Coalitions strengthen chances for success

For over 50 years, The McKnight Foundation has committed to improving the quality of life throughout the state of Minnesota. We operate on multiple levels and in multiple fields because we recognize that life is complex; to improve its quality, we must attend to many aspects of it —our regional vitality, our natural environment, our arts and artists, and so on.

No surprise, then, that McKnight’s diverse interests and multiple strategies begin where we all begin, with attention to early childhood development. Today, about 50 percent of our state’s youngest children are unprepared to enter kindergarten. Despite this daunting reality, Minnesota’s social and economic prosperity depends on every child getting a strong, early start toward reaching their full potential.

Before we can improve the lives of future generations, we must meet the needs of the generation next in line, right now.

Since establishing the Minnesota Early Childhood Initiative (ECI) in 2001, the six Minnesota Initiative Foundations and their partners have brought shared resources, shared understanding and a shared statewide sense of purpose to serve our youngest citizens. Their work together has exposed and made strides to resolve historical blocks between motivation and action in improving early child development. To overcome challenges, they have embraced several core principles:

To help every child, you need to reach every child. The ECI seeks input and partnership from everyone with a direct or indirect impact on Minnesota’s young children. It begins with parents, and actively extends to schools, child care, the health-care field, libraries, the business community, congregations, community groups and more. In building relationships with everyone connected to children, they have amassed an effective support network that is reaching more and more young people.

Isolation can undo good work and weaken the best intentions. The ECI has built itself on the strong shoulders of Minnesota’s communities, knowing the power of full community engagement is unique and invaluable to the long-term sustainability of efforts like this. Formerly isolated parents and families now have a support network to turn to. Child care providers who previously had to “invent the wheel” on their own now have access to new resources and peers. And advocates who felt like one voice shouting into the wind now belong to a chorus of like-minded believers.

No individual mind holds all the answers to improve the well-being of Minnesota’s children; if we’re going to get this done, we need to do it together. That is why the ECI has worked so tirelessly to raise public awareness about the issue, providing training and skill-building to increase the knowledge and understanding among those with the resources and connections to make a difference. Beyond eliminating isolation, true collaboration is the name of the game and the ECI’s coalitions have made a habit of thoughtfully pooling funding, knowledge and relationships to make a lasting difference.

The outstanding work of the ECI’s 86 coalitions continues in hundreds of communities statewide. More children are reached every day. Slowly, pockets of isolation among families, friends, neighbors and other early care and education providers are dispelled. And powerful new partnerships to serve Minnesota’s children and their families continue to appear across our state.

And thanks to the hard work of the Minnesota Initiative Foundations, the Early Childhood Initiative and its 500-plus evidence-informed projects operating statewide, we have a better framework today to provide opportunities and inspiration to improve the well-being of Minnesota’s youngest children — for generations yet to come, and for the generation that has just begun. — Kate Wolford, president, The McKnight Foundation  (Editor’s note: The above letter was published in an August 2010 edition of Impacts and Insights, a publication of the Minnesota Early Childhood Initiative. It gives background information on the beginning of the Minnesota Early Childhood Initiative.)