As the 2017 legislative season grows nigh, an awareness of the lack of government funds to meet educational and human services needs is once again apparent. With that awareness we are seeing renewed interest in philanthropy and government collaborating to meet pressing problems.
Hawaii is not unique. Many American charitable foundations of various types and scale are considering engaging with government on a more formalized and continuous basis. At the same time governments are exploring ways to leverage philanthropic assets to advance innovative solutions to public problems in the context of growing budget deficits.
As both philanthropy and government seek to expand their impact, new models of collaboration are emerging. The new efforts go well beyond philanthropy picking up the bill for public services and projects government lacks the public will or funds to support. They even go beyond taking philanthropic innovations to scale or foundations attempting to influence sound public policy.
A creation of the early 20th century, the typical foundation has a permanent endowment, exists in perpetuity, is required to payout 5% of its assets each year and possess considerable flexibility and the ability to take risks in pursuit of its mission. With no need to raise funds, foundations can take a long view of their work.
Beyond the intersection of the interest of governments and foundations in serving the public good, many leaders believe that foundations can play a “venture capital” role for problem solving. Largely insulated from politics and markets, foundations have the freedom to experiment with innovative solutions to vexing public problems. Workable solutions may then be attractive to government to take to scale with its vaster financial resources and diverse delivery systems. Increasingly governments are also pursuing the support of foundations whose issue expertise may inform how a particular program is designed or implemented.
Local examples of such partnerships include the Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundations collaboration with the DOE and the Executive Office of Early Learning to provide novel preschool teacher training in early mathematics. As Hawaii ramps up a universally available public preschool system, teachers new to the pre-k classrooms have access to the Erikson Institute’s nationally prominent teacher training. The tax payer pays nothing.
In addition, with the leadership of President Obama and his White House Early Education Policy Team, our Foundation worked with 30 large national foundations to raise $250,000,000 for pre-school and Early Head Start expansion. The federal government matched our donation 3 to 1. Some of those funds were used to support preschool expansion in Hawaii’s charter schools.
An additional partnership, in an inchoate stage, is the partnership of DHS and our Foundation to innovate in two-generation methods of fighting poverty. Typically this means support for high quality early education for children combined with a host of needed supports for parents. The DHS “Ohana Nui” program is gradually being implemented by the DOH in concert with DHS and our non-profit community
Public-private partnerships are never easy. The rewards for the public, however, are substantial. There is much more to come.
Alfred L. Castle
Executive Director and Treasurer
January 1, 2017