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Too Small to Fail Comes to Oakland

A little over one year ago, Jim Steyer, Ann O’Leary, and I were in Chicago signing a memorandum of understanding with the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation that joined us together as partners on our Too Small to Fail initiative. At the time we had grand plans; We knew the first issue we wanted to take on, the “word gap,” and we had lots of ideas about potential partners, projects, and the like. But frankly, I had no idea that we would scale this initiative as quickly as we have.

The key has been our partners – those who have followed us from the beginning know that Next Generation sees itself as a “deeply collaborative” organization – and though partnerships are sometimes difficult, we strongly believe that through collaboration we can leverage our resources and make bigger things happen. That model has worked well on our climate side where our Risky Business Project has had a big impact on the public debate on climate change and continues to drive discussion, this op-ed from former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin being the most recent example.

The value of our partnership model was strongly demonstrated this week, when we launched our new Too Small to Fail regional campaign called ‘Talking is Teaching: Talk Read Sing’ in Oakland, California. The Oakland campaign brings together an amazing network of partners – the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, Kaiser Permanente, the Bay Area Council, Goodby Silverstein, and others – and it was all possible because Bay Area philanthropists Lynne and Marc Benioff provided us with the much-needed funding to execute the campaign and carry out a rigorous evaluation. Check out this great coverage from NBC and the San Jose Mercury News.

‘Talking is Teaching: Talk Read Sing’ will target low-income parents and provide them with the tools and information they need to close the word gap and give their kids a greater chance at success. It is our second regional campaign. The first, launched in March, is our Tulsa, Oklahoma, campaign in collaboration with the George Kaiser Family Foundation. These campaigns have different structures, and we expect to learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t – our goal is to then take that learning forward and provide the field with a model that can be replicated around the country.

We were also fortunate to have our entire Leadership Council and many members of our Advisory Council here in California for the launch. This impressive and diverse group of people includes former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Cindy McCain, George Kaiser, Lisa Pritzker, and many more. This is a group that doesn’t posture and doesn’t preach. It just gets focused and gets down to work – the best kind of partners.

So What’s Next?  We will be sharing content and lessons-learned as we move forward.  While the word gap is a big problem, it is one that is solvable – especially when you have great partners.

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