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Foundation executives discuss their efforts to connect the many contexts in which children live and learn in order to increase the impact of their investments in these areas.

In their efforts to alleviate complex social problems, foundations increasingly are recognizing the value of developing connections among stakeholders and across sectors that serve children and youth. These sectors include early care and education/school readiness, K–12 education, out-of-school time/ youth development, arts and culture, health, child welfare, and community building.

Although foundations try to create these linkages and alignments for a variety of reasons, most of them hope to achieve two main objectives: First, funders hope that by creating a continuum of services and reducing redundancies, they will more effectively serve children and youth. Second, funders use these connections for strategic ends—to leverage support from other investments, partners, and resources.

Recently, with funds from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Harvard Family Research Project asked foundation executives how they are aligning people, organizations, and systems to improve outcomes for children and youth. Below are responses from three executives.

How is your foundation aligning people, organizations, and systems to improve outcomes for children and youth?

Lise Maisano, senior program officer at the S. H. Cowell Foundation, discusses opening lines of communication and finding synergies with place-based grantmaking.

By making grants that support and strengthen their families and neighborhoods, the S. H. Cowell Foundation aims to improve the quality of life of children living in poverty in Northern California. We focus on making complementary, place-based grants in communities where there are opportunities to improve the quality of neighborhood life, family functioning, student success, youth readiness for adulthood, and civic partnerships. Grants are made in four areas: affordable housing, family resource centers, K–12 public education, and youth development.

Our first step in investing in a community is to ask grantees to pull together a tour and a forum to help us understand the community: who its members are, what they do, what their culture is, and what it's like to live there—in other words, what it's like to walk in their shoes. We also ask the communities to bring together all of their partners (i.e., community leaders, other funders, stakeholders in the business community, etc.).

This gathering often represents one of the first times everyone in the community has come together to have a common conversation; it helps the communities to recognize what they have and who they are. The best of them see the meeting as an opportunity to forge deeper relationships and bring in new partners and stakeholders. Previously, in many of these communities, people were either not working together at all or were doing so in a limited way. Even among the few that had deeper relationships prior to our involvement, most had not put much time into trying to figure out how the community's different sectors could work together to achieve a common outcome.

We are looking for synergy, goodwill, and connectedness. We know this doesn't happen overnight—it's messy and it takes time. But we think that if people find common ground in a natural, organic way, these relationships will be more enduring and will make a difference over the long term. We are learning that just continuing to ask people to come together is helping them to have more authentic and productive relationships.

We have been most successful at helping foster connections around outcomes. Going back into the communities and sharing with them what they have told us about what difference is being made is one way of recognizing their power and their achievements. The more that we are invested in a community and share what we are learning with them as part of an ongoing conversation, the more relationships among those communities will deepen, which, in turn, will sustain what they have accomplished.

Terry Mazany, president and chief executive officer of the Chicago Community Trust, reflects on working toward a common goal with systems-level work.

Since 1915 the Chicago Community Trust has been the region's community foundation, aiming to improve the quality of life in Chicago by helping donors manage their charitable giving and making grants in the community. The Trust centers its grantmaking in five areas: arts and culture, basic human needs, community development, education, and health. Our education initiative, which seeks to improve the quality of elementary and secondary education, is a major focus.

The linkages we make are part of an overall agenda to create an extended, enriched learning environment to support low income children and families in Chicago. To that end, our grantmaking is systemic in nature. Specifically, we promote two types of linkages. The first type is connecting organizations with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). We actively link agencies on the outside with administrators inside the school system.

For example, when CPS identified literacy as its top priority, we helped them assess the landscape. We found that local universities, while they possessed the intellectual capacity and tremendous expertise needed to teach reading, were underutilized outside of small pilot projects in which a university “adopted” a specific school. In response we created a consortium of six universities to work with a set of schools identified by CPS. We also are building on existing initiatives, such as the Polk Bros. Foundation's community schools model,¹ and creating new initiatives that link individual service providers with schools to extend the learning day.

The second type of linkage is aligning people and organizations around a common goal or set of strategies. For example, in our funding of the Museum of Science and Industry's science programming, we ensure that the museum works with the leaders of the Chicago Math and Science Initiative, so that the museum's programming serves as a resource that complements the school system's core curriculum. We also make sure that the school system's central-office curriculum developers know about this programming, so that they can build it into the curriculum, thereby allowing schools to take advantage of these resources to provide enrichment, extend lessons, and build in practices. We require that curriculum materials be organized around these visits and that postvisit lesson plans be implemented to build off of the experience. We also seek to fund projects that have a training component that helps teachers understand and integrate the value of a museum experience into their lessons.

Additionally, we are addressing the challenges of the early childhood field, which is a patchwork of programs with federal, state, and city funding, all with varying standards and visions for children's academic preparation. We are working with the various agencies to get them all on the same page and aligned with a set of standards so that children can be successful in kindergarten.

Nancy Devine, director of community programs, and Sheila Murphy, senior officer, both of the Wallace Foundation, discuss sharing resources with public or private partnerships.

The Wallace Foundation enables institutions to expand learning and enrichment opportunities for all people by supporting and sharing effective ideas and practices. We fund nationally in three focus areas—communities, arts, and education—each of which is staffed by a team that includes program officers, evaluation/ research officers, and communications officers. Our grants in the area of communities focus on out-of-school learning, while our arts grants support participation in the arts; our education grants focus on improved school leadership.

Learning in Communities is a city-based strategy that seeks to redesign local systems of out-of-school learning to make sure that public and private funds are allocated based on standards of quality and learner participation. To date, the strategy has been launched in Providence and New York City with multiyear investments that followed intensive business planning processes. The Wallace Foundation also invests in our other program areas, the arts and school leadership, in these two cities.

We also look for opportunities to connect our work both internally and externally in the cities where we invest. For example, market research in both Providence and New York City affirmed that children and families are hungry for an increased range of arts opportunities in the nonschool hours. As school systems nationwide struggle to meet rising expectations for student achievement, the arts are too often marginalized during the school day, and this increases the need for arts engagement outside of school. From the “arts perspective” research has shown that the people most likely to support and engage in the arts as adults are those who received high quality early exposure. Bringing kids and the arts together outside of school benefits everyone involved.

The need to build better bridges between the in-school and out-of-school hours is also increasingly well understood. Currently, in New York City, Wallace is involved in two major initiatives. The first involves a redesign of the city's overall out-of-school time system led by the Mayor's Office and the Department of Youth & Community Development (DYCD). As part of the city's commitment to strengthening the quality of after school programs, DYCD and the New York City Department of Education recently signed an unprecedented agreement to share resources ranging from facilities to training and technical assistance. As the Department of Education implements a citywide curriculum and struggles to improve student achievement, it only makes sense to think about the fact that the after school hours offer a unique forum for providing a wide range of learning opportunities that are tailored to the needs of kids and families.

The other initiative involves the city's three library systems: the Brooklyn, Queens, and New York Public Libraries. Over the next 3 years the libraries will be working to improve the quality and capacity of the various programs they provide for kids of all ages outside of school. To enhance this effort, they, too, are working with the Department of Education on activities that include joint professional development, collection development that supports the school curriculum, and summer reading activities that will help students enhance their skills during these crucial months.

¹ For more information on this model visit

Erin Harris, Research Analyst, HFRP

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