Learning from the last five years. Preparing for the next five. (Part II)

By Joel Luedtke and Patrick Troska

We’re a little fish in a big pond. We get that. Our annual grantmaking budget is less than some large foundations award in a single grant. Even so, we consider our resources to be precious and believe that when they are invested in the right organizations and movements, wonderful things can happen. Our enduring support for LGBTQ rights and the achievement of marriage equality in Minnesota reminds us of this. The success of our longtime grantee, the Northside Achievement Zone, reminds us of this. Every new cohort of Phillips Scholars reminds us of the enormous impactour modest resources can make possible.  scrabble pic

This is why it has been so exciting to be in conversations over the summer with leaders from all of the areas in which we fund. These frank and thought-provoking dialogues are key sources of insight as we look to update our grantmaking strategies for the next five years. In addition to our facilitated focus groups, Foundation staff have conducted dozens of one-on-one meetings and extensive background research to inform our plans for 2016-2020.

Here’s an update on what we heard from our partners and how that is informing our plans for the future:

Employment

EmploymentWe pulled together two conversations to inform what we could do to support low-income adults advance towards living wage careers. One included leaders from the four organizations we currently support in the Phillips Sectoral Employment Initiative; in the second we asked community college leaders to share their thoughts about improving student success for low-income adult learners.

Here’s what we heard:

  • On the frontlines of workforce development, a hot job market means that recruiting participants into training has become as great a challenge as placing them into employment.
  • Career pathways are real and organizations are working to build/grow them.
  • Training and career pathways are often not accessible to people without high school degrees or GEDs. More work needs to be done to engage and educate these excluded job-seekers.
  • Community colleges are trying a wide range of tactics to help struggling students persevere and complete their education, but lack the staffing and other resources to bring this work to scale.
  • The student success efforts of various colleges are also disconnected from each other. There is no “community of practice” in this area.

Here is how we are moving forward:

  • The Foundation is committed to supporting MSPWin into 2017. This funder collaborative works on state policy to help our adult workforce programs provide value for employers AND low-income job-seekers. MSPWin also funds pilot projects that demonstrate better approaches to meeting our state’s future talent needs.
  • The Foundation is also exploring new approaches to boosting community college success, including the Student Success Center model developed and championed by the Kresge Foundation.

Education

EducationThe Foundation currently supports two broad education strategies: growing the number of high quality schools for low-income children; and, expanding access to work-based learning opportunities. While we didn’t convene focus groups on these topics, staff have been in active conversation with many of the people and organizations that are shaping the future of K-12 education in the region.

Here is what we heard:

  • The Minnesota Comeback coalition (formerly Education Transformation Initiative) has a comprehensive strategy to add just over 32,000 seats in high quality schools – enough to provide every low-income student a shot at an excellent education.
  • Generation Next is also working to develop smart plans and adequate resources to overcome critical challenges in the education system that lead to disparate outcomes.
  • Schools and districts across the region are working hard to ensure that students become “career ready” – often this means revitalizing career and technical education, as well as expanding work-based learning opportunities in the community.

Here is how we are moving forward:

  • The Foundation intends to remain an active member of both Minnesota Comeback and Generation Next.
  • We are exploring the best opportunities to help schools and districts use the concepts of “career ready” and “career literate” to drive high school graduation and smart post-secondary choices.

Transit

TransitWe believe that access to affordable, convenient transit options contributes to the economic opportunities for low-income families. To this end, we’ve supported advocacy in support of increased state funding for transit, as well as local organizing in North Minneapolis to ensure that the needs of this part of the region are met.

We held one focus group conversation with Northside transit advocates, known as the Blue Line Coalition, and held numerous meetings with key city, county and state officials.

