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March 7, 2013 / Rebekah Seder, Editor

Aligning philanthropy, nonprofits, business, and government to “Raise DC”

In D.C., 19 percent of adults lack basic literacy skills, 30 percent of children live in poverty, and only 61 percent of students graduate high school on time. For a city known for its prosperity – not to mention its wealth of social programs and nonprofit organizations – these are troubling facts that suggest that something isn’t working.

Earlier this week, funders heard from leaders of Raise DC, a comprehensive “cradle-to-career” framework that aims to ensure that all District youth are career-ready by the age of 24. The effort launched in 2012 and is modeled after the collective impact approach of Strive, the highly successful cradle-to-career model that began in Cincinnati. The goal is to align resources from across sectors in a coordinated way to make sure that children enter kindergarten ready to learn and graduate high school ready for a career.

Terri Freeman, president of the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region (CFNCR), which anchors this effort, defines Raise DC by what it is not: a formal collaboration, a special initiative, or a funding pool. Rather, she emphasizes that Raise DC is a civic infrastructure that enables philanthropy, government, business, and youth/family-serving organizations to align their own work to advance key educational outcomes for the District’s young people.

Here are just a few of the key take-aways from the discussion:

Raise DC is “owned” by the community, not by city government. As BB Otero, deputy mayor for health and human services, and Jennifer Leonard, interim deputy mayor for education, emphasized, the Gray administration is deeply supportive of the initiative, but it isn’t the driver of it. Housing Raise DC at CFNCR ensures that the infrastructure is sustainable and won’t end after an election cycle.

Raise DC isn’t just a re-hash of past education initiatives, but it does learn from those experiences. As Deputy Mayor Otero said, it is unique in its emphasis on alignment, particularly at the government level. For the first time, human services agencies are changing their internal practices in order to work toward the same outcomes – ensuring children complete their education and join the workforce.

Funders can support Raise DC – and might already be doing so without realizing it. Many nonprofit organizations are already engaged in Raise DC. There are multiple avenues for people to plug into the Raise DC infrastructure, and panelists encouraged funders to get involved themselves. Most importantly, funders can support Raise DC by adjusting their own strategies so that they work toward these common outcomes – and stick with those strategies over the long-term.

Raise DC’s goals are ambitious, and require dozens of actors to come to the table willing to work together and change their own strategies to align with Raise DC’s goals. However, it is clear from the data that an effort of this magnitude is necessary because, in Deputy Mayor Otero’s words, “if we don’t make [these shifts], D.C. will leave families behind as the city prospers.”

For a deeper discussion of collective impact and its potential for addressing deeply entrenched issues, join WRAG on April 17 to hear from Jeff Edmondson, head of the Strive Network, in the second installment of our Brightest Minds series for 2013.

Following the event, WRAG’s Tamara Copeland talked with the United Way’s Bill Hanbury about what makes Raise DC unique and why funders should support it.

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