupational credential. You can learn more about this life-changing work directly from Sharon, one of their graduates:

Interest in community college programs as a workforce development strategy have grown in recent years, and President Obama’s recent proposal to provide Americans with two free years of community college will certainly bring additional attention. Through innovation, community colleges can better serve women, and therefore help whole families and communities thrive.

Adult Education and Family Literacy in Our Region

Adult Education and Family Literacy Week is held each September with the purpose of raising awareness about the importance of basic literacy and numeracy skills for personal and social well-being, and economic security. Basic skills are key drivers of economic growth and societal advancement, and critical to the prosperity and development of children and families.

In the United States, 36 million adults have low levels of literacy and numeracy skills— meaning they aren’t able to read, write, and solve problems at levels necessary to perform their job or navigate common situations which require literacy; or they’re unable to use, interpret, and communicate mathematical information and ideas. Despite high levels of education nationwide, literacy and numeracy in the United States are still relatively weak compared to other industrialized countries, with little sign of improvement in recent decades according to a study released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) last fall.

Adult Literacy chart

The OECD study also revealed that socio-economic background has a very strong influence on adult basic skills. The incidence of low literacy and numeracy levels affects minorities, immigrants and communities of color at a disproportionate rate. According to the study, eight out of ten adults lacking basic skills are either Black (35 percent) or Hispanic (43 percent), compared with only one out of ten for Whites.

In our region, it is estimated that almost half a million people, or about 15 percent of the population 18 years and over, lack basic literacy skills. Prince George’s County has the largest concentration of low-skilled adults, roughly 22 percent of the population, followed by the District of Columbia (19 percent), Arlington (17 percent) and Alexandria (16 percent). Fairfax and Montgomery County adults fare a bit better, with only 11 percent of the population lacking basic literacy skills. These figures go hand-in-hand with educational attainment rates for adults 25 years and over. Prince George’s County has the largest share of adults (41 percent)  who have only a high school degree or less, almost 15 percent higher than the regional average (27 percent) and roughly twice as much compared with Arlington (17 percent), the city of Alexandria (20 percent), Fairfax County (22 percent) and Montgomery County (24 percent).

Literacy and numeracy are highly linked to employment outcomes and economic security. Basic reading, writing and math skills are often a requirement for jobs that pay living wages. It becomes even harder to move up the ladder or succeed in workforce development programs if the baseline to understand new concepts, learn and participate in program activities is missing. Lack of literacy and numeracy skills affects individuals beyond their capacity to earn a living; it is also deeply correlated with personal well-being. Adults with low literacy skills are more likely to report low levels of health, trust, political efficacy, and volunteering. Parents’ reading and math skills also have a lasting impact on their children’s development and future success in schooling. Studies show that children of parents who have not completed high school are more likely to drop out themselves. As parents increase their literacy, they are better equipped to become involved in their children’s education and provide financial stability for their families.

At The Women’s Foundation, we recognize the importance of building basic skills among adults and the power of education to break the cycle of poverty. Since 2012, we have supported Academy of Hope’s efforts to provide women with the basic skills needed to be on a path toward obtaining better jobs and improving their overall well-being. In fact, last year for Adult and Family Literacy Week, we brought you the story of an Academy of Hope graduate, Dorothy, who taught us, at age 74, that it is never too late to go back to school.  This year, the Foundation has continued its support for Academy of Hope, investing in the transition of Academy of Hope to an adult public charter school. In addition, through the Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative, the Foundation invests in school-readiness programs for children aged 0-5 that provide the foundation for a lifetime of learning.

Basic education for all lays the groundwork to live and work together, communicate, develop and share knowledge, and earn a living that pays family sustaining wages. Investing in adult and early childhood education is helping families to build a better economic future and increase social and personal well-being. Through our grants, we’re working towards a high literacy future for our region, taking a page out of Dorothy’s book and sticking to her motto, “If you dream it, you can achieve it.”

Our Visit to Preschool

As an adult, I have little memory of my preschool years.  What I do “remember” is mostly built upon the stories and photos that my parents share with me: the artwork I made; the school play about Thanksgiving; the bright green cast I wore on my arm in my very first school photos (I have been a klutz most of my life…).

