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Social Innovation Summit 2020 | Beyond Backpacks & Hotspots: Partnering for Long Term Impact
Watch: "Social Innovation Summit 2020 | Beyond Backpacks & Hotspots: Partnering for Long Term Impact" | 52:36

Getting beyond the grant

We come together to make sure students have backpacks and hotspots, but all the money in the world won’t solve what can be done when we partner with communities to do the hard work that can create long-lasting impact.

Embracing our Interdependence

The past four months have put the inadequacies and inequities of our systems on display – our education system included.

There’s a sense of comfort that comes from the Kauffman Foundation’s ability to quickly fund immediate needs such as hotspots and devices for students in the Kansas City metro. However, the more complicated work is getting to the root cause of those symptoms – to make long-lasting, systemic change with our community.

Recently, Kauffman associates Sherman Whites, director in Education and Murray Woodard and Lia McIntosh, program officers in Education, facilitated a workshop on this very topic for the virtual 2020 Social Innovation Summit. Woodard framed it up: How do we, as philanthropy, make sure that the parents, the families, the teachers, who will be impacted by our funding, are part of the solutions that we support? How do we make sure we are partners in this work as we decide what our community needs?

We believe the most authentic philanthropy is when the people who are on the ground, most impacted, bring us their ideas and solutions.

— Lia McIntosh
Program Officer, Education, Kauffman Foundation

First: “We need to stop talking about us versus them and figure out what’s best for kids,” Woodard says. “If we don’t work together, we’re never going to solve this problem of educating kids.”

That starts with philanthropic humility. “We believe the most authentic philanthropy is when the people who are on the ground, most impacted, bring us their ideas and solutions,” McIntosh says.

We listen, convene, and take risks with them.

Watch: “Kauffman Sketchbook – ‘Reason to Believe'” | 2:35

Woodard says 10 years of this work has produced a truly community-engaged process. “This is not just a grassroots program. This is not just the tree tops. We’ve collaborated with community members at all levels,” he says.

During the workshop, they discussed how they’ve invested in Great Schools visits, Individual Schools grants, and ecosystem and equity work to catalyze community-driven philanthropic impact.

It might be hard to “measure” through a traditional philanthropic lens – we’re talking about calculating and sharing risk with our community for sustainable long-term outcomes, not short-term gains.

“We’re taking a lot of catalytic bets, and some of them are high risk – higher risk than others,” Whites says. “But at the same time, if we don’t take these bets, if philanthropy is not the risk capital to take these bets, then where is that risk capital?”


Embracing Our Interdependence: In a country born out of the notion of individualism, our greatest strength can actually be our interdependence. We can remain strong individuals while also building stronger systems, and a stronger nation.

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