What's Interesting About This New Collaborative Mobilizing Serious Money for Children and Youth

A little over a year ago, we reported on one youth-focused funder, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, which brought an initiative called PropelNext to California with support from the Hewlett, Packard, Weingart, and the Sobrato foundations. That partnership cranked out unrestricted funding grants and expert coaching assistance to nonprofits serving vulnerable youth in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles.

Now, EMCF has developed a new partnership, staying true to its commitment to multi-funder collaborations for big impact. The new donor group is called Blue Meridian Partners, a grantmaking collaborative aimed at handing out at least a billion dollars to high-performing nonprofits that serve low-income youth.

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Like PropelNext, Blue Meridian Partners has a unique partnership structure, founded by 10 philanthropists and spearheaded at EMCF. According to the group’s website,

Blue Meridian Partners hopes to propel the most promising evidence-based programs to a scale that maximizes their impact on children and youth: directly, by allowing them to strengthen their work and serve greater numbers of youth; as well as indirectly, by helping them increase their influence on the child welfare, educational, judicial, and other systems that affect children’s lives.

So who are the key players this time around? Well, here's where things get interesting: There are a few unusual suspects in the mixeach committing at least $50 million over the next five years as part of the collaborative. 

Most intriguing to us is that among the partners is the Ballmer Group, which is the fledging philanthropic operation of former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife Connie. As we've noted often, this couple is worth watching super-closely, since they control a $20 billion tech fortune and are in the process of figuring out their philanthropyand ramping up it. We've speculated in the past that the Ballmers would focus on youth in a big way, given their past involvements. So it's not so surprising to see the Ballmer Group among the partners of Blue Meridian. Still, the fact that the Ballmers are participating in a major collaborative like this, and committing such serious money, is a notable step in the evolution of their philanthropy.

Likewise, it's interesting to see Stanley and Fiona Druckenmiller in the mix, here. Stanley is a retired hedge fund billionaire who we also watch closely, given the extensive grantmaking that flows through the foundation that he runs with Fiona. Druckenmiller has a long history of funding related to kids, and has been the single largest donor to the Harlem Children's Zone. It makes sense that the Druckenmillers are part of Blue Meridian—Stanley will chair its governing board—but they have otherwise been pretty low-profile funders, and we haven't seen them participating in many ventures like this. 

As a broader point, we notice that professional foundations are most often the participants in funder collaboratives. It's less common to see major individual donors playing well with others, in part because these donors often haven't yet built the staff infrastructure for such work. These collaboratives take a ton work, remember, entailing endless conference calls and meetings.  

The other partners in Blue Meridian, besides the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, are the Duke Endowment, the George Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Samberg Family Foundation.

Kaiser is known to many readers as a pioneering funder on early childhood education in Oklahoma, with a limited funding footprint beyond that state. Its role in Blue Meridian will be to focus regionally. That said, we can't help but wonder if George Kaiser, who has a passion for kids and is worth around $7 billion, might emerge one day as a much more active national funder in the children and youth space. 

Meanwhile, lesser support for Blue Meridian Partners is coming from the William and Flora Hewlett foundation, the JPB Foundation, the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. Each will commit at least $10 million to the effort Other philanthropic funders are welcome and encouraged to join as additional partners of participants in specific investments as well.

This collaborative reflects EMCF's longstanding push to bring greater scale to nonprofit efforts to help children. 

"At a time when the urgent needs of children and youth are on the rise, it is deeply frustrating to me how hard it is for even the most successful nonprofit leaders to grow their organizations to meet these needs," wrote Nancy Roob, the foundation’s chief executive. "We are woefully underinvesting in what works."

Right now, the big focuses are on early childhood, child welfare and foster care, and K-12 education. Data-driven grantmaking has been at the core of EMCF’s mission since the 1990s, and economically disadvantaged youth comprises the foundation’s sole focus. We expect the new partnership’s grants to be quite large. As with EMCF’s previous support, grants are also expected to be unrestricted funding and closely tied to performance.

There’s a growing interest in funder collaboratives lately, and that interest is growing stronger by the year. More foundations are realizing they are not islands in a sea of needs and wants, but rather interconnected forces that can pool together capital and make long-term investments to address daunting social challenges. Blue Meridian Partners is the latest poster child for that collaborative spirit, and EMCF a notable leader in this regard.