SOCAP17 Guest Curator Spotlight: Gary Community Investments’ Early Childhood Session

SOCAP Global July 13, 2017

We will introduce a new content series at SOCAP17. Guest Curators, all leaders in the impact space, are developing their own SOCAP Spotlight sessions. Each Spotlight will dive deep into a key concept or question driving impact. Guest Curator Gary Community Investments’ Spotlight sessions will focus on early childhood education.

The Core Inquiry of GCI’s Spotlight Sessions:

For the greatest impact on improving school success, increased earnings, and long-term health, what if the smartest and most significant investment is in young children?

Gary Community Investments (GCI) invests in for-profit and philanthropic solutions for Colorado’s low-income children and their families. GCI focuses the majority of its resources on improving outcomes for young children ages prenatal through five, and it is committed to catalyzing innovation in early childhood at the program, company, system and policy levels. We spoke with Investment Directors Luis Duarte and Steffanie Clothier to discuss the early childhood-focused Spotlight sessions GCI is curating for SOCAP17.

What concepts will be at the heart of GCI’s Early Childhood Spotlight at SOCAP17?

Luis Duarte: Gary Community Investments is committed to making transformational investments that improve outcomes for low-income children, prenatal through five years old, because significant research has convinced us that the earliest years of a child’s life lay the foundation for short-term and lifelong education, health and economic success.

Investing in early childhood learning and development yields some of the greatest financial and social returns, yet early childhood education (ECE) remains a very under-resourced sector that has few for-profit investors and not enough public and philanthropic funding activity. We believe that the market is ripe for attracting new investments to early childhood from across the capital continuum. Recently, we have seen a lot of interest from entrepreneurs who are intrigued by the early childhood space but need more grounding in all the great research and assets that the EC sector has been building for decades.

This SOCAP Spotlight series is an opportunity to introduce new actors from the private sector, finance and technology to early childhood with the goal of sparking innovation, attracting new capital and supporting scaling–all for the benefit of our youngest children.

What are some of the primary challenges you plan to address in your curated session?

Steffanie Clothier: We have heard investors say that the early childhood sector seems fragmented, unclear and difficult to access, so they opted to invest in K-12 education instead. Through our SOCAP sessions, we hope to provide investors, innovators and others from the private sector an easier path into early childhood.

As Luis mentioned, we plan to share the latest research so everyone understands why investing in early childhood is so critical. There is a wide gap between what the research is telling us works in improving early childhood outcomes and its practical implementation in the field. We know that promising solutions exist, but new business models are needed to bring them to market. Also, we see an opportunity for early childhood to be more responsive to trends, such as embracing the ed-tech advances that have been successful in K-12, so we hope to inspire new thinking about the role technology can play in ECE.

Ultimately, we want to get more minds tackling early childhood challenges because one-third of U.S. children do not enter kindergarten ready to learn, with 80 percent of those children coming from low-income families. The early childhood sector has made progress so far, but it needs more dramatic improvements. We believe that bridging the early childhood and private sectors can help get us there.

Why did GCI want to start an early childhood conversation at SOCAP? Why do you believe this a critical conversation the SOCAP community should be having now?

Luis Duarte: GCI recently announced that we are making a multi-year, multi-million dollar human and financial capital commitment to surfacing, piloting, supporting and scaling new solutions to improving early learning and development. As part of that work, we are partnering with OpenIDEO to launch an innovation challenge this year, we’re exploring the creation of an early childhood investment fund strategy, and we’re curating this early childhood Spotlight at SOCAP.

GCI is a longtime SOCAP partner. We’ve attended the conference for many years and have seen first-hand the space it provides for making connections that result in longer-term partnerships and investment opportunities. Because it attracts an eclectic mix of capital providers, government agencies, innovators and entrepreneurs, SOCAP provides a unique opportunity to elevate the early childhood conversation and inspire others to join in solving the challenges we previously mentioned.

