SVP’s Partnership with KairosPDX
For Kali Ladd, entrepreneurship runs in her blood. Perhaps that bug bit her young, but the last several years have been particularly fruitful as she has generated ventures meant to change the game for black and brown kids in the Portland community and beyond.
The original idea for the charter school that became KairosPDX was not even a charter school. Kali and her three co-founders, all African American women, believed in public education but wanted better outcomes for their children than the local schools were producing. They wanted education that supported their children as gifts – brilliant and curious, inherently lovable, and celebrated for their color and culture. That school didn’t exist locally so they did what all entrepreneurs do when they see a gap. They created it.
Then came the planning, the tenacious persistence, the creativity and tremendous dedication to the vision. Then the bureaucratic paperwork and scraping together start-up funds. Finally a route opened for a charter school through Portland Public Schools and KairosPDX was born.
Even with all of the planning and commitment by Kali and her co-founders, receiving the nod in January 2013 and the mandate to open their doors to children that August was going to be daunting. Enter Social Venture Partners.
SVP met the founders’ inspiration for a game-changing support system for young children and families of color and jumped in with both feet. Kairos sought a partnership with SVP in order to leverage the professional skills our Partner volunteers offer in a diverse array of business management areas.
Nine months of work on strategy and infrastructure-building led to 35 beautiful kindergarten children walking through their doors that August. And then another 35 a year later. And another the year after. Four years in, Kairos, has more than 175 children and a K-5 charter school with educational successes that any school would envy. What’s more, for a young nonprofit, they have an unusually well-developed infrastructure. “The partnership with SVP was instrumental,” said Kali. “We had leadership, but not the capacity. We had to build on a shoestring. When you have time and expertise from SVP in the early stage, you build a foundation for an organization to be successful and sustainable. That’s game-changing.”
BUILDING THE FOUNDATION FOR SUCCESS
Over the years, SVP has provided support in a number of areas to build organizational infrastructure: human resources, finance, fundraising/development, facilities management, grants management, and volunteer management. In addition, SVP leveraged its connections to introduce KairosPDX to potential funders, and served as a reference during several grant applications. Those connections and influenced also played a role in another foundational need for Kairos (and any nonprofit, person and family): a stable place to call home.
SVP stood with Kairos in 2017 when Portland Public Schools was considering moving another mainstream program into Kairos’ current campus, an historic home school for the African-American community in Portland. This would have potentially forced Kairos to relocate. SVP Partners contacted PPS and school board members, helped Kairos develop themes and tone for its communications, and brainstormed backup real-estate options. As Kali puts it, “SVP provided helpful thought partnership and moral support. They showed up with us at meetings, and used their network to whisper truth behind the scenes.” Ultimately, the joint campaign was successful, and KairosPDX was able to stay at its original site. It’s now actively seeking its own permanent space.
MOVING TOWARD FINANCIAL SUSTAINABILITY
Kairos’ enrollment has been strong (in fact, there’s waiting list), staff retention is trending up, and the organization has achieved three clean financial audits in a row, just a few of the factors that are enabling it to do what Ladd describes as “transformative work for kids and families.” Ever the entrepreneur, though, Kali is not satisfied with Kairos just being a successful, respected leader in serving African-American children and families. She sees the need and desire for Kairos’ expertise at other schools and organizations in Oregon and beyond. Kali believes Kairos could develop consulting services, products, and curriculum that could improve outcomes for many more children while also helping Kairos generate earned income.
This is music to SVP’s figurative ears! So this Fall, SVP will be considering a new investment to focus on Kairos creating more ripples of impact through their leadership and developing the earned revenue streams that help them achieve greater financial independence and sustainability.
From our early investment of $10,000 and nine months of intense efforts to open Kairos’ doors to the subsequent investments totaling more than $375,000 in money, expertise, and leveraged capital over the last four years, SVP’s partnership has been long and lasting. That’s due in large part to the vision and strength of Kali and her co-founders. Said Wendy Weissman, SVP’s Lead Partner on this community investment, who works directly with them, “You can’t get much more compelling, passionate, and willing to take on risks again and again than the KairosPDX leadership team.”
KairosPDX works to close the achievement gap in several ways:
- Learning Academy: charter school serving primarily African-American children in grades K-4.
- Family Connections Program: building awareness and access to opportunity through engagement with students and families outside of the classroom environment to expand early learning knowledge base.
- Early Learning Network: working with caregivers and parents of children ages 0-6 to deepen understanding of neuroscience and social-emotional health, and support the well-being of young children.
- Early Childhood Public Policy and Advocacy: serving on several committees and the Early Learning Council and leading policy efforts and communications around equity that improve outcomes for underserved children. Focusing strategically on being a voice for black children and families at all policy tables and disseminating information on how to serve this group using best practices coupled with cultural norms.