When our philanthropic investment firm launched one year ago, we could never have anticipated the year that was 2020. COVID-19 upended life as we knew it. The murder of George Floyd in the US gave rise to global protests against racism, anti-Black policies and white supremacy, and a long overdue reckoning with racial injustice and systemic inequity.
For those of us in the field of education and learning, we saw how the pandemic accelerated and exacerbated a widening equity and digital divide for so many undervalued learners. Years of progress made to improve global school attendance rates, gender and racial gaps in education, and national curriculum standards were undone.
So we paused our initial priorities. We listened to our partners and investees and sought to deeply understand the challenges and the needs. Our flexible, hybrid model meant we were able to quickly pivot and innovate to invest where we could be most impactful.
Here’s just a few of the ways our values guided our work in 2020 and the learnings we’re taking into 2021:
- Compassionate Changemaking requires adapting to emerging needs. In response to COVID-19, we immediately deployed over $3 million in immediate COVID-19 response aid across the United States, Africa and Latin America. This included establishing a $1.2 million Home-Based Child Care Emergency Fund, creating an emergency aid fund for student parents, supporting learners in Brazil who don’t have reliable access to internet in partnership with the Lemann Foundation, and investing in organizations delivering critical health services in Kenya and reaching young people across East Africa with the information, skills and resources they need to transform their lives. Overall in 2020, we funded more than $25M to over 50 nonprofit and for-profit partners.
- Justice Seeking means acknowledging and shifting power dynamics. By listening first to learners and families and following their lead, we can make systems more responsive and just. Traditional philanthropy has a long history of creating or upholding inequitable power structures, often despite best intentions. So we are examining our own role in these structures, renewing our commitment to centering equity, facing our own implicit and explicit biases, and continuing to hold ourselves and partners accountable to our values. And, together with our partners we will continue to explore how funders can rethink power dynamics to foster equity.
- For Inclusive Collaboration to be an accelerant, trust is essential. More than just co-creating, it also requires knowing we do not hold all the answers. For example, we learned so much from our partnership with Teach For All, a network of 59 independent, locally-led organizations that cultivates collective leadership in classrooms and communities around the world. During the early months of the pandemic, the Teach For All WhatsApp group for ‘teaching without internet’ organically grew to thousands of teachers sharing best practices for learning during school closures. This type of global collaboration in education is rarely seen and is now needed more than ever.
- To be Courageous Learners, we must rethink what’s possible. When we saw how COVID-19 was impacting learning, we partnered with IDEO to think big about dismantling systemic inequities in education, resulting in the report: Learning Reimagined. Likewise, we partnered with UNICEF to produce the podcast series, Learning to Overcome, and explore solutions and digital innovations that can help us all overcome this uniquely challenging time and discuss how this might reshape the future of education.
- As Grateful Celebrators we should prioritize moments of joy. In the midst of everything, we cheered for our partners’ wins and commemorated book launches, fundraising milestones, well-earned industry recognitions, marriage proposals, new babies, and much more. We celebrated these moments to hold on to hope and strengthen our community. And, knowing how critical relationships and connections are for resilience, we shared our own stories. And, we were reminded that, as humans, we can experience and hold all of the emotions, often at the same time.