Creating Collective Impact in Eastside Neighborhoods
Bill Henningsgaard, an SVP Partner, is currently the Executive Director and Board Chair of Eastside Pathways, an organization whose goal is to equip every child in Bellevue with what they need to succeed. This article was originally posted by the Microsoft Alumni Foundation as Bill is one of their nominees for the 2012 Integral Fellows Award.
In January 2010, I found myself sitting in the little chairs of the library at Lake Hills Elementary, a public school in Bellevue, WA. I was feeling good about myself for accepting the invitation to a schools foundation briefing from a fellow parent. As I sat there, half listening, I realized that what I was hearing from the Bellevue School District presenter defied my preconceptions: Kids were showing up to school hungry. Kids were victims of domestic violence. A big fraction of the school was speaking English as a second language. Teachers were making Herculean efforts to try to get first graders to grade level, before those kids fell irreparably behind. I heard a fact – 70% of kids qualify for free and reduced lunch, up from 50% only a few years before. I learned later that Lake Hill’s poverty level was not only higher than any place on the Eastside (generally thought of as affluent neighborhoods); it was also about the same as areas such as Beacon Hill in Seattle or the city of Tukwila (not so affluent neighborhoods).
All of a sudden, I found myself listening with a different set of ears. I listened differently because I was shocked. Why I did not know that this poverty and these challenges to support students existed only three miles from the Microsoft campus where I had worked and less than a mile from Stevenson Elementary where our three kids had gone to school? I consider myself well educated and engaged, but had missed these profound changes in our community. It was disorienting – I wasn’t sitting in an affluent suburb listening to a pitch for adding yet another field trip. I was in an inner city school learning of huge efforts to TRY to help kids overcome tragic socio-economic disadvantages … and how the battle wasn’t going well.
That day was my entry point to the effort that has become Eastside Pathways.
Over the previous month, a group at Social Venture Partners in Seattle had been learning about this idea of Collective Impact – an approach that seemed to be making headway in addressing similar education challenges in Cincinnati. Sitting in that chair at Lake Hills Elementary, a light bulb went on. Maybe that approach, which pulls the community together to support every child “cradle to career,” would help the kids and families of Lake Hills and of Bellevue more broadly thrive in the face of rapid change.
That idea, that light bulb, led to discussions with the superintendent, the city manager, service providers, leaders and funders from around the community. We discovered a shared recognition that our current approaches were not sufficient to achieve the future we wanted for our kids and our community and a shared willingness to work together in new, more intentional ways. Since then, Eastside Pathways has emerged as a community-wide partnership, driven by volunteer leadership and the committed engagement of the leading organizations in the community. Together, we will mobilize the many strengths of this community – and leverage the collective impact principals of shared accountability and vision - to ensure that every child reaches adulthood capable, confident and ready to contribute.
Bill Henningsgaard is the Executive Director and Chair of Eastside Pathways. He is also involved with Youth Eastside Services and the Institute of Learning and Brain Sciences in the University of Washington. Bill is also a 2012 nominee for the Microsoft Alumi Foundation's Integral Fellows Award.