Insights for 2015

Dear friends,

We thought it was time to update the President’s Letter because, through the magic of modern analytics, we can track traffic to each page on this website, and surprisingly, many of you are clicking here. So, what insights can we share as we dig into 2015? My personal energies have been quite focused on the foundation’s nonprofit education startups: Education Design Lab and EdFuel. The Lab helps learning institutions meet the changing needs of the workforce; our newest project is a design challenge with seven universities that explores how nontraditional, or “micro” credentials, such as badges, can help students develop 21st-century skills and receive recognition for gaining them in the job market. As we see where the opportunities are arising in this large and complex “problem space,” we are finding the most anxious partners to be universities that want to adapt to the expectations and needs of the marketplace while staying true to their teaching and research missions.

The Lab has partnered with almost three dozen higher education institutions to various degrees, which has underscored that new models in higher ed require a convergence of diverse players, including entrepreneurs, governments, philanthropies, and employers. Testing new models is incredibly important work, and the Lab continues to play the role of prodder, vision partner, advocate, and designer. You can read more about the Lab’s—and philanthropy’s—role in reinventing the way we prepare the next generation to participate in the workforce and to be lifelong learners in this article on the “Learner Revolution” that the Lab wrote for National Education Week. It has been a struggle to get other philanthropists to put their dollars toward innovation in higher education, perhaps because it isn’t as obvious to wealthier families that the old model is struggling to cost-effectively serve the other 90 percent of students, who don’t attend elite institutions. Also, university giving is still primarily driven by alumni offices and built around campaigns that focus on funding the buildings and endowed chairs of the old model.

EdFuel is a national nonprofit I founded two years ago with the Walton Family Foundation to try the more cost-effective model to scale the leadership development efforts that are required to grow the K-12 public charter school movement nationally. In K-12, the philanthropic community has moved away from funding traditional-model school districts and is increasingly choosing to fund more disruptive models, like charter schools. The “Evolution of an Education Funder” infographic, shown below, which I recently presented at the Philanthropy Roundtable 2015 National Forum on K-12 Philanthropy in New Orleans, depicts what I believe is the typical journey of a philanthropist trying to maximize his or her impact in the K-12 sector. The infographic illustrates that after-school programs, college scholarships, and naming opportunities are just the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to supporting meaningful and enduring K-12 education reform.

EdFuel has made great strides in its pilot city of Washington, DC in developing and delivering cost-effective coaching and training for schools’ and organizations’ leadership teams. EdFuel was awarded funding from the New Schools Venture Fund’s (NSVF) Edge Fund, and the Skillman Foundation is helping to launch the initiative in Detroit this year. I am also very excited about EdFuel’s major research project to build competency maps for various leadership career pathways. The organization is working with the Bridgespan Group, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Broad Foundation, and NSVF to accomplish that project.

In addition to these philanthropic investments, the deLaski Family Foundation made more than $2 million in grants to social visionaries in 2014. One such innovator is Enstitute, a mentor-based career apprenticeship program for professional-track students. The foundation funded the program’s expansion from New York to Washington, DC. The first cohort of DC fellows launched last May, and 11 apprentices are now working in fields such as technology, hospitality, and digital media. We also continued our investment in NSVF’s DC Schools Fund to support its goal to close the achievement gap in public schools by creating and sustaining quality charter schools in the nation’s capital. In 2014, NSVF invested $8.5 million in high-performing DC-area charter agencies and added more than 7,500 charter school seats.

My brothers and I continue to be inspired by our parents’ legacy and the work of the foundation’s long-term grantee partners. A few highlights from 2014:

Amadeus Concerts celebrated its 50th anniversary with a concert in Reston, VA.

Sitar Arts Center expanded its efforts to implement early childhood programming at three area preschools in an effort to support teen parents and their children. One hundred percent of the students participating in its after-school programs graduated from high school and were accepted to a college or university.

The Center for Mind-Body Medicine engaged 25,000 people in Gaza and Israel during the summer 2014 conflict to use mind-body skills to work through traumatic tension. Faculty in Haiti taught mind-body skills to more than 10,000 adults and children.

o George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being announced its partnership with Gallup and will begin to assess students’ engagement and positivity levels as measures of personal growth and well-being.

To continue fostering learning and partnership, we ended 2014 by convening the foundation’s education grantees. It was inspiring to see many of our old friends mingling with some of our new ones, discussing important ideas and ways to work together or complement one another’s efforts. We hope to do more of this in 2015.

Kathleen deLaski