By Frances Messano, President, NewSchools Venture Fund
For the past year, there have been loud calls for justice and change stemming from the ongoing police killings of Black and Brown people and the violence against Asian-Americans. This week, George Floyd was given a measure of justice after a jury in Minneapolis convicted his killer, the former police officer Derek Chauvin.
The events of the past year, including the disproportionate impacts of Covid-19 on communities of color, have called on us to be more cognizant of our own biases and work to be a different kind of funder. They have made me reflect on my personal and professional journey as a woman of color and ask colleagues in the philanthropic community: What will it take to fund more leaders of color and ensure they are able to bring their ideas to life to solve educational inequity?
“We will provide $1.5 million in “dream capital” to innovators of color with bold ideas to advance racial equity in education.”
Today, NewSchools Venture Fund is opening our first Racial Equity funding opportunity. We will provide $1.5 million in “dream capital” to innovators of color with bold ideas to advance racial equity in education. We believe that the freedom to thrive is every person’s fundamental right, and that access to a great education, regardless of race or ethnicity, is essential to that freedom. We will support ideas that get us closer to this reality.
We’ve been focused on racial equity across our portfolio for years, but this new investment area is distinct. For the first time, we’re ceding power. Instead of a traditional grantmaking approach which centers funders, our strategies, ways of seeing the world, and selection criteria, parents, students, and education innovators of color will be the decision makers. They — not us — will determine how to allocate the funds in this portfolio.
In addition, we have created an investment area that is intentionally broad. The urgency to innovate today is greater than ever. Students and families are navigating the impacts of Covid-19 and a broader racial reckoning in our society. Schools, community-based organizations and trusted leaders are working hard to meet student needs. Rather than narrowly define the parameters of what we will or won’t fund (an approach that often constrains innovation), we are open to supporting a range of ideas as long as it is outside one of our other investment areas. There are brilliant solutions borne from the lived experiences of people of color and we believe these ideas will help us get closer to a more just and equitable education system. Given the prevalence of anti-Black racism in our society, and its impact on outcomes for Black students, we plan to allocate at least 50% of the Racial Equity fund to Black leaders.
“There are brilliant solutions borne from the lived experiences of people of color and we believe these ideas will help us get closer to a more just and equitable education system.”
For years, NewSchools has been a different kind of funder, poised to meet the demands of the future. By creating our Racial Equity investment area and introducing participatory grantmaking to allocate these funds, we’re building on our foundational commitment to equity to have even greater impact. Since 2015, we have provided $52 million in funding — half of all the dollars we have invested so far — to grow and support Black and Latino innovators across all of our investment areas. But we know there’s more to be done to reimagine learning and the student experience.
Through this new effort, we’re reimagining how we invest and being intentional about who is involved in funding decisions, while continuing to expand access to leaders of color to bring their solutions to life. We are excited to learn from the parents, students, and education innovators on our council about the greatest needs and challenges within their communities. We expect to be surprised and pushed in our thinking. We’ll be documenting this journey and sharing lessons along the way, with the hopes that what we learn will inform the work of others across the sector.
What will it take to get to a more just and equitable education system? Do you have an idea that moves us closer to this shared vision? Apply today or share this opportunity with someone in your network.