It’s staggering to even think about.

According to UNESCO

, 1.5 billion learners in 195 countries across early childhood, K-12 and postsecondary have been impacted by COVID-19.

How can we support learners in this time? What will the world look like as students, families, communities, and learning institutions are forever changed? How do we support learners to become stronger citizens who can thrive in our interdependent world?

At Imaginable Futures, our mission is to unlock human potential through learning. While we were not planning for a global pandemic, for the past decade, including as part of Omidyar Network, we have been dedicated to finding and nurturing entrepreneurs at the edge of innovation—both those working inside of school environments as well as outside of them. Supporting these changemakers and fostering their best ideas has always been central to our mission because we know that good ideas can come from anywhere. As a hybrid impact investor and grant-maker that invests in and supports nonprofits and for-profit companies as well as ecosystem builders, we have focused on emerging innovations in learning that can have exponential impact on learning outcomes – particularly for those historically excluded. This is needed now more than ever before.

In this two-part series, Managing Partner, Amy Klement, shares how she is looking at the education landscape and how Imaginable Futures might best help learners around the world against the current crisis.

Question: Given you have been investing in education and learning for so long, let’s start with the positives. What are the points of light in your portfolio?

Answer: I am in awe of our amazing partners who immediately sprang into action. Here are just a few examples of key moves and themes we saw. And just think, some of these pivots were made in days:

New multimodal learning meeting massive family demand

  • Tinkergarten (US), that focuses on outdoor play-based activities, launched Tinkergarten at Home featuring free screenless weekly DIY activity plans in English and Spanish and an active online community to help families continue play-based learning while social distancing.
  • Bridge International Academies (Global), who supports and partners with government schools and runs community schools across Africa and India, moved quickly to support families and teachers by putting daily learning activities online. As just the first step in a multi-pronged approach, this is helping to keep students learning using Bridge’s proven teaching and learning resources.
  • Holberton School (Global), an alternative career pathway in software engineering that features project-based and peer learning with no upfront tuition or fees, transitioned all its campuses to a fully online experience and opened a new presence in Uruguay.
  • PelotonU (US), that offers coaching and a network of academic resources and social services to students enrolled in online postsecondary degree programs, redesigned each part of their model to express their values in an online context and launched an emergency grants program to meet the immediate needs of students.

Supplementing content to deliver more holistic experiences

  • Khan Academy and Khan Academy Kids (global), already a leader in online learning with a focus on a whole child approach in early learning, released daily remote learning schedules for students ages 2 to 18, as well as several remote learning guides for parents, teachers, and schools and districts. And if you haven’t seen founder Sal Khan’s live “daily homeroom,” you should check it out!
  • Ubongo (Africa), an educational content platform for children ages 3-14, launched over 10 new broadcasters and expanded to four new countries: Cote d’Ivoire, DR Congo, Cameroon and Gambia. They also launched Ubongo Toolkits platform, a large library of African-made early learning materials and educational resources. Finally, Ubongo offered their library of TV and radio edutainment content, PSAs, and educational videos to support health and hygiene, for free. (Read more on why we invested in Ubongo).
  • ParentPowered’s Ready4K (US), an evidence-based family engagement platform, launched a trauma-informed text-based solution with behaviorally-informed nudges about protective factors to support resilience and mental well-being for children and families.

New platforms leveraging existing tools

  • Public School Partnerships together with DGMT (South Africa) is establishing a central website portal that will provide zero-rated access to a range of vetted, quality, Public Benefit Organization (PBO) sites, apps and services across all networks. This portal will enable content and services for all learners and their families in South Africa who have access to basic cell phones.
  • Innovation Edge (South Africa), an early learning innovation catalyst and social impact investor, is coordinating the production of an 8-10 minute daily radio broadcast on 15 radio stations across South Africa, in all 11 official languages. The broadcast will include updates on the lockdown and the health system's response, share key prevention strategies, address pressing public concerns, and include personal motivational messages for well-known South African personalities and leaders.
  • Aprendizap (Brazil), a free Whatsapp-based learning platform for students grades 6-9, developed in partnership with the Lemann Foundation and Fundação 1bi, is enabling interactive access to a weekly study plan with content and activities created by expert teachers for students in quarantine.

Meeting immediate needs for community, sharing and inspiration

  • Teach For All (global), a global network of education leaders across 50+ countries, launched "Teaching Without Internet,” a WhatsApp group for teachers to share best practices for learning during school closures; they are exchanging tips from creative, dedicated teachers about issues such as learning where there is no internet.
  • Centering Healthcare Institute (US), which promotes a family-centered healthcare model from pregnancy through age two with a focus on health equity and connected communities, launched a telehealth grants program to support health centers to transition their Centering programs to virtual formats so that they can continue to provide evidence-based, group care to expecting and new parents and their young children.

Offering of free and/or expanded services

  • Agenda Edu (Brazil), a platform that enables schools to help better guide families about what and how they should study at home with their children, communicate school announcements, and manage online events, has offered a temporary free version of their platform to non-partners.
  • Arvore Educação (Brazil), a digital literacy solution to foster critical thinking and reading comprehension skills, is providing temporary free access to its platform to support governmental agencies and school districts, in addition to implementing its full service for free in five districts that will reach approximately 100K students.

Q: And now the challenges. What is keeping you up at night?

A: What isn’t keeping me up? Our current situation is extreme, devastating and still nascent. I am first to recognize we, as Imaginable Futures, exist in a position of privilege. My team is able to work from home, care for our families, and still earn a salary. Most around the world do not have this luxury. But what weighs heaviest on my mind is the trauma that so many children and families are facing and will continue to face. I think of it as the trauma trio: the economic crisis, the health crisis and the human connection crisis – all creating a humanitarian crisis that is impacting learners across the age spectrum. So, we need to think deeply not about how we keep going with "learning as we knew it" but rather imagine and design new ways. This is not about continuity. This is about new experiences, connections, and learning environments that will enable learners, families, and educators to thrive – including a focus on healing and resilience. Enabling people to adapt to a world where physical distancing and learning disruption may be an on-again, off-again occurrence for many years.

Additionally, I am thinking about how systemic inequities are exponentially widening, including in education. In the United States, we see the stark reality of this widening such as the digital divide, where homeschooling “works” if you have access to technology and Wi-Fi, which so many families don’t. But the digital divide is just one divide we need to consider. Parental and caregiver literacy and educational attainment is another. And, perhaps most important is the social emotional environment at home which can lead to abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence. Mental health issues, already on the rise among children and adults, will increase.

We need to think deeply not about how we keep going with ‘learning as we knew it’ but rather imagine and design new ways. This is not about continuity. This is about new experiences, connections, and learning environments that will enable learners, families, and educators to thrive – including a focus on healing and resilience.
Amy Klement

Q: How is Imaginable Futures reacting to the crisis?

A: We quickly made values-based adaptations to how we support our investees and related adjustments to our operations. This includes partnering deeply with our portfolio on new plans and strategies, including, of course, assessing capital needs – as fluid as the world may be. For our nonprofit investees, it includes flexibility on grant terms and renewals where appropriate.

Our primary focus continues to be supporting our portfolio – particularly those who are able to create significant impact during this time for our most excluded learners. Additionally, we are making a few select, strategically aligned, rapid-response investments. I look forward to soon sharing some of these exciting new investments made across Africa, Latin America and the United States.

Perhaps most importantly, we are re-grounding in our values. Now is the time for compassion, for listening, for learning, for seeking justice, and for changemaking. And, now is the time to ask ourselves: How do we help students, families and communities develop the literacies, competencies and mindsets needed to thrive in the “next normal”?