Sunday, February 11, 2001

Money, yes - and muscle, too

KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a new breed of education philanthropy,
gets involved with those it helps

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A relatively small Cincinnati foundation, started just three years ago, is gaining national attention for the way it does business.

        The KnowledgeWorks Foundation is a $200 million nonprofit with the goal of increasing education opportunities for children and adults.

        The foundation is part of a new breed of philanthropy. The group is pro-active, advocating hands-on help, not just financial assistance.

        Chad Wick, president and chief executive officer, requires that the foundation be actively involved in the agencies it partners with. He calls it “involved philanthropy.”

[photo] Chad Wick, head of KnowledgeWorks Foundation.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
        “I want to stimulate some other foundations to add more value than just putting money out there,” Mr. Wick said.

        The foundation's goal is to go beyond acting as a think tank, to become a group that acts, creates community ownership, tracks results and publishes the outcomes so other schools and agencies can replicate key programs.

        Just ask Beech Acres' Bryan Brown about just how involved KnowledgeWorks gets.

        After it formed in 1998, KnowledgeWorks did a policy study to determine what areas of education it could most help. Meetings with social service agencies found there was a lack of services to meet the schooling needs of children in foster care.

        Of the 2,500 children in foster care in Hamilton, Butler, Clermont and Warren counties, more than half will not complete high school, and at least 38 percent require special-education services, said Mr. Brown, an executive with the Anderson Township-based social service agency.

        That's the kind of gap in services KnowledgeWorks wants to fill. Mr. Wick suggested a center where parents and professionals could get information on community resources and training, and where children's needs could be evaluated and studied.

        KnowledgeWorks put up $1 million, to be spread over three years. The center opened in January, on Victory Parkway in Walnut Hills.

        “If we can improve the education outcomes for kids, we will reduce the long-term costs to society,” Mr. Brown said. “And if we are successful here, we can duplicate this service for other cities and states.”

        KnowledgeWorks gives out up to $12 million a year to schools, social service agencies and state commissions, mostly in Ohio. The foundation does not sift through applications. Rather, it seeks out people doing work in six areas:

        • College access.

        • School facilities planning and design.

        • Education needs of children in foster care.

        • Early childhood education.

        • School-to-career initiatives.

        • Education and training of low-income workers.

        The group wants to effect long-term, wide-ranging changes through public policy and research. That philosophy is at the heart of what will make philanthropies vital in the future, said Lucy Bernholz of Blueprint Research and Development Inc., in Oakland, Calif., a consulting firm for philanthropic grant-makers.

        “The traditional grant-making process is a one-way pipeline into foundations,” she said. “When those applications come in, the foundations get to know all kinds of things about what's going on in their communities, but they rarely share any of that.

        “We want to make this a two-way flow of information.”

    The KnowledgeWorks Foundation is one of Ohio's largest education philanthropies.
    The nonprofit foundation was formed in 1998 as the Thomas L. Conlan Education Foundation. In July, Mr. Conlan sold Student Loan Funding Resources Inc. to Sallie Mae for $117.3 million. The new name came with the new assets, which now total $200 million.
        KnowledgeWorks' business strategy is getting noticed — from the Ohio and U.S. Departments of Education to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — one of the largest in the United States — to former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley, who joined the KnowledgeWorks board of trustees Wednesday.

        “They are people who are focused on what I think are some of the most important issues in education in the country, like school facilities and early childhood education,” Mr. Riley said from his office in Greenville, S.C.

        “So many foundations I've talked to are all across the board. These folks go after something and they don't look back.”

        That's what the “new philanthropy” is all about, said Steven Zwerling, a senior program officer for education, media, arts and culture at the Manhattan-based Ford Foundation.

        “Funders are often very heavy-handed, and they dangle the money because it's there,” Mr. Zwerling said. “Mr. Wick works in the opposite way. He dangles ideas.”

        Mr. Wick brought the idea of Project GRAD to the attention of Cincinnati educators and businesses this fall. This education reform model, which began in Houston in 1993, targets inner-city students and guarantees four-year college scholarships for students who graduate from high school.

        In partnership with the Ford Foundation, KnowledgeWorks will take 40 Cincinnati Public Schools educators and business leaders to Houston this month to see the project in action.

        Cincinnati Schools Superintendent Steven Adamowski said KnowledgeWorks goes beyond cutting-edge ideas.

        “The difference in KnowledgeWorks' approach is that they see themselves as a change agent and developer, and they stay with the district through the implementation,” Mr. Adamowski said.

        KnowledgeWorks' intent is that the programs it helps start to become self-sufficient after a few years. The foundation also maintains contact with agencies through research and personnel support, to ensure things are working or to provide assistance when they are not.

        Most of Ohio's 2,000-plus foundations cite education at the top of their priority lists, said Lynn Helbling Sirinek, executive director of the Ohio Grantmakers Forum.

        KnowledgeWorks' activist role makes it stand out in a crowded field, Ms. Helbling Sirinek said.

        “They are doing a great job in commissioning research, in making what is learned available to the public and bringing in some national expertise to bear on these issues,” she said.

        The national attention the foundation gets can only mean good things for Ohio, said Susan Tave Zelman, superintendent of public instruction.

        With people such as Mr. Riley on the board, the state is more likely to partner in federal initiatives and have more access to federal dollars for education programs, Ms. Tave Zelman said.

        Joseph P. Tomain, KnowledgeWorks board chairman and dean of the University of Cincinnati College of Law, said the group maximizes its size and resources by acting as a catalyst.

        “When you compare us to the Gates Foundation or Lucent, we are really a small player, but we get involved in the administration of all these different projects,” Mr. Tomain said. “That helped us go from being a very local foundation to having a great opportunity to get involved on the national stage.”
- Money, yes - and muscle, too
Teaming up: Partners aplenty


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