Like 2020, the past year found children and families — particularly those in poverty — struggling with the widespread impacts of COVID-19, and the country grappling with political discord and the continued fight for racial justice. It was another difficult year, but one that also came with a number of welcome changes. These changes — particularly at the national level with the child-focused funding within the American Rescue Plan Act — have provided us hope and a new context in which to do our work. Trillions of dollars of federal funding have started to flow into communities as a down payment for the policies and programs that we know will work to promote a more equitable and just society. And like never before, the country realized the profound value of early care and education in supporting the well-being of children, families and communities.
As a foundation, we are working to leverage these positive changes by redefining what it means to be a philanthropic partner within the communities we serve. The organizational changes we have made over the past year strive to balance power dynamics with our partners, updating some foundation policies and processes to make it easier for partners to work with us. These changes are based on the understanding that true power rests not with us as funders, but with the voice, vision, expertise and relationships of community residents and organizations. This is not a new perspective, but it marks an important evolution in our approach.
This shift meant changing the way we operate — including how we support partners, how we structure our internal operations to be more effective, how we learn and how we hold ourselves accountable. We are more mindful of not imposing ourselves or our ideas on communities, but rather building relationships and deferring to stakeholders’ assessment of needs and the solutions it will take to meet those needs. We are making longer-term and more substantial commitments to partners based on the trust and traction they have within the community rather than on their current capacity or financials. We are co-creating solutions, strategies and reporting requirements and are evaluating success based on the stories of change that our traditional metrics and indicators have historically missed. As a result, we are emerging from the year more nimble, more collaborative and better positioned to support our partners in leading change.
The 2020/2021 Year in Review “Momentum” highlights our first steps in this new direction, focusing on three key themes that cut across our programs and reflect who we are striving to become as an organization.
As we work toward becoming an anti-racist organization, we know there is tangible progress happening at the local level — like the D.C. tax increase on residents making $250,000 or more, which will support our advocacy partners’ movement toward not only livable wages, but competitive compensation packages for the District’s early childhood educators (who are mostly women of color). We know how imperative it is for those policies to be cemented long term to create sustainable change. And because of this momentum and what we’ve experienced to be possible, we will continue to come alongside our partners so that together we can leverage the opportunities around us to work toward an equitable society for children and families.