Other Communities We're In:

SVP International

Executive Director Reflections on 2021

Posted by Social Venture Partners Portland

Dear SVP Community,

As I reflect on our learnings and impact in 2021, powerful words from Latino Network’s long-time Executive Director, Carmen Rubio, echo in my head…

“What I still appreciate to this day is that the SVP team always heard us, they worked to problem solve, they were adaptive, and they recalibrated. And I’m not saying sometimes or most times, I’m saying it was every time. This is a truly responsive model for capacity building that redefines the traditional funder/nonprofit relationship. The wraparound support wasn’t simply about Latino Network’s programming, but it was about people. SVP Partners were truly investing in not just the organization and our outcomes. SVP was also investing in my leadership and the leadership of the organization. They were investing in our ability to move and change systems for the next generation of children and families that we serve.” 

In 2012 when SVP initially invested in Latino Network, they had a budget of $1.5M and 13 full-time staff members. Their early childhood program, Juntos Aprendemos, was in three Portland classrooms. SVP was invited to work side by side and help them develop a business plan to scale this program, and do work in HR, infrastructure, finance, fundraising, strategic planning, program evaluation, and board governance. Today, they have a budget of $22M and 200 staff members. Juntos has grown to 21 schools across the state, and is on a path to continue to scale. Latino Network is now the largest culturally-specific organization in the state of Oregon. Their growth is truly remarkable!

This success is not an anomaly, but just one example of transformative impact through trusted partnership. I’m also proud to share highlights from the past year, made possible by the tenacity, creativity, resourcefulness, and collaboration of dedicated SVP staff, Partners, and Community Partners. We’ve continued to fill key gaps in our community through the roles of catalyst, convener, champion, and capacity builder:

SHARING PFA LEARNINGS: Following requests from across the U.S. from those wanting to learn about our recent Preschool for All (PFA) success, we instigated and provided a seed investment for research to analyze and document the policy development process. This report serves as an example of public policy centered on racial equity, community voice, and grassroots coalition building — and is poised for replication.

UNCOVERING BARRIERS TO PFA SUCCESS: Preschool for All faces enormous barriers to implementation, which we believe are surmountable with creative solutions. Given SVP’s commitment to make PFA a reality for our kids, we stepped up to conduct a comprehensive landscape assessment to elucidate barriers related to facilities, regulatory compliance, insurance, and other business needs. This report identifies several priorities for the effort and specific roles SVP is uniquely positioned to fill. 

STRATEGICALLY EXPANDING OUR GEOGRAPHIC FOCUS: Our Board of Directors voted in May to expand our early childhood focus beyond Multnomah County to include Washington County, in support of their new PFA initiative to bring a similar ballot before voters in November, 2022. It’s an honor to be invited into this significant community-wide effort and have the opportunity to leverage our learnings for impact on a greater scale! 

WE ASKED COMMUNITY. WE LISTENED. WE RESPONDED: To ensure we walked our talk of being responsive and community-centric, we took the time to solicit input from community most proximate to issues we seek to impact. We did this by conducting surveys and in-depth interviews with current and former Community Partners. Questions centered around SVP’s responsiveness to community, decision-making, anti-racism work, connection with communities of color, power dynamics, humility, and gaps between aspirations and actions. From this research, we learned how much our community values the roles we play, as well as how imperative it is that we continue to advance our diversity, equity, and inclusion work. 

ADVOCATING TO MOBILIZE FUNDING: We served as an influential champion for the Equity Collaborative amongst our peers in philanthropy. For several years now we’ve followed the lead of the collaborative members, leveraging our strengths as grant writer, capacity builder, and fiscal coordinator for their systems change work that is critical for our kids and families. This year’s advocacy alone resulted in securing $625,000 in grants funding for the Equity Collaborative over the next two years. This will enable the Equity Collaborative to grow their membership in 2022 with a priority for tribal and rural representation, strengthen its ability to advocate for state-wide policy initiatives, and continue their work in the 2023 legislative session with a focus on diversifying the early childhood workforce.

INCUBATING A START-UP: We successfully transitioned from our mid-2020 “incubator” role as the initial neutral convener, project manager, and fiscal coordinator for the Child Care Shared Services Alliance. The child care sector was decimated by the pandemic, including its massive workforce (primarily of women and people of color). Recognizing how critical it is to stabilize this industry, we responded immediately to this urgent need. We worked tirelessly as part of the cross-sector, equity-centered partnership to ensure a successful launch of shared services pilots in three communities and, ultimately, the transition to a long-term “home” post start-up phase.  

INVESTING IN POTENTIAL: We have several exciting new partnerships thanks to the hard work and collaboration of our Portfolio Management Team. One is the Alliance for Equity in Montessori Education (AEME). This organization runs a successful free preschool program that serves children and families living in a historically under-resourced area disproportionately impacted by systemic racism and marginalization. Unique in the nation with its intention to achieve social justice, equity, and educational goals by partnering with public elementary schools, AEME seeks to replicate their model and eventually serve as a technical advisor to schools operating their own Montessori programs. If successful, it would be the only large-scale expansion of free, publicly funded Montessori programs in the country.

There has also been substantial work inside SVP to ensure we remain relevant and influential in an ever-changing world. Of greatest significance is our innovative governance evolution that we shared last month. The goal is to lead the way in shifting power within philanthropy to those most impacted. In our case this means extending decision-making to include the expertise of those closest to the communities we seek to impact. This is but one aspect of our ongoing efforts to become an anti-racist organization.

I’m deeply humbled by the growing personal commitment of Partners to accept discomfort as they lean in to learning about power and privilege, especially within philanthropy. I have witnessed this during the increased momentum of our Equity Team to work toward social and racial equity and justice in our community. A record number of Partners engaged in our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) learning and practice, which is an important part of equity work becoming central to all that we do.

While there is much progress to celebrate, we must not get complacent in pursuit of our preschool readiness goal. There are still immense inequities: far too many children don’t have access to quality early learning due to a system that unfairly predestines many to fail, often because of the color of their skin or zip code where they were born. To achieve the success we know is possible, it will take all of us recognizing our common humanity, and being relentless in our commitment to leverage our privilege for transformational change. 

Thank you for being part of SVP’s community of change-makers. We simply couldn’t do our work without you.

Lauren Johnson

Executive Director

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.