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And although I can’t recall the exact lessons learned during my earliest schooling, research shows these years had a tremendous impact on my life. In addition to forming the basis for literacy and numeracy, preschool is also likely where I learned how to behave in a classroom – how to raise my hand, follow instructions, and interact with my peers.  Research shows that high-quality early education builds the academic, social and emotional foundation for success in K-12, college and the workforce.

Last week, The Women’s Foundation and our Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative hosted a tour and conversation with AppleTree at their early learning public charter school site in the Shipley neighborhood of Anacostia, in Southeast DC.  We visited classrooms of three and four year olds, going about their morning activities.  In one class, students were “excavating” dinosaur bones, painting and drawing dinosaurs, or working with dinosaur vocabulary words.

A recent unit on dinosaurs and paleontology has been building up to a field trip to the Museum of Natural History.  AppleTree  uses “play to learn” principles as part of their Every Child Ready curriculum that’s deployed in all of its classrooms.  Every Child Ready is a comprehensive instructional model that drives how to teach, what to teach, and how to tell it’s being done to increase teacher effectiveness and children’s learning in early childhood classrooms.

AppleTree 1

The Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative has invested for several years in AppleTree’s professional development for early childhood teachers, helping to disseminate the Every Child Ready curriculum.  This year, the Collaborative is supporting the organization’s local communications and advocacy efforts, through which AppleTree aims to define quality early education in terms of child outcomes that result in school readiness.

On the occasion of the Week of Young Child, our visit to AppleTree last week was a great reminder of all the ways that individually and collectively our Grantee Partners are striving to provide high-quality early education for our region’s youngest residents.  Whether these children remember learning about dinosaurs – or are reminded later in life by photos and craft projects – these earliest experiences will have a lasting impact on each of their lives, and the vitality of our community as a whole.

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Established in 2008 as a multi-year, multi-million dollar collective funding effort, the Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative brings together corporate funders and local and national foundations, with a mission to increase the quality and capacity of, and access to, early care and education in the Washington region.  Click HERE to learn more.

Funders Work Together to Influence Local Early Childhood System

By Stacey Collins, PNC Foundation and Karen FitzGerald, The Meyer Foundation

sponsorship-fpo-2Six years ago, Washington Area Women’s Foundation launched the Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative, an effort to bring together local and national funders to increase the quality and capacity of, and access to, early care and education in the Washington region.  We – Stacey Collins of PNC, and Karen FitzGerald of The Meyer Foundation – are pleased to serve as the Collaborative’s current co-chairs.

Many of us on the Collaborative have focused on the value of investing in early childhood for many years. However, early childhood issues have recently taken center stage in national conversations.  As a group of funders investing locally, we know that high-quality early care and education can help close the “readiness gap” for low-income children entering kindergarten.

We invest together through the Collaborative to influence systems-level change.  We seek to influence the quality and capacity of early care and education options, and to ensure that low-income families in our region have access to these options.  This year, our grants include local advocacy investments to preserve and increase public support for early care and education, and investments in the professional development of early care and education providers (to increase the quality and capacity of programs in our region, and to support the career advancement and earnings of the predominantly female workforce).

Beyond our grantmaking, how does working as a collaborative influence our individual approaches as funders and investors?

From my perspective, at PNC…

The collective voice is greater than our individual voices, even on the same topic. From feedback and advocacy to funding, the impact is greater when we work together.

As a collaborative effort, by design, we keep early childhood at the center of the conversation. We focus our investments around programs that create the biggest impact. It is not just about making more dollars available for quality childcare in the region, although that is important. It’s also about getting to know what influences, how trends and policies shift the way early childhood education (ECE) happens, and which organizations are on the cutting edge of driving those changes. Often, that means defining quality and really understanding what the programs we fund are doing to change the trajectory of ECE in the region.

I personally have learned so much from being a part of the Collaborative. It’s a group of smart and passionate advocates. Our discussions about program effectiveness, and how to assess that when no universal quality standard pre-K assessment tool exists, are a great way to learn from others. It’s an opportunity to delve into the “why” behind each other’s focus areas.

From my perspective, at The Meyer Foundation…

Pooling resources and focusing on the entire ECE system – rather than on individual child development centers – helps Meyer have a bigger impact in ECE than we would have through our individual grantmaking.  We fund some ECE work in our education program area, but we don’t focus on it.

