JACK DAVIES, VENTURE PHILANTHROPY PARTNERS
At Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP), we invest significant charitable dollars in education because we believe Nelson Mandela’s famous words: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” In the battle to secure a better future for the young people of our region, and indeed, to shore up the viability and vibrancy of our region itself, quality education for all students is critical.
VPP’s model combines large amounts of scarce “growth capital” – funds to help nonprofits scale proven programs, hands-on strategic assistance, and leverage of our networks. We work in partnership with phenomenal nonprofit leaders who have bold ambitions to grow and serve more children in need.
Our commitment to education has led us to invest in programs and services like charter schools, afterschool programs, quality preschool and early childhood development programs, tutoring, mentoring, college access programs and more. We look for leaders with innovative solutions that will support and enhance the kinds of dynamic reform efforts taking place in local school systems like those in the District of Columbia and Prince George’s County.
Nonprofits working to transform the system need help building up infrastructure to survive for the long-term. They need access to worldclass talent and performance measurement systems that will give them the data critical to fine-tuning curriculum and programs. Leaders need help navigating a regional system that is complex and not always hospitable to innovation.
The amazing journey of the See Forever/ Maya Angelou Public Charter School (MAPCS) exemplifies the transformation we see possible and necessary. David Domenici and James Foreman Jr. were public defenders who became frustrated seeing the same youth cycle through the criminal justice system over and over again. They first started a pizza delivery/after-school tutoring program to provide alternatives, but they needed to do more. So they created MAPCS, which is designed to offer young people who haven’t succeeded in traditional educational environments the support they need to rebuild their lives and graduate from high school. When VPP first met these incredible educational entrepreneurs, they had one campus serving 85 students and plans to open a second. However, they were struggling to make their bold dreams a reality.
VPP provided $2.4 million to help See Forever create a plan for growth, build a strong senior management team, expand its board, improve curriculum, develop a system for measuring results, and increase its fiscal stability. More importantly, VPP helped broker partnerships with District Public Schools, the Gates Foundation, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, and others that brought needed resources and visibility to the groundbreaking work at the Maya Angelou School.
David and James’ dream came full circle in the fall of 2007 when they won the bid to deliver the educational program at the New Beginnings Youth Detention Center. Today, See Forever is serving almost 600 students through three campuses, its program at New Beginnings, and a transition center that helps young people move from New Beginnings back to their communities. Even more impressive, 90 percent of its graduates this year went on to enroll in post-secondary programs, far exceeding the rate for the cohort of students enrolled in other D.C. public or charter schools.
Nonprofits like See Forever demonstrate how, with the right interventions, the trajectory can be changed for many of the children and youth in our region. All students can have the opportunity to reach their potential and the battle for the future can be won.