The Intersection

Early Efforts Webinar Recap: Early Childhood Philanthropy Amidst COVID-19

September 14, 2020

“I feel a deep sense of sorrow and am a bit overwhelmed with the current reality. But I am passionate about this field, and I also feel a great sense of urgency. COVID-19 has impacted how I think about the work.”

-Marquita Davis, Deputy Director for Early Learning, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Dr. Marquita Davis, the Deputy Director of Early Learning for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, opened her remarks with a moment of vulnerability, revealing how the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic and social injustice has made her feel weary. Despite this tiredness, she continues to be motivated by the urgency to meet kids where they are in this moment, particularly Black and Brown children who are disproportionately impacted by the pressing issues dominating our time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a burdensome weight on all aspects of American life, disrupting institutions, homes, and the physical, mental, and social well-being of individuals. This extreme event has exposed and exacerbated the inequities which exist in America, among them being those in child care and early childhood education. States scrambled to respond to the onset of the pandemic in March, as child care centers, many of which operated on razor-thin profit margins to begin with, shut down their operations amidst the pandemic. Millions have felt the negative impact of those closures, and marginalized communities continue to bear the brunt of that impact. To ensure that the demands of the current moment can be met, as well as ensure that early childhood systems can emerge from this crisis on paths to prosperity, smart investments from the public and private sectors will be critical, and philanthropic organizations will continue to be integral players in that effort. In the latest installment of The Hunt Institute’s Early Efforts series, we sat down with Dr. Marquita Davis of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Isabelle Hau of Imaginable Futures, and Dr. Elizabeth Bruno of the Brady Education Foundation to discuss the work being done by their philanthropic organizations to meet short- and long-term goals for child care and early childhood education amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Redirecting Work to Meet the Current Moment

“COVID-19 for us has really transformed a lot of our activities, and at three levels – the how, the what, and the form.”

-Isabelle Hau, Partner, Imaginable Futures

Early in the discussion, the panelists talked about how their philanthropic organizations are redirecting their work in the age of COVID-19. Dr. Marquita Davis discussed the Gates Foundation’s approach to early learning in this moment, noting that there is a focus on meeting kids where they are and asking how they can support students, families, and create scalable solutions in the childcare and early learning space that result in positive outcomes.

Isabelle Hau followed up by discussing how Imaginable Futures has taken a multi-level approach to re-directing its work. Specifically, Hau mentioned how the part-philanthropy part-impact investment firm has spent more time on policy and advocacy, increased their focus on home-based child care, and spent more time exploring the intersectionality of education and other areas of life. Most importantly, it has placed a greater emphasis on equity, especially racial equity, in its work.

Philanthropic organizations like the Brady Foundation are increasing their focus on using data constructively and redirecting their funding processes. As mentioned by Dr. Elizabeth Bruno, the Brady Foundation has provided greater flexibility and has condensed the time period regarding implementation of grants. In placing an emphasis on data, research, and continuing to build strong relationships with grantees, Dr. Bruno is hopeful that this work will lay strong foundations for the future. 

Gearing Philanthropic Investment Toward Innovation & Research

“We need research for many reasons. 1. We need to understand what we’re facing. 2. We need to understand what resources we need to address gaps. 3. We need research to understand out impact.”

-Elizabeth Bruno, President, Brady Education Foundation

Next, the discussion focused on the importance of philanthropic investment in the current moment, given impending cuts to state budgets.

Dr. Marquita Davis expressed significant concern about the impact depleted state budgets will have on marginalized communities, noting that those living in food deserts and attending underfunded schools will feel the disproportionate impacts of those cuts. Dr. Davis also emphasized the need to ensure quality of services should the public and private sectors increase their funding in child care and early childhood education. Finally, Dr. Davis stated the need to strengthen the equity charges and make the correct policy pushes for the kids who will benefit from those pushes.

Dr. Elizabeth Bruno built on the need to strengthen the equity charge, discussing the role research can play and talking about how research can improve. Firstly, Dr. Bruno outlined two points that can be used to ensure research provides the right guidance:

  1. Data collected must be disaggregated by race; and
  2. With that data, stakeholders must know who they should support in the work they do.

Adding to those points, Dr. Bruno emphasized the need to ensure that the research space uses the correct methodologies and assumptions, which in turn will result in policy recommendations that reflect those methodologies and assumptions. Finally, Dr. Bruno stated that it is important to require that research projects focused on communities of color must have researchers of color on the leadership team for said project.

Isabelle Hau focused on the silver linings of the current moment, citing the work being done early by communities to ensure that the supply and demand of child care can be met, and highlighting the unlikely collaborations that have emerged during this crisis.

Looking Ahead: Collaborating to Meet Long-Term Goals

“I would like to see us invest earlier. I would like quality early childhood experiences to become a human right. I am very concerned that there is too much thinking about child care as a way to get back to work and forgets the child.”

-Isabelle Hau, Partner, Imaginable Futures

Towards the end of the discussion, the panelists discussed the long-term effects the pandemic will have on families, as well as the long-term strategies that should be created to combat those effects.

To understand the effects the pandemic may have on children and families, looking to research on previous extreme events will be of use. Those extreme events, whether they be somewhat predictable (a pandemic) or a black swan (unpredictable), come with immense consequences. Isabelle Hau discussed this research, noting that extreme events disproportionately impact the youngest and those in marginalized communities.

Dr. Marquita Davis discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact our youngest learners, noting that the achievement gap will expand. Dr. Davis called for the use of diagnostic metrics to meet students where they are and, using those metrics, create strategies. Finally, Dr. Davis reminded the audience that data is important and inseparable from lived experiences.

Dr. Bruno called for the need to use measures that are validated for the right populations so policymakers and stakeholders can make accurate and constructive decisions.

The panelists closed the discussion by offering advice on how young early learning non-profits can connect with the philanthropic community, expand their work, and contribute to the field. In offering this advice, the panelists emphasized the need to be persistent about relationships, share ideas early, identify how a funder’s priorities connect with a non-profit’s work, and show how that work is measurable and has a long-term impact.

For the early childhood field to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, collaboration among likely and unlikely partners will be more important than ever. New goals must be formed, long-term strategies must be developed, and research must continue to improve so that all children and families, especially the most vulnerable, can be served well during the pandemic and better than ever before in the long-term, and having the buy-in of all partners will be critical in that effort.

View the complete webinar recording here:

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