The Collaborative gives us the chance to learn more about ECE from funders who know more about the issue than we do. We especially value the opportunity to work alongside corporate and family foundations, who share our commitment to the issue and whose different perspectives make for rich discussions and grant deliberations.

The Collaborative has elevated for us the issue of ECE quality so that it is now an important priority of our grantmaking in this area.

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Click here to learn more about the Collaborative.

The Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative currently includes: The Boeing Company, Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, Fight for Children, Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, PNC Foundation, Washington Area Women’s Foundation, and Weissberg Foundation.

A Slice of STEM on 3.14

Pi_pie2There are a few labels I will wear proudly, and “nerd” is one of them.  Tonight I am headed to a local restaurant called Science Club for a Pi Day celebration – an activity that I would say lands pretty high on the list of “10 ways to tell you’re a nerd.” I’m going to this Pi Day celebration to meet up with my fellow high school alumni from the Texas Academy of Math and Science (TAMS) that have found themselves living in the DC region.

TAMS is a residential math and science intensive school that is publicly funded and available to any Texas high school student for their junior and senior years.  The program is housed at the University of North Texas, where students complete college coursework taught by university faculty. I hold this program near and dear to my heart, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been a part of such a great school.

I see programs like TAMS as a fantastic way to encourage girls to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) studies. In 2012, women made up just 5.5% of mechanical engineers, 8.8% of electrical engineers, and 13% of civil engineers. The picture is slightly better in chemical engineering and environmental sciences, with women making up 22.3% and 28.9% of those occupations respectively, but still nowhere near equal representation[1]. The need for more women in STEM professions is huge.  Women in STEM jobs earn 33% more than those in non-STEM occupations and experience a smaller wage gap relative to men.  Programs like TAMS have the opportunity to spark a love for STEM from a young age.

That is not to say that all girls who attend a program like TAMS will choose to pursue engineering or careers as scientists.  I am a good example of such a person who chose a different path, but the experience was still invaluable to me. TAMS allowed me and other young girls like me a safe space to proudly proclaim, “I’m a nerd!” and hear it echoed by our peers. I was able to foster a love for math that has pushed me to teach a weekly math class to adult learners pursuing their GED (at Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner Academy of Hope), and more than anything, it has made me a strong advocate for greater access to STEM programs and jobs for girls and women, something I joyfully get to do in my current role with The Women’s Foundation.

Happy Pi Day to all my fellow nerds out there!


[1] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Women in the Labor Force: A Databook, 2012

The Year in Review: Top Blog Posts for 2013

Where has the year gone?! We can barely believe that 2014 is just around the corner, and though we’re already looking forward to the great things the future holds for Washington Area Women’s Foundation, we’d be remiss if we didn’t take this chance to look back at the incredible year we’ve had in 2013. We launched a new two generation grantmaking strategy for middle school girls and their mothers, saw incredible success stories from our grantee partners, blew past our annual Leadership Luncheon fundraising goal and much more! We chronicled these and more on our blog, and have rounded up some of our favorite blog posts from 2013:

1. New Grantmaking for Girls: A Two Generation Strategy: Foundation President Nicky Goren announced exciting new funding for innovative programs that work with both middle school aged girls and their mothers or female caregivers to establish economic security across generations.

2, 3, and 4. The March on Washington: In Marching Great Distances: My Family’s Past and Future, and the March on Washington, We March On: Diversity, Unity & the March on Washington, and “I Still Have a Dream:” 50 Years Later, March on Washington Remains Relevant our staff provide diverse perspectives on their experience marching with the Foundation and commemorating the 50th anniversary of The March on Washington.

5. Leaning in isn’t an option for all women: In March, Sheryl Sandberg made quite a splash with her book “Lean In,” in which she advises women to assert themselves in the workplace and beyond. On our blog, we looked at the complexity of “leaning in” for low-income women dealing with many other mitigating factors.

6. Sharon Williams Luncheon Remarks: On October 23, Sharon Williams spoke at The Women’s Foundation’s 2013 Leadership Luncheon. Her remarks inspired those in attendance and were posted on our blog shortly after the luncheon. After speaking, Sharon received a Visionary Award for her commitment to improving the lives of women and their families.

