Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Connecting the Dots: Is Your Community "Program Rich, System Poor"?

October 31, 2011

The Strive Network connects dots.  

In Cincinnati, Ohio, it used to be that community and education programs didn’t work as closely together as they could to maximize efforts to help students succeed. Kids were getting lost in the transition between early learning programs K-12 and higher education systems, and not enough were completing high school or earning a college credential. The community support programs for kids and parents operated in isolation from the education systems. 

Unfortunately, this situation—what a county coroner in Ohio started calling “Program Rich, System Poor”—exists throughout the United States. So Cincinnati set out to do something about this by connecting the dots between programs, and Strive was born.

That was six years ago. 

This fall, 83 communities from across the United States met in Portland, Oregon, for the annual meeting of the Strive Network—a group of communities coming together around efforts to improve education, starting with a child’s earliest years and ending when they get a good-paying job. 

Many refer to Strive’s strategy as a “Cradle to Career” approach—reflecting the idea that a student needs community and education system support from just after birth until they have the education and credentials to enter into a living wage career. It is also known as a collective impact project (summarized in this Stanford Social Innovation Review article).

We believe that this collective impact is needed because, despite years of hard work in the community, we’re not making enough progress in addressing significant social problems.

At the Gates Foundation, our Pacific Northwest Initiative supports several collective impact efforts in Portland, Spokane, and Tacoma. We have a particular emphasis in South Seattle and South King County, Washington, where we have joined with the Community Center for Education Results (CCER) on The Road Map project, an effort using the collective impact approach to double the number of students in the region who are on track to earn a college credential by 2020. 

It might come as a surprise to hear that just 24 percent of students from the Seattle metro area earn a postsecondary credential by age 26. 

After all, the region has the second highest bachelor degree attainment rate in the U.S. and attracts people from around the world for great jobs in technology and biotech. As Mary Jean Ryan, executive director of CCER says, “You’re educationally much worse off if you grow up here, than if you show up here.” 

A recent Georgetown University report estimated that, by 2018, 67 percent of the jobs in Washington State would require some postsecondary education. 

Seattle and South King County have a long way to go to give kids from our communities a fighting chance of getting those jobs. 

We’ll have to find new ways of working together—educators, philanthropy, and other parts of the community—and hold each other accountable for better results. 

No longer can we rely on hundreds of good programs, working in isolation, to add up to success for the young people in our region. In the collective impact projects our Pacific Northwest team at the Gates Foundation has funded, there are hundreds of educators, and political and community leaders stepping up to this challenge. 

Following the lead of Strive in Cincinnati, where student outcomes are improving, these communities are charting a new path forward.

blog comments powered by Disqus