Here is what we heard:

  • There continues to be agreement that an affordable, multi-modal transportation system is critical for helping people in poverty access opportunity. Political support for this seems to be trending in the right direction, albeit slowly. The exact funding approach to get us there is where disagreements exist and where bridges must be built.
  • We should build on the successful example of The Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, engaging other funders to support coalition building and local capacity for low-income communities that stand to benefit from future transit investments.
  • Supported by the Foundation and developed in partnership with Nexus Community Partners, The Blue Line Coalition has made great strides in engaging the community around the proposed Bottineau (or Blue Line Extension) Corridor. It will need more structure and capacity to influence the wider range of other transit opportunities now under consideration for North Minneapolis.

Here is how we are moving forward:

  • The Foundation will continue to focus on the transit needs of North Minneapolis, ensuring that community voices inform infrastructure choices and that the community benefits.
  • We will also continue to explore ways to support advocacy for strong public investment in our region’s transit systems.

Housing

HousingThe bulk of the Foundation’s investments and efforts in this area have focused on building better data systems for housing and homeless service providers. We helped launch the MATCH system, which now provides over 400 direct service staff with real-time information about the availability of supportive housing throughout the metro area. This theme was explored in two focus groups we convened over the summer. Staff also explored opportunities regarding housing policy and home ownership in a number of individual conversations.

Here is what we heard:

  • There continues to be a need for policy solutions to housing affordability, especially at the lower levels of income earnings.
  • Minnesota’s rate of home ownership by white households versus households of color is one of the largest differences in the country (77% v. 44%). A duel strategy of targeting resources at the systemic barriers to home ownership for communities of color along with staffing support to help people into responsible affordable home ownership could prove beneficial.
  • A reformed HMIS along with the new Coordinated Entry systems can lead to more efficiencies and program effectiveness – if they are implemented well. Providers need capacity support to fully realize their potential.
  • Demonstration projects such as the Hennepin County Stable Families Initiative are good investments to test new approaches to address homelessness with good results. More investments are needed to explore potentially risky yet rewarding ideas.

Here is how we are moving forward:

  • The Foundation will continue to look for systems improvement opportunities that increase efficiencies and better communicate program effectiveness.
  • We will explore more demonstration projects to address housing instability that have scale potential.
  • We will continue to work with other funders around the State’s Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.

Anti-Discrimination

Anti-discriminationThe fight for equal opportunity, justice and inclusion animates everything we do at the Foundation. Our work in this area has evolved over the years to address the opportunities presented by our evolving community. As part of this planning effort, we convened a focus group of LGBTQ leaders to discuss emerging issues in their intertwined communities, and also met with leading advocates on a range of other issues.

Here is what we heard:

  • In the LGBTQ rights arena, critical issues surrounding the transgender community are emerging both locally and nationally. There is an increasing need to address the rights of transgender individuals through policy changes, leadership development, advocacy, and nonprofit infrastructure development if substantive changes are expected similar to those around marriage equality.
  • In the reproductive health area, Minnesota continues to be a leader in supporting access to legal and necessary reproductive health services, including legal abortion. Increasing access for the most vulnerable in our community, while staving off policy attempts to limit or curtail those services must continue to be the priority.
  • In the racial equity area, the national landscape of racially-motivated incidents and ongoing tensions with police and Islamic extremists, as well as xenophobia in the form of anti-immigration sentiment are driving the dialogue. Movements like Black Lives Matter continue to be a force. However, racial disparities persist. Identifying local efforts that show promise to move the dialogue forward and produce substantive change will continue to be our priority. Opportunities for meaningful dialogue between groups with extensive differences will continue to be a positive way forward in addressing discrimination and inequities.

We continue to have much to learn. Over the next several months we will work with our trustees while consulting with key community stakeholders and content experts on the best plan for how to crossword picproceed with our grantmaking for 2016 and beyond. This plan, will take into account all we have learned from you, our stakeholders, as well as many years of grantmaking and community engagement work. In the end, the plan will consist of a narrower set of strategies that reflect your best thinking, and ours, about how this small foundation can help people in poverty attain economic stability.

Stay tuned for more in the months ahead.