Eva Lester, Buffett Early Childhood Fund

TITLE: Director of Program Development

FUNDING AREAS: Early childhood education programs, advocacy and research

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

PROFILE: Buffett Early Childhood Fund and a group of wealthy donors, including the Gates, Irving Harris, and Kellogg Foundations, have fueled the nationwide expansion of Educare, a network of early childhood learning centers, and in terms of funding, Educare plays an important role in Buffett's strategy. In the foundation's 2012 Outlook report, the subject was prominently featured, a signal for its renewed commitment.

As Buffett's Director of Program Development, Eva Lester, who joined the fund in January 2013, will likely play a role in expanding the fund's support of the Educare Learning Network. And it makes sense too. Lester was the project coordinator for Educare Arizona itself and played a major role in getting that program up and running.

The Educare Arizona campaign began in 2009, and in September 2011, an early childhood learning facility opened in Phoenix. The campaign placed a strong emphasis on partnerships—both public-private and partnerships between groups of connected donors—and in many ways, it was a model example of how Educare facilities are opened in cities across the country.

Of course, providing educational opportunities to at-risk students is the primarily goal of the program, and Lester has plenty of experience on that side, as well, stating

Brain science shows that we have the best chance at helping young at-risk children sow the seeds of success if we can provide them with what they need to thrive before they reach three years of age. At this early stage, we have the opportunity to work with them to develop school readiness skills that will help close the achievement gap later on.

Prior to joining Buffett, Lester was the senior manager of strategic initiatives at Southwest Human Development, an Arizona-based early childhood nonprofit, and before that, she spent that time at Educare Arizona. Pre-dating both of those gigs was a series of positions Lester held in Janet Napolitano's Arizona governership. Lester started as her policy assistant, became a strategic projects manager, and ultimately rose to director of the govenor's office Division for School Readiness as well as serving as an Early Childhood Policy Advisor.

The totality of these likely guide Lester's giving at Buffett, as it's clear that she is skilled at forming meaningful partnerships, a key principle behind Buffett's giving.

For instance, Buffett and a group of wealthy donors fund capital campaign for the construction of Educare schools, and operating costs for the facilities come from a variety of public sources on the local, state, and federal levels. Generating interest from local philanthropists is also a key, Lester's efforts have generated support and interest from a lot of different local players. Include basketball players; NBA basketball star Steve Nash was a key funder of Educare Arizona (as were several Arizona-based foundations).

Further, "the Educare team—a national staff housed at [Ounce of Prevention], the Buffett Foundation and more mature Educare Schools—helps develop new partnerships among like-minded individuals who want to create Educare Schools in their communities," its website states. So as the foundation continues to develop the network in new cities, it's clear why they've enlisted Lester to lead the efforts. You can find information about starting an Educare school online.