7. Why can the restaurant industry be so difficult for women? Spoiler alert: Top Chef Masters got it wrong: In this post, Jessica Zetzman responds to remarks made on Top Chef Masters to Chef Jennifer Jasinski and shares the real reason the restaurant industry is tough for women.

8. Miss Utah Equal Pay Flub Should Be a Call to Action: Following the media buzz after Miss Utah’s flubbed response at the Miss USA Pageant to a question about pay inequity and women’s rights, Foundation President Nicky Goren reflects on the incident’s indication of the lackluster state of the women’s rights movement.

9. No Joke: The Impact of the Sequester is Devastating Vulnerable Families: In June, we looked at the ways the sequester was affecting families in our region and across the US.

10. Changing GED Could Mean Greater Barriers for Area Women: Following an informative panel put together by grantee partner Academy of Hope, we looked at the upcoming changes to the GED slated to take effect this coming January and how they will impact women in our region.

New Grantmaking for Girls: A Two Generation Strategy

I’m excited to announce a new initiative that will expand The Women’s Foundation’s grants and impact in our community. As we move toward taking on a lifespan approach to our work, we are adding funding for programs working with middle school aged girls to our current grantmaking portfolio. We’ve just released our first Request for Proposals (RFP) for this work.

As you’ll see from the RFP, our goal is to fund innovative programs that work with both young women and their mothers or female caregivers, to establish economic security across generations — this is going to be a ground-breaking initiative!

Adolescence is an important time to build foundational skills, encourage positive choices and reinforce girls’ health and well-being. In our region, however, there are numerous barriers to success for adolescent girls:

  • Fifty-one percent of children in the District and 29% of children in Prince George’s County live below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • The District’s drop out rate is nearly 40%, and 16% of Prince George’s students do not graduate high school in four years.
  • And DC and Prince George’s County have the highest number of births to teen mothers in the region (11.7% and 9.3%, respectively).

These statistics are also why our work will initially focus on Washington, DC and Prince George’s County — our research has shown that these are the areas of greatest need among women and girls in our region.

We’re using this new strategy as another stepping stone to achieving and maintaining economic security for women throughout their entire lives. We begin accepting proposals immediately, so please share the RFP with your network today. And I’ll be reporting back in the future about the outcomes of our work and the lessons we’re learning.

Nicky Goren is president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

Success Story: National Adult Education & Family Literacy Week

As National Adult Education & Family Literacy Week draws to a close, the work to ensure the success of adult learners in our region continues. The post below, from our Grantee Partner Academy of Hope, reminds us what can be achieved when we all work diligently towards this goal.

Dorothy Reese: If You Believe, You Can Achieve It!

Born in 1938, Dorothy’s childhood was one of abandonment, daydreams and love. Although her mother had dropped out of school, “she had common sense and was smart,” and she encouraged Dorothy to stay in school. But at the age of 15, Dorothy became pregnant and dropped out of school herself.

Then, at 16 Dorothy met Ronald, with whom she has spent the rest of her life, and by 1979 they had nine children.

During the 1980s, Dorothy “always had energy, loved to work, and wanted to get [her] diploma.” But in the face of family health challenges and the death of her 24-year-old son, in 1994 Dorothy went into rehab for alcohol addiction.

Fortunately this led her to “restart” her life. She began a nursing assistant program, worked nights and took classes at Academy of Hope during the day. Though the start was bumpy, she got on track and persevered. She recalls, “I decided I would stay until I got it and that I wasn’t going to drop out.” She later worked days at the YMCA and attended evening classes, and in November 2011, at age 74, Dorothy graduated from Academy of Hope.

About her journey at Academy of Hope, she says smiling, “All the teachers and staff encouraged me – they never forgot me!”

Now, with support from a Small Enterprise Development program called Women Mean Business, Dorothy is starting up her own business making decorative pillows. “God is not done with me. My motto is:  If you believe it, you can achieve it.”

Written by Jan Leno, Academy of Hope volunteer writer.

VIDEO: Families are Transformed When We Stand With Women

We are so excited to announce the release of our new video from Stone Soup Films!  With your help, we are using strategic investments to create economic security for women and girls in the Washington region.

Great change is possible – when we make smart investments in our community.  Please share this inspiring new video with your networks!

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