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February 2016 Grants Newsletter | Guest Column | Darren Walker

Improving Education, One Idea at a Time 

Leading the way in changing City schools 

Darren Walker is president of the Ford Foundation. This column is adapted from his remarks at an event celebrating the Donors’ Education Collaborative in The Trust.  

Every so often, foundations come together for what I call “risk-taking philanthropy.” In 1995, for instance, The New York Community Trust, Ford Foundation, and others agreed that too many of the City’s public schools were mediocre—or worse. 

At the time, our friends at The Trust were revamping their strategy for education grantmaking. After years of funding model programs and targeting specific groups of students, they’d had some successes but wanted to achieve more. The Trust decided to focus on changing the entire education system. 

So, 17 foundations formed the Donors’ Education Collaborative in The Trust. Recently, as we celebrated the 20th anniversary of our joint effort, we looked back at how we’ve had an effect on public education.

Three examples: Parents have organized neighborhood groups to push for better schools for their children. We’ve worked in Albany to make sure City schools’ funding is fair. And we’re working to keep more students in school through less punitive discipline policies. Our collaborative shows that foundations, parents, and principals can make a difference for kids whose best hope is education.

On a personal note, I’m a devoted New Yorker now, and head of a $12 billion foundation here. But growing up in Goose Creek, Texas, I was in Head Start’s inaugural class in 1965. Later, Pell Grants and scholarships helped finance my college and law school studies. I can attest that education powers our social mobility escalator. 

I’m radically optimistic. I look forward to many more years of working with The Trust on job training, the environment, and other pressing issues. I salute you—the current and future donors to The Trust. You, too, are our partners in creating opportunities for the next generation of New Yorkers.

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