"Philanthropist to Philanthropist" with Katherine Bradley
by Katy Moore, Director of Member Services
At September's “Philanthropist to Philanthropist” luncheon, top philanthropists from around the region came together to learn from one of their own: Katherine Bradley. In an interview-styled session with moderator Patty Alper, Katherine discussed the personal, professional and philanthropic journey that has resulted in her laser-focused dedication to ensure that all students in the District of Columbia receive an excellent education regardless of their race, background or family income.
In 1994, Katherine co-founded CityBridge Foundation (then known as the Advisory Board Foundation) with her husband, David Bradley. Focusing initially on international health, Katherine learned that if she was going to make a significant difference with the foundation’s limited resources, she and her team would need to narrow their focus. She also wanted to be more intentional about giving back to DC – the city where she and David met, lived and built two successful companies.
Katherine classified the next few years of the foundation’s work as “trial and error.” She laughed as she described the starting point for their narrowing of focus: “a multi-year study of national best practices for combating entrenched, multi-generational poverty.” During this research phase, Katherine and her team traveled around the country interviewing thought leaders and considering some of the most promising ideas in some of the country’s greatest areas of need. They concluded, in the end, that no area carried as much potential for lasting change as urban education reform. As the team continued to whittle down their choices, they came to focus on education, then on early education, and, finally, on early education for low-income students in the District of Columbia. According to Katherine, “Quality early education pays dividends for the rest of a child’s life. All later education becomes remedial if you don’t do early education right.”
Timing & Momentum
As Katherine and her team found their focus, a number of external factors aligned to make DC a uniquely hospitable environment for growing early education programs, including the relatively small size of the city’s pre-K population, the city’s willingness to provide funding for early education, and political leaders’ eagerness to support innovative reforms. Building on these convergent factors, CityBridge worked to put pre-K at the center of the city’s education reform agenda. In 2005, they launched the Early Years Education Initiative, a 5-year, $8 million commitment to build a robust market for excellent early childhood education in DC. And, in 2007, they helped fund the Pre-K for All DC campaign which sought to elevate the profile of pre-K education during the 2006 mayoral election.
As CityBridge considered how to further its vision for quality education in the District, it found strong partners in organizations such as DC Preparatory Academy and KIPP DC, two high-poverty, high-achieving charter schools. CityBridge approached KIPP and DC Prep, both superstar middle schools, as partner organizations which could “grow down” to eventually serve 3-year-olds. The city also needed more effective human capital in the early childhood and elementary workforce, so CityBridge partnered with organizations such as Teach for America and JumpStart to build the pipeline of talented, dedicated early childhood educators to help children prepare for a lifetime of learning.
Katherine and her team knew, however, that even the most effective and dedicated teachers find it challenging to achieve sustained academic gains when children come to school burdened by the stresses of poverty. As part of its newest tranche of work, CityBridge brought to Washington the New York-based Turnaround for Children, which works to identify the academic and non-academic barriers that students face in order to successfully promote their academic success and healthy development. In December 2009, with CityBridge as the lead local funder, Turnaround opened offices in DC and began in September 2010 to work with three DC public charter schools.
At the end of the session, Katherine imparted her greatest lesson for other funders: “As philanthropists we make a big mistake if we don’t use our personal and political power to build broad support for the efforts we are supporting with our grant dollars... No philanthropic effort – including school reform – can be truly successful without the collaboration and engagement of key stakeholders, whether they be other funders, local advocacy organizations, political leaders or the business community – and sometimes all of the above.”
About the Series Washington Grantmakers’ “Philanthropist to Philanthropist” luncheons are exclusively for family philanthropists in the DC region. These invitation-only events are limited to 25 participants and provide a rare opportunity for philanthropists to openly share their giving challenges, successes and failures, and learn from their peers. For more information contact Katy Moore at 202-939-3436 or email@example.com.
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