Thursday, February 07, 2013

Succeeding Where Others Have Failed

This week the Raise DC partnership released its baseline report card on the state of the District’s young people.  Through collaborating with a number of organizations and city agencies, the report card outlines how well the city as a whole is preparing young people to become self-sufficient adults. Perhaps not surprisingly, DCAYA was involved with Raise DC since its inception. While the final report card may seem as if the Deputy Mayors for Education and Health and Human Services just collected information for publishing, we can assure you the process was much more in depth and deliberate. Over the past year, the amount of work put in by the Raise DC partners has been truly inspiring for us to witness, as well as take part in. Furthermore, as a coalition of child and youth service providers, DCAYA understands how the mere convening of a group of such diverse stakeholders is a major undertaking.

As the report card authors point out, DC has attempted mass collaborations in the past that have not necessarily yielded results. The educational attainment of our cities young people is still abysmally low, youth unemployment (and adult unemployment in certain areas of the city) is persistently high and we still have far too many families living below the poverty line. This reality begs the question, what makes Raise DC different from past efforts?

For starters, the government offices that organized the Raise DC report card actually acknowledged some past mistakes (as well as successes). This in itself is a good sign. A great concern amongst many entities that serve and care about youth in the District is that past collaborations usually begin well, but often lose steam over time. Past efforts such as the ICSIC and the SCCYF (hey, at least we didn’t use an adjective this time!) are good examples of this pit fall.  Both the ICSIC and the SCCYF began as a large collaboration amongst city entities and community partners to gather city wide indicators of young people’s success, each eventually fizzled out. Obviously, this is bad. At the end of the day we want to help young people achieve a healthy and productive adulthood and when we are not doing that, the city struggles. This is clearly evident in the amount of money the city spends every year to rectify past mistakes, like failing to invest in public education and health services on the front end. Also, unsuccessful efforts like the ICSIC and the SCCYF often affect the partner’s willingness to engage in future city wide collaborations and initiatives, which inevitably affects eventual success.

While Raise DC cannot guarantee loss of momentum and following down the path of its predecessors, there are many encouraging factors to indicate success.  The leadership structure of Raise DC was very intentionally set up by not just including city officials, but business leaders, philanthropic organizations and Executive Directors of prominent community based organizations. This structure not only allows for mass buy in, but also protects Raise DC from the typical life cycle of initiatives and collaborations tied to a specific political administration.

Another reason to think this time may be different from past efforts is that outside investors have already come to the table to aid the city and the partnership in achieving its mission. Also the formation of “cradle to career” partnerships across the country is considered a best practice by both the federal Department of Education and by numerous national and local think tanks and research organizations. These are both very important indicators of the aforementioned mass buy in from stakeholders that is necessary for Raise DC to achieve its mission. These indicators are also an encouraging sign the District may be able to garner even more long term, outside resources for the city. Good news for everyone.

Lastly, Raise DC has the extreme benefit of being guided through its planning and implementation process by one of the foremost collaborative impact organizations in the country, the STRIVE network out of Cincinnati, Ohio. STRIVE has been recognized locally and nationally as a leader in this area, but more importantly has achieved many of the goals it set out for itself through their work in Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky. Raise DC does not look exactly like the STRIVE network , but that does not mean we should be discouraged.  Collaborative efforts should be tailored to the specific needs of the communities and geographic regions they are meant to affect, so of course Raise DC is not a carbon copy of STRIVE.  Furthermore, by having STRIVE guide DC’s efforts we can learn from their five years of experience and make room for our own innovations.

DCAYA is especially proud of two Raise DC accomplishments: the inclusion of a change network (think of these as working groups) dedicated to the disconnected youth (youth who are neither enrolled in school nor working) population in the District and the inclusion of our Workforce Investment Act’s Youth Council into the Youth Employment Change network. While these two things may seem like common sense moves, we cannot overstate the need to eliminate redundancies and streamline the work being done around these issues.

Sir Winston Churchill famously said “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” and we couldn’t agree with him more. That being said there are some very positive signs from the work Raise DC has already engaged in that suggest perhaps the city is finally in a place to build off past endeavors.

This blog post was written by DCAYA Policy Analyst Anne Abbott.  For questions about this post of DCAYA’s involvement with the Raise DC partnership you can email her here or ask her on Twitter!

For more information about the Raise DC partnership please visit the newly launched The baseline report card is available here.
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