This month, leaders from the private sector, government, philanthropy and nonprofits gathered for the Economic Club of Washington D.C.’s 32nd Year Milestone Celebration. I was honored to attend because Venture Philanthropy Partners was one of ten local organizations awarded a $50,000 grant from the Economic Club that evening. As the Economic Club describes, the award is intended to “provide meaningful support for organizations that have a clear focus on the education of underserved youth in the Greater Washington area for success in school, the workforce, and life.” With that intention, the Economic Club has directed the funds to support our Ready for Work initiative in Prince George’s County.
The evening featured a conversation between David M. Rubenstein, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Chairman of The Carlyle Group, and Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon. The discussion allowed the audience a glimpse into the mind of Bezos – from learning about his childhood to the inspiration that led him to start Amazon to his most recent announcement of a $2 billion philanthropic effort.
During the evening’s discussion, Jeff Bezos shared several insights that resonated strongly with me as I think about the value and critical need for bringing together philanthropy, business and government to support young people in our community. What really struck a chord was when Bezos revealed the three key ingredients to his success: heart, intuition and guts. The progress of Ready for Work would not be possible without the heart, intuition and guts of every member of this collaboration – from the County for welcoming the initiative, to the school and nonprofits for working hand-in-hand, to the business leaders who see the value in supporting the education and skills development of high school students.
Business leaders can have an important effect on the development of a region. As Bezos was recounting the origin story of Amazon, he noted that he decided to locate his company in Seattle because he recognized that there was a strong talent pool in that region. We launched Ready for Work in Prince George’s County with precisely that kind of reasoning in mind – we aim to help position our region as the first place that comes to people’s mind when they are thinking about where the strongest talent pool in the country is.
With the Ready for Work initiative, Venture Philanthropy Partners is working to ensure that young people are getting the support and resources they need to become successful adults and contribute to the region’s economy. Business leaders in the region participate in and support Venture Philanthropy Partners and Ready for Work because this initiative supports the future for young people and the collective vision that we all have for Prince George’s County. Right now, there are two big challenges that we face in Prince George’s County. Too many of our young people are coming out of high school unprepared to pursue either further education or a career – they need training in order to acquire the skills necessary to fill employment positions across the County. At the same time, the growth of our community depends on having a skilled workforce to keep businesses in our region going – and to attract new businesses to the area.
Ready for Work addresses these two challenges by bringing together partners from across different sectors to contribute strategies and resources to a three-part strategy across the County and directly in three high schools (Suitland, Oxon Hill and High Point). And these partners bring passion. VPP knows that leaders across all sectors in Greater Washington care deeply about supporting young people, and we hope to create a community where they can have a good home and career – and the opportunity to become thriving adults.
Ready for Work is making an impact on both the systemic level and for individual students. Last school year, approximately 3,000 students were served through Ready for Work’s three strategies. Suitland High School reports that 100 percent of their nursing and construction graduates passed their certification tests and graduated with an industry-recognized credential as a result of the after-school tutoring that VPP supported. That means each of these students can prove they have the skills they need to take the next step into entering their industry and begin a career. And, during this school year, 30 faculty and administrators across all three schools received professional development, mini-grants and shared best practices to strengthen their teaching and improve student achievement.
This school year is off to a great start. Over the summer, we coordinated a summer program for 38 students at High Point High to help them successfully transition from middle school to high school. Now, we are working with High Point to launch youthCONNECT in the school this year. We are seeing continued progress on the results that Ready for Work is working toward and are excited for all that is to come.
The challenges that young people in our community face are significant and the goals of Ready for Work are ambitious, but we know that together – with our combined heart, intuition and guts – we can make real and long-lasting change for young people and the community. Venture Philanthropy Partners is extremely proud that Ready for Work is playing a direct role in improving the lives of young people and contributing to a future where everyone in Greater Washington can find success.
Carol Thompson Cole
President and CEO
Venture Philanthropy Partners