Cultivated relationships with funders and partners who could support the Discovery network
The Memorial Fund had a history of partnering with State government since 1994. Originally, these partnerships related to community work on behalf of young children, on a project by project basis. In 2006, the partnership with the State took a leap forward. The legislature established the Connecticut Early Childhood Education Cabinet and Then Governor M. Jodi Rell also created an Early Childhood Research and Policy Council by executive order to support this work. These entities brought together a diverse network of providers, advocates, academics, funders, and state agencies.
At the end of 2006, the Memorial Fund Trustees voted to extend and intensify the Discovery initiative. In addition, the Memorial Fund increased the size of the community grants, added communities to Discovery, created incentives for regional work, and provided additional funding for coordinated state advocacy work. The Memorial Fund also set in motion a plan for partnering with the State. In 2007, the Memorial Fund challenged the state to match investments in parent leadership development and community infrastructure for local early childhood planning.
Ultimately, the Memorial Fund would allocate $900,000 for local planning and $600,000 for parent leadership training in return for a investment of new funds from the State over two years. The Children’s Fund of Connecticut joined the partnership and provided funding to support planning and creating health strategies.
The Collaborative Management Team with representatives from each partner entity was set up to manage the implementation of the process. The CMT functioned as a true partnership - with each partner agreeing to give up their individual authority to make decisions related to the allocation of their funding in favor of making decisions by consensus.
Partnerships Deepen and New Partnerships are Formed
The Memorial Fund, again with The Children’s Fund of Connecticut on board, repeated its challenge to the state in 2009. More than 100 people, including legislators, parents and philanthropic leaders gathered at a press conference in support of parent leadership training to hear the announcement. The Memorial Fund asked the State to match a $1.5 million investment in building community plans for early childhood, increasing parent leadership, and improving early literacy. Again the State accepted the offer.
Also, the beginning of a new partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation co-funded an early literacy demonstration initiative. This project was intended to leverage, align and intensify the quality of community and school district joint literacy efforts. A Funders Collaborative which included the State Department of Education, the Memorial Fund, the Connecticut Center for School Change, and the Child Development Health Institute managed the project.
Then, in 2011, Public Act 11-181 was passed, which called for planning a coordinated system of early care and education in Connecticut. Excited at the promise of this new legislation, foundations with an interest in early childhood issues came together to form the Connecticut Early Childhood Funders Collaborative through the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy. The purpose of this collaborative, including community foundations, United Ways, private and corporate foundations was to support the State in meeting the requirements of the bill. The Funder’s Collaborative collectively contributed $180,000 toward this end.
Over the next two years, the Funders Collaborative would help underwrite the State’s application for the Federal Early Learning Challenge grant, participate in recruiting and hiring the State’s Early Childhood Planning Director, provide funding for the position, and bring technical assistance of the highest quality to the Planning Team, through the National BUILD Initiative.
Challenges and Opportunities
Partnerships are a powerful tool for creating systemic change. Making it work is not easy, though, and requires an understanding of the importance of process and of building consensus. Recognizing that partnership work needs to be co-designed and supported, the Memorial Fund often plays the role of convenor and underwriter of collaborative enterprises. Though an essential and useful role, it is one that must ultimately be subsumed by collective leadership.
As the network of early childhood stakeholders becomes stronger and more cohesive, and partnerships become deeper and better defined, the Memorial Fund has begun seeking ways to move from the center “hub” to functioning as a node in the larger network. This thinking will redefine the role of the Memorial Fund and make way for distributing leadership more widely.