The Washington Post recently covered a Promise Neighborhood effort developing in Congress’s back yard. With support from local government and a variety of funding sources, a group gearing up for the initiative has come together in the Parkside-Kenilworth area of Northeast Washington, DC. While there are ongoing efforts across the country, this initiative is noteworthy for a number of reasons. Primarily, it has garnered attention from a number of high profile advocates and funders. Additionally, the effort’s nonprofit structure may be instructive for place-based projects in other areas.
Recently, the group held a neighborhood dinner with a number of stakeholders including community residents, nonprofit leaders, funders, and local real estate developers. One key partner represented at the meeting was America’s Promise Alliance, a national nonprofit founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and currently chaired by his wife Alma. The DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI) is also working with the Washington-based Urban Institute to create an evaluation design. In addition to securing partnerships for implementation and evaluation, DCPNI has also brought major funders to the table.
As the Post noted earlier this week, Educare is a prominent collaborator with the DCPNI. This national initiative is funded by the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, a foundation established by billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffett’s daughter Susie in 2005. According to the Buffett Fund’s president, “the idea behind Educare is to demolish the ‘silos’ that separate public and private efforts to increase access to early-childhood education.” This is aligned with the philosophy of Promise Neighborhoods, and along with other foundations and national organizations, the fund will help support the $12 million project’s launch in the Parkside-Kenilworth neighborhood. The effort has also received the support from Head Start as well as city and federal child-care programs, which would fund the majority of the center’s $3.3 million annual operating budget.
As the Nonprofit Quarterly’s Rick Cohen has observed, another interesting component has been the establishment of a new nonprofit to anchor the effort. He noted a trend in the field, explaining that many philanthropists tend to prefer funding newly established 501(c)(3) organizations. Since the Department of Education has yet to release the Promise Neighborhoods RFP, it is not clear what organizational structure the administration will prefer.
The Harlem Children’s Zone functions as an autonomous organization. Some local efforts may choose to copy this model by designating a single, strong lead organization to spearhead their work. Others like DCPNI are creating new organizations to channel the work of multiple established partners on a more co-equal basis. Again, it is not clear which of these two approaches the administration will prefer, but it does seem clear that they will hold grantees to high standards of accountability either way.
We will continue to track the DC effort as it progresses. Considering the recent attention DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee has received on the federal level, this homegrown effort in the District may pique the interest of federal officials across town.