This month, I was honored to welcome many members of our community to a VPP Investor Forum. The event was an opportunity for VPP to update our investors, longtime partners and new friends on our current work and provide a preview of the important issues we are exploring. We were also pleased to host a conversation with our nonprofit partners to hear their perspectives on the progress we are making in the lives of young people in the region through our work together – progress accelerated by VPP’s unique model of collaboration. And, most important, we had a robust discussion with our guests – about VPP, our investments, and our vision and goals for the future.
To help accomplish that vision, VPP investor Leonard Egan issued a challenge announced at the forum: Leonard will match new commitments to VPP dollar for dollar up to $1 million! This challenge comes at a seminal moment: Our work is yielding significant results, and we are poised to make even bigger impact. It’s time for us to invest in our own growth to match our ambitions of creating change in Greater Washington. We want to thank Leonard for challenging and inspiring us and others to do more work improving the lives of youth in Greater Washington. We also applaud the many VPP board members and investors who have taken on the challenge and already contributed toward the match.
When we think about how VPP can change the lives of young people in our region, we look at the full spectrum of a child’s growth – from preschool to middle school to high school and beyond. So many factors can affect their success – from the curriculum they are taught in the classroom, to the strength and quality of teachers who guide their education, to the life skills and work experience they need for today’s jobs. We constantly seek inflection points to support significant impact.
During the Investor Forum, a panel discussed our current investments. VPP Partner Michelle Gilliard led a discussion with speakers representing Higher Achievement, Relay Graduate School of Education and Ready for Work: Champions for Career and College Ready Graduates of Prince George’s County. Though I work with these partners daily, I learn something new and motivating about our work together each time we speak.
One of the three strategies that make up our Ready for Work initiative builds the capacity of Career and Technical Education (CTE) teachers so more students can enroll — and to better develop the skills students need to graduate ready for college and career. Lateefah Durant, the Academic Officer in the Department of College and Career Readiness and Innovative Programs for Prince George’s County Public Schools, shared how investments in Ready for Work school leaders has helped break them out of departmental siloes to team up for positive student outcomes, and has given them the time and space to find solutions that really work.
High-quality education requires teachers with high-quality training. As Manager of Program Development and Partnerships at AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter Schools, Kelly Riling described how investment can correct this critical workforce development problem. In late 2017 VPP, Education Forward and the A. James and Alice B. Clark Foundation co-invested $3 million to bring the Relay Graduate School of Education to Washington, D.C. Relay is a nationally accredited alternative school of education that offers graduate degrees and credentials in teacher education and school leadership. Now also an Adjunct Instructor at Relay Graduate School of Education, Kelly shared the great news that Relay just graduated 19 residents – and that 100% of those teacher graduates were hired.
Higher Achievement helps middle school students achieve and thrive by providing year-round expanded learning and mentoring. VPP’s investment in the organization provides Higher Achievement a unique opportunity to expand its positive outcomes by further enhancing data collection, performance management and evaluation capacity to close the opportunity gap in the middle school years. Lynsey Wood Jeffries, CEO of Higher Achievement, noted that VPP’s investment supports an implementation study that will allow the organization to learn which components of its model best serve students and where to improve.
Collaboration is at the heart of VPP’s approach – and that means that we need leaders in the community to continue this journey with us to solve the big challenges affecting young people in our region. It meant so much to hear the questions and remarks of our colleagues at the Investor Forum. Howard Stone of the Prince George’s County Council office showed us we are on the right path when he said:
“The work of VPP has tremendously changed the focus of what we are doing with nonprofits in Prince George’s County. We are now seeing a transformation of what we can do with schools and nonprofits. It’s remarkable to see what things are like now compared to how it was. I still dream of what can be, and VPP has helped restore my faith in what can be.”
By rolling up our sleeves and diving into the work of our current investments, this is the sort of transformational collaboration we strive to foster in Greater Washington – but we’re not done yet.
Looking forward, we have formally transitioned into an evergreen model: All our resources, efforts and progress remain steadfast and focused on our goals for the young people in this region. But as our work evolves, we have learned we can no longer start and stop our work in distinct funds or portfolios. Our kids need us to constantly raise capital and identify “right time” investments and partnerships to improve their outcomes.
At meetings or events in the community, many people ask me a question that might be on your mind right now – What exactly is VPP going to invest in next? Well, the truth is that I can’t tell you because I don’t exactly know. When people support and partner with VPP, they do it because of our unique approach of constantly studying the landscape, finding opportunities where we can make a measurable difference and continuing to be flexible to leverage capital.
I do know our young people still have a great need, and the only way to make real headway is leveraging investments and bringing business, government and philanthropy together to solve our region’s biggest problems.
I can tell you that we see troubling trends that we must address, together.
We are going outside classrooms to the communities where our youth live and grow. We can bring resources and our strategic expertise to join forces with community economic development projects. In Fairfax County, we are exploring a government partnership to design and develop a “human-centered mixed use and mixed income” community on Route 1, turning the Old Mount Vernon High School into a “hub” that supports preschool children, their families and opportunity youth.
With the support of the Bowser Administration, we are also looking at how we may play a role in addressing the significant obstacles that boys and young men of color in Washington, D.C. face when trying to succeed in school and beyond. We are exploring the creation of a fully syndicated, collective impact effort around this issue.
To find inflection points, we continue researching and analyzing the landscape. In the near future, we plan to update our Capital Kids Report to provide a clear picture of children and youth in the Greater Washington region and their current needs. First published in 2012, this report was an invaluable resource for understanding where our support was needed most and will be a critical tool for the future.
We are also looking inward to build on our approach for an even wider and deeper impact. This means exploring new investment vehicles and approaches; developing a market for social outcomes that both shifts the flow of capital and attracts new capital; and engaging stakeholders to demonstrate and measure the value created through investments in social change at scale.
These efforts and outcomes need time, effort and support. My biggest lesson from 15 years at VPP is: Change takes patience and persistence.
We truly appreciate the trust from our dedicated family of social change agents to do this work, and we look to you to spread the word by telling others what we are doing and where we are going. We are also looking to you to support these efforts. If you are interested in responding to Leonard’s challenge to help VPP launch into our next body of work, contact Amy Selco, VP of Development and Investor Relations at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Through partnership, we can coordinate and concentrate our efforts on our kids’ – and continue the work to secure their futures.
Carol Thompson Cole
President and CEO
Venture Philanthropy Partners