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New Research from Capita: Philanthropy and the Well-Being of Children

May 10, 2019

By: Amber Decker, EdD

Could early childhood funders actually be hurting their cause?

This is a question posed in a white paper produced by Capita entitled, Tomorrow is Now: New Directions for Children’s Philanthropy. In this new research, Capita explores the notion that investors in the well-being of children could actually be perpetuating the very systems that hinder the flourishing of all children and families. Millions of dollars are poured into organizations that are designed to support the welfare of children and many high-quality programs are doing excellent work in this arena. However, if the very systems and infrastructure that underly the inequitable economic mobility opportunities are not addressed, funding individual programs will barely help children and families keep their heads above water.

Capita’s research is the result of its first year of work as an ideas lab exploring how the great cultural and social transformations of our day affect children and families. Capita intends to help shape current thinking about philanthropic investment in the well-being of children while also helping to uncover deep cultural and governance infrastructures that may impede progress. The white paper suggests five big ideas to help funders align with current and anticipated social and political environments with an emphasis on collaboration and innovation in order to magnify impact.

1. Prepare for a post-liberal political future

America is still a land where the American dream is not open to all. The Capita white paper asserts that many of the promises of liberalism have failed to materialize for many people and that the elite continues to maintain the status quo that promulgates the disparity between the haves and have-nots. This first big idea calls for not just better policies within the existing infrastructure, but also true systems change that will lead to a more democratic, just and cooperative environment. Many funders are positioned to invest in such systemic changes that would promote brighter futures for all children.

2. Attend to criticisms about the complicity of philanthropy in practices which undermine the well-being of vulnerable populations

A trap that many philanthropic organizations, even children-serving organizations, fall into is to invest in “solutions” that do not address the actual problem or issue. This white paper suggests that funding organizations should proceed only with meaningful dialogue with true stakeholder representation to ensure that their investments do not worsen the very issues they are trying to solve. Utilizing a design impact model that includes the beneficiaries of the investment in the defining of the actual problems and creating the possible solutions is one way that philanthropy can be sure they are advancing the cause.

3. Prioritize in-depth learning and broaden the focus of their organizations and programs

Have investments in children yielded a deep understanding of how all children, regardless of their background, can flourish in today’s society? Do we understand the cultural narratives, assumptions, and mindsets that can undermine the well-being of families? These are tough questions to ask and, frankly, to answer. They take time and patience to think through and a critical lens to truly question the impact of investments to date and to be able to take this knowledge and use it for future decision-making. Capita does not believe these questions are being answered at the scale needed to make a significant difference for children and families furthest from opportunity.

4. Collaborate with funders in different disciplines and sectors

Investing in children so that all may thrive is a complex issue that contains many related and non-related elements. Capita recognizes that increasing the impact of philanthropy on such a multi-faceted phenomenon requires a collaborative strategy. To address an issue from multiple angles will require an intersectional approach that brings together a diverse set of disciplines and policy areas. Doing so will have a multiplier effect on the impact of philanthropy on the futures of children and families.

5. Invest in ideas while recognizing that conversations are costly

Capita suggests that not enough resources are invested in fostering the next generation of ideas and connecting these ideas to future societal trends. Without the proper value and investment in idea generation, philanthropy is missing out on the potential to solve our society’s greatest challenges. Not only developing the ideas, but also broadcasting these concepts to shape culture and public perception will require critical investments of time and funding. So many philanthropic organizations, for good reason, are focused on concrete objectives and performance measures and this white paper recommends to funders to create a pool of resources to actively engage those individuals and organizational pioneers who are solely focused on the future. Without this, we continue to fund the same ideas yielding the same limited results-perhaps expecting something different.

Capita’s work makes bold statements to challenge the field of children’s philanthropy to think differently about their investments. These five big ideas not only pertain to philanthropic organizations but to any organization or individual interested in helping children and families flourish.

We are collaborating with Capita on an upcoming project where we will do deeper exploration on what is necessary to help young children and families flourish. This type of research and work is important so that we can collectively and individually help create a more positive futures for all.

Foresight allows us to embrace uncertainty, combine what we know with what we hope for and make our experiences valuable by using them to create better futures. Upcoming work will apply foresight to the futures of young children.


Amber Decker, EdD
Director of Development

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