Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Today Community Wealth Ventures changes its name to Community Wealth Partners, which reflects just one of many ways in which the organization has evolved toward greater transformational impact over the past few years.   See our new website and Dream Forward campaign @ http://communitywealth.com/blog/

In their landmark book BUILT TO LAST, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras describe one characteristic of successful companies as fidelity to core values but willingness for everything else to change.  Community Wealth Partners embraces precisely that balance.  Our dedication to the notion of creating the community wealth necessary to build stronger communities with more opportunity for all remains undiminished. As does our commitment to the critical building blocks of community wealth such as scaling and sustaining what works, building capacity, defining what success looks like, setting goals that are bold but believable, recognizing communications as strategy and advancing other insights we’ve developed.

But how we do the work has changed dramatically, as we’ve married our own experience with hundreds of clients over a decade and a half to our research about the characteristics of organizations that have succeeded in moving beyond incremental change to the truly transformational.  Increasingly the way we do our work is in partnership with clients and communities, meaning our commitment is not to deliver a report (that might sit on a shelf) but to deliver a transformational outcome that will change lives.  Like true partners our interests and our clients’ interest our aligned. We are not successful unless and until they are successful.

Throughout this evolution we’ve had the benefit of a partner of our own – our parent company Share Our Strength whose No Kid Hungry campaign led to rapid growth in impact, revenue, and size and established a trajectory based on aspiring to transformation that other nonprofit organizations have sought to follow.  The opportunity to learn from each other during this journey and to share what we’ve learned with you – is one of the assets Community Wealth Partners brings to every engagement.  That’s a process of change and growth that never ends. We hope you’ll choose to be part of it as well.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Upon Returning to Boylston Street After Boston's Worst Week

Saturday, April 20, 2013
Fate had our family far from Boston this past week. It was Nate’s spring break and we were out of the country.  The second blast occurred by the Starbucks I use as my Boston office. We’ve watched the last 6 marathons from that spot, just up the street from our apartment. That’s our connection.  That and friends who ran the race.

Today we returned and like thousands of others, walked over to the makeshift memorial at the finish line on still closed off Boylston Street.  A hushed crowd of families with children waited patiently to drop off flowers, flags, notes, photos, teddy bears and Red Sox caps. We stared down that empty, haunted avenue, where men in protective white suits could still be seen working on the sidewalk. Much of our vacation was spent glued to TV images of this spot. Even from 1500 miles away it was impossible not to feel connected to what was happening. 

I’d didn’t feel the same connection to the many comments about this proving how tough Boston is, or how the bombings showed what Boston was made of.  Certainly there had been no shortage of inspiring and heroic actions. But I’d never thought of Boston any other way.  After all, Boston is home to City Year, and Partners in Health, to Andy Husbands and Dan Pallotta, to Citizen Schools, and Facing History and Ourselves, to Gordon Hamersley and Jody Adams, to Cradles to Crayons and Project Bread, to Robert Lewis Jr. and Joanne Chang, to Jim and Karen Ansara and Ira Jackson.  If there was ever a city that had proven what citizenship means, what compassion looks like, what a social conscience can achieve, it was Boston before the marathon, not just after it.

But I believe people would have reacted the same way in New Orleans, Denver and Seattle, or in New Delhi, Dakar, or Singapore for that matter.  Moments of darkness shouldn’t blind us to the light in the rest of humanity. The impulse to single ourselves out for such qualities is natural.  But the impulse to recognize what we have in common with others, whether across the street or across the oceans, is even larger, and more needed now than ever.  

For too many here in Boston, the suffering doesn’t end with the end of the manhunt. The marathon’s digital clock can’t measure the years healing will take. For some life will revert to normal sooner than anyone thought possible, For others it never will. For the rest of us, here and around the nation, we go on, reminded about qualities of kindness and courage that will endure not because they surfaced in the aftermath of a few horrific moments but because they were there all along.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Targeting early investments in children for greater return

Last week Share Our Strength board member Scott Schoen arranged for me to have lunch with Massachusetts’ former Superintendent of Education Paul Reville, who was intrigued by the Deloitte report and especially the connections we are seeing between school breakfast and attendance. Afterward, Scott sent this article from the New York Times business section “Investments in Education May be Misdirected” @ http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/03/business/studies-highlight-benefits-of-early-education.html 

The article reports on the work of Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman which shows that early interventions on behalf of kids are much more effective and much less expensive than later interventions.  While we’ve always assumed that to be true, Heckman’s work shows that the gap in cognitive performance “is there before kids walk into kindergarten” and doesn’t really improve over time notwithstanding the massive amounts of money spent on remedial efforts as kids get older.  Public policy lags behind such insights, with public spending on higher education three times greater than spending on preschool. 

