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SVP International

2020 Board Retreat Update

Posted by Social Venture Partners Portland

Dear Fellow SVP Partners,

As many of you know, the SVP Portland board of directors gathers each summer, typically in August, for an all-day retreat, where we evaluate goal progress, consider shifts in landscape, and determine strategic priorities moving forward. In the gazillionth example of how 2020 is very different, this year’s retreat was a three-part series of Zoom calls. Each call was two and a half hours, and each focused on a single significant topic that will inform the board’s strategic thinking and planning going forward. Here are the highlights from our sessions:

Session 1: Priority Populations

When SVP Portland chose our single, focused goal of ensuring all kids in Multnomah County have access to high-quality preschool experiences (a narrowing of the initial Kindergarten Readiness goal), we identified the priority populations our investments and efforts should be  kids of color, kids whose primary language is not English, and kids living in poverty.

Given it has been eight years since we identified these priority populations, it seemed appropriate to revisit and realign on that commitment. We started by compiling the latest research and data, and grounding ourselves there. These materials were provided to directors in advance so everyone could come to the conversation educated and ready to discuss.

The long and short of it is that disparities have only been exacerbated among kids of color (whom we’ll refer to as BIPOC or Black, indigenous and people of color). Across every measure, our BIPOC children, particularly Black children, have suffered disproportionate outcomes.

We considered this information in conjunction with the understanding our ongoing Equity work with the Center for Equity and Inclusion (CEI) has given us. Directors concluded that if we can support and provide opportunities for the most oppressed among us, we will by extension support and provide opportunities for all. We therefore unanimously decided to narrow our focus from all three populations to primarily, though not exclusively, focus our efforts on BIPOC kids and families. This is also very consistent with our goal to become an anti-racist organization.

Session 2: Risk Appetite

For the second session of our retreat, we chose to focus on our appetite for (or aversion to) risk as a board. We are often called upon to make decisions that have a measure of risk associated with them, and we’ve come to understand that it would be helpful if we could assess risk appetite/tolerance as an entity rather than as individuals whose feelings about risk may vary wildly.

As with session one (and indeed all board meetings) we sent advance reading materials and came to the session ready to roll up our sleeves. Our goal was not to come away with an empirical measure of risk, but rather to establish common language around risk and agree on the four domains in which we need to assess risk: financial, reputational, impact/investing and governance.

We then convened into four breakout groups aligned with the four risk domains and began the work of building common tools and language to use to evaluate possible decisions around low, medium, and high risk for each domain. The exercise helped to shift our thinking about how we assess risk for each domain, bringing forth a more nuanced understanding of risk.

While this session helped us to think about severity of risk in a new and different way, we plan to add the practice of assessing likelihood of outcomes, as well as discussing tradeoffs and priorities, next. This session will help our board work together productively around risk assessment.

Session 3: Scenario Planning

In the final session of our retreat, we took on the fascinating and engaging work of scenario planning. Led by Rose Rezai, Bob Tate, Erin Stevanus and Steve Maser, a group of Partners has been building out possible scenarios associated with our P4A goal that would each require different actions from SVP. The goal is to get to a point where we see common actions across various scenarios that can inform our strategic and operational plans.

For this session, we again did some advance reading and reflecting, then broke into groups to discuss and plan for each of the scenarios. The scenarios were:

  1. 15k in Sight – public funding and enough system capacity to fully serve the community (i.e. enough “slots” for all kids in our priority population)
  2. Be the Force – public funding, but insufficient capacity
  3. The Long March – no public funding, insufficient capacity
  4. Twisting in the Wind – no public funding, sufficient capacity

Each breakout group tackled one of the four scenarios. We then reconvened as a group and shared the key ideas from each breakout, after which we looked at common denominators and themes.

More work remains to complete this scenario planning, and in fact, a plan is in place to finalize the work this Fall.

Final Word

I thought I’d wrap up this update with a final word – literally. And mine is


I’m grateful for my fellow board members, from whom I learn and with whom I work to make SVP the most equitable, just and productive organization it can be.

Yours in partnership,

Kerry McClenahan
SVP Portland Board Chair

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