Earlier this year, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced an investment of nearly $122 million to support the DC’s pledge to “Double the Numbers” of students who successfully graduate from high school and complete college by 2010. We spoke with senior policy officer Joe Scantlebury about the Gates Foundation’s efforts in D.C. and the decision, after working closely with local grantmakers throughout the year, to join them as members of Washington Grantmakers.
WG: We’re delighted that the Gates Foundation decided to join Washington Grantmakers. What contributed to this decision?
Joe Scantlebury: Membership will provide us with opportunities to learn from and share in the great work being done and supported by the D.C. metropolitan area philanthropic community. Our core mission is rooted in the belief that all lives have equal value and D.C. provided a clear case in point of the inequity we are attempting to address in this country. We are focused on helping the District increase its college and career ready high school graduation rates and ultimately improve the college completion rate of D.C. high school graduates. The fact that many Washington Grantmakers members also share these goals encouraged us to become members.
WG: For many years, national funders tended not to give in this region, but that seems to be changing. Why did the Gates Foundation decide to invest in this region?
JS: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is committed to increasing the nation’s high school graduation rates and college-ready rates. In D.C., educators, business and community leaders are taking important steps to reverse the tragic trend of low academic expectations and little support for our nation’s students. The District, along with its Double The Numbers (DTN) partners, has committed to doubling the number of students in the high school class of 2010 who successfully complete college within five years, and triple the number for those in the class of 2014. In Wards 7 and 8, only one in three students finishes high school within five years and only one in 20 high school graduates earns a college degree within five years. Both the Double The Numbers (DTN) plan and the commitment of key governmental and civic leaders reflected across the District and outlined in the DTN Memorandum of Understanding have signaled throughout the past couple of years that D.C. will become an important leader in the nation’s effort to increase high school graduation rates and college attendance rates.
WG: What would you say to other funders considering investing in the Washington region?
JS: We would encourage other national funders to consider this an opportunity for a new beginning in building on the good work of other funders and key stakeholders around the city. We would also encourage them to discuss their concerns about investing in the region with regional and local funders and identify local partners with whom they can collaborate on shared goals and strategies, evaluate impact, share results and learn.
WG: How do you hope Washington Grantmakers will aid the Gates Foundation over the coming years?
JS: We look forward to deepening our partnerships with the local funding community. Because of the intense efforts underway led by Washington Grantmakers and its members, we all have a better sense of the path forward. But, there is a lot left to learn – and a lot left to do.