We felt compelled to bring this topic to SOCAP this year because of the increasing energy we’re seeing around the early childhood sector. For example, we have been talking to fund managers who are seeing an increase in the amount and quality of deal flow. There are more companies trying to enter the early childhood space, but there is a lack of capital to match that deal flow. And, on the philanthropic side, we have been funding nonprofit early childhood interventions, but, as Steff mentioned, we have been asking ourselves how we can apply what the health and K-12 sectors have done with technology to early childhood. How can we bring other mindsets and new technologies to help scale some of the early childhood solutions that are really transformational? Also, large companies are realizing that one of the main barriers they face to employee retention is access to affordable, quality child care options. Employers are now thinking about how childcare is impacting their bottom line–it’s a totally new conversation for them to be having.

We have been monitoring how all of these trends are emerging and converging, and we knew this was the right year to talk about early childhood at SOCAP.

What is inspiring you most as you work to develop these sessions?

Steffanie Clothier: We are in the process of crafting sessions and confirming speakers right now, and it’s been very inspiring to see the willingness–and excitement–among all sectors to join in this conversation together. We have talked to longstanding researchers who are doing domestic and global work, and they are excited to better understand the new investment opportunities available to help advance the field. We’ve talked to academics who have built companies that are really changing early childhood, but they have many more ideas to offer and are looking for the chance to have new conversations with a different set of players. And, we’ve talked to entrepreneurs who are just entering the space and have so much energy, creativity and new thinking to offer. The range of actors who want to be involved in this conversation has been so energizing to us and we can’t wait to bring everyone together at SOCAP.

What do you hope attendees or participants will bring with them when they come to your sessions?

Luis Duarte: The early childhood sector needs all perspectives–for-profit, philanthropic, government, technology, academia and research. We hope to attract a diverse set of attendees and participants who are excited to bring their unique knowledge, biases and perspectives to these sessions. We want people to have honest conversations about how we piece together the early childhood puzzle so we can really move the field forward.

We also hope that people will be open to sharing their existing networks and creating new relationships. This is not a challenge that is faced by only one community–it’s a national and international issue that impacts people across socio-economic, cultural and racial lines. The more interconnected we can be, the better we can learn as a group.
We believe there is tremendous possibility in bringing different mindsets and perspectives together, and we hope that everyone will bring their true, authentic selves to this important conversation.

What progress do you hope to see in this area within the next 10 years?

Steffanie Clothier: This is where the rubber hits the road. Within the next 10 years, we should be implementing dramatic new ideas and offering alternative methods of delivery that meet the educational needs of all young children. But we should be sensitive to the fact that in the next 10 years, we’ll have lost two generations of young children. We can’t afford to miss the mark for children every five years because we aren’t thinking fast enough. We need to evolve into a community of innovators that tests things faster, moves more quickly, and is transparent about success and failure. Many sectors struggle to walk away from what’s not working and seek new solutions, but the early childhood sector in particular cannot waste any more time because it’s our children–and our future–that’s at stake.

Luis Duarte: We would like to see more capital and more investment entering the early childhood field. But it’s even more than that. We also hope to see more general recognition that investing in this space is critical for anybody who is trying to solve societal issues.

What do you hope attendees of your session will leave with?

Luis Duarte: We hope they leave inspired and excited to participate in the early childhood field, and that they’ve begun to make meaningful connections, or have ideas for potential partnerships, that will help them get involved in this space.

Stefffanie Clothier: This will only be successful for us if people leave feeling moved to action  but also confident that they know what their next steps should be.

Stay up-to-date on GCI’s efforts to catalyze early childhood innovation by signing up for the GCI newsletter, or following along on Twitter and Facebook.

Early Childhood Education Resources

US Chamber of Commerce report, Workforce of Today, Workforce of Tomorrow: The Business Case for High Quality Child Care

James Heckman, University of Chicago. Research Summary: The Lifecycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program

Future Guest Curator Spotlights:
More Guest Curators are developing sessions that will debut on stage at SOCAP17 in October. We will be sharing interviews with our other Guest Curators over the next few weeks including:

Follow the SOCAP blog for sneak peeks into these curated sessions. Get your ticket to SOCAP17 to join in the Early Childhood Education conversation.

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