Scott Schoen’s interest in Heckman’s research seemed consistent with his impressive track record as an investor accountable for producing significant return on investment,  Given what we are learning – and proving - about the connection between school breakfast and academic achievement, such research may suggest how we can best target our No Kid Hungry strategies to ensure that kids get the nutrition they need when they need it the most.  

Saturday, April 6, 2013

School breakfast as a "force multiplier" for educational achievement

The growing movement to boost educational achievement via breakfast for school children is an example of how bipartisan pragmatism can triumph over politics to serve the public interest.  It may also be a model for other early investments in children that are effective in the short-term and save money in the long run.

Recently at 52nd Street Elementary School in L.A.  Principal Jimenez told us that after switching to breakfast-in-the-classroom, the number of students with perfect attendance increased from 250 to 439.  What I didn’t realize until further research was that attendance in K and 1st grade is a predictor of third grade reading levels. Grade level reading is a predictor of high school graduation.  Suddenly a stunning return on investment becomes visible on what once seemed a far and bleak horizon. 

Every 26 seconds a student drops out of school according to America’s Promise. The national high school graduation rate is 78.2 percent. Nearly one in five students does not graduate with their peers.  One in four African American and nearly one in five Hispanic students attend high schools where graduating is not the norm.  If we reach a 90% graduation rate by 2020, additional graduates will increase GDP by $6.6 billion annually.

Deloitte’s No Kid Hungry Social Impact Analysis affirms that 52nd Street Elementary School fits into a broader pattern linking breakfast with academic achievement. Governor O’Malley’s initiative – Maryland Meals for Achievement – is aptly named.

Yet for generations breakfast participation rates were stuck near 40%  because of difficulties getting kids to school early, and the stigma attached.. Though still a long way to go, national participation recently topped 50% for the first time. That’s partly because over the past five years something fascinating happened. Instead of giving up, or giving in to the traditional reflex of trying to outspend the problem, advocates began to out-think it.  Through innovation, local solutions, and public-private partnerships they developed an array of alternatives to breakfast in the cafeteria. Those that work best are now being scaled, especially Breakfast After the Bell which includes in-classroom as well as “grab-and-go” options.   This relatively simple, low-tech change yields enormous dividends.

If that were all the value we created it would be more than enough. But like a “gift with purchase” we not only get the results for children that we bought and paid for, but also learn valuable lessons about creating transformational social change.  Here are four:

n   Scaling What Works:  NKH has focused on existing but under-utilized programs with a track record of effectiveness and bipartisan support.  Scaling strategies such as reducing barriers, raising awareness, community organizing, and building political will, are challenging but more politically palatable than creating new programs from scratch. As Newark Mayor and New Jersey Senate candidate Cory Booker told the New York Times just last week: “The issue is not finding the answers.  It’s just growing them to scale.”  

n  Relying on local innovation and solutions:  ranging from financial incentives, competition, the Governor’s bully pulpit which can be advanced via dissemination of best practices.

n  “Force multipliers” which is what the military means by dramatically increasing the effectiveness of a given action.  As new research data enables us to connect the dots, we learn that breakfast is not only helping children grow and be healthy, but impacting attendance and potentially grade level reading and graduation rates.  This force multiplier broadens our base of support, creates allies and partners beyond the usual suspects, and improves prospects of success.

n  Accountability:  by setting specific, measurable goals, that have local and national buy-in, tracking and communicating results, and ensuring transparency, we differentiate ourselves and achieve a competitive advantage in a crowded marketplace.

School breakfast is not a panacea to solve all of our problems. But it is a necessary foundation upon which to build.  As Governor Martin O’Malley told me during a recent visit to his office in Annapolis: “Small things done well make large things achievable.”  If we do this well there may be no limits to what we can achieve.