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A Partnership with Metropolitan Family Service

Posted by Social Venture Partners Portland

The Exponential Power of Relationship Building

“Dreaming about bolder impact, the transformative power of relationship, and remaining nimble through the unexpected” are three themes that SVP Lead Partner Dani Kerrigan believe sum up SVP’s two-year business planning partnership with Metropolitan Family Service (MFS).

MFS helps people move beyond the limitations of poverty, inequity, and social isolation. MFS’ Ready, Set Go! (RSG) program focuses on early childhood education by bringing parents and their preschool aged children together to learn side-by-side. In this model of learning, kids gain confidence and become independent, while parents or caregivers learn how to support their child’s future success in the classroom.

Since 2006, RSG has provided a free, culturally-responsive program to help children and families in North Clackamas School District transition children between the age of three and five from preschool to kindergarten. The RSG approach combines home visits or family meetings with parent/child skill building in a group setting, a parent education program and kindergarten readiness workshops. You can view the tremendous results of the program here.

The partnership between SVP and MFS began in Spring 2016, with the goal of developing a business plan that would take RSG to the next level of impact through setting a vision for growth, assessing the current landscape for early childhood education programs, creating a plan for scalability, and looking at potential organizational infrastructure needs to support RSG’s growth. Along the way, there were fantastic insights by both organizations, and this learning orientation enabled much deeper impact.

Early Stage Learnings: Build the Relationship and Remain Flexible

While the shared goal for the partnership was to build a plan to accelerate RSG’s growth to 300 children and their parents, the team at MFS sought expert advice from SVP about how to pursue this goal. Early on, SVP showed up often and listened deeply to MFS’ leadership team.  It became apparent that we to shift the sequence of the work to ensure that first, MFS could better articulate their goals and build an operational plan to achieve them. While the initial goals didn’t change, both organizations needed to remain flexible in the way they were achieved.

Next Stage Learnings: Then, Dream Big!

As the partnership gained momentum, the SVP team facilitated discussions that allowed MFS to think differently, as a result, several “outside-the-box” ideas were generated. MFS identified creative ways to grow through direct marketing, which resulted in newfound interest from high level stakeholders, as well as program growth as new sites opened in two new school districts.

In other SVP facilitated sessions, where new ideas were explored, the executive team at MFS sought board approval to hire grant writers to apply for four new state grants. In the end, the four grants were obtained, and MFS embarked on its first social enterprise.

MFS’ leadership cited the SVP team’s urging to set aspirational goals as a turning point in the course of the partnership. During one strategy session, MFS CEO Judy Strand set an ambitious goal of implementing 10 new sites, which allowed MFS to articulate the goal to stakeholders, generating enthusiasm and interest.

According to Judy, “This was effective in shifting our psychology around the RSG growth from a ‘if we can we will grow’ to a ‘we can envision ourselves growing!’”

When reflecting on the partnership, MFS noted that a key learning was that setting aspirational goals can increase commitment of internal and external stakeholders.

Amplified Impact

At the end of the partnership the initial goals of creating a business plan and scalable programming “in a box,” were achieved. As usual our deep, multi-year capacity building partnerships, the work accomplished was amplified by powerful learnings across organizations. While MFS gained agility and learned the importance of outside the box and aspirational thinking, SVP Partners learned the importance of engaged leadership, noting that Judy is a very strong CEO, and as a result both teams were able to weather unanticipated changes that happened during the partnership. For the SVP team, asking a step back early on to focus on ensuring there is a foundation of trust, allowing both organizations to get to know one another and gain mutual respect made a big difference in the long-term outcomes of the partnership.

Encore Fellow Rod MacDow noted the impact of a site visit to Ready, Set, Go! made on him personally, stating “That first 30 seconds will never leave my heart.” Other SVP Partners noted MFS’ incredible leadership, innovation, and desire to collaborate.

MFS found the value of the SVP partnership to be immeasurable. Judy noted, “Just having thought partnership around all this is rare for us. Having the investment of money and time created space in everything we do.”

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