This interview features Carol Thompson Cole, President & CEO, Venture Philanthropy Partners. JB and Carol discuss inclusive growth in the Capital Region, impact investing, and economic empowerment in underserved communities.
Hosted by JB Holston. Produced by Jenna Klym, Francesca Ioffreda, Ian Lutz, Nina Sharma, and Justin Matheson-Turner.
Learn from leaders doing the work across the Capital Region and beyond. These conversations will showcase innovation, as well as history and culture across our region, to bridge the gap between how we got here and where we are going.
About our guest:
Carol Thompson Cole is President and CEO of Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP), a philanthropic investment organization that makes the future brighter for young people living in Greater Washington by tackling the largest barriers to their success and forging partnerships that bring the expertise, passion and reach necessary to achieve life-changing results.
Under Cole’s leadership for the past 10 years, VPP aligns resources and actions to strengthen nonprofits to serve more youth. VPP’s philanthropy uses its convening power to work across sectors to create systemic change to help more young people succeed in school and gain the skills and confidence to attend college or start their career.
Prior to VPP, Cole served in a wide range of leadership and management roles in both the public and private sectors. She served as Special Advisor to President Clinton on the District of Columbia and Executive Director of the DC Inter-Agency Task Force. Prior to serving in the Clinton administration, she was the Vice President for Government and Environmental Affairs at RJR Nabisco. Cole spent 12 years holding major management and staff positions in DC government, most notably as the only woman appointed as City Administrator.
She is a member of numerous boards, including the Raise DC Leadership Council, the Greater Washington Advisory Board of SunTrust, the Kaiser Permanente Regional Advisory Board, the Federal City Council, and the Board of Trustees of Friendship Public Charter School. She also serves as a Lifetime Trustee of the Urban Institute. Cole has been recognized for her outstanding leadership and dedication to the region through service in government, business and the social sector.
Cole earned a B.A. from Smith College, a master’s in public administration from the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University, and attended the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program at Harvard University.
Carol Thompson-Cole 0:00
I know a lot of times people feel like whenever a new organization's comes into play that they're trying to take over and do different and I always say to people, there's so much that needs to be done. We have a place all of us have a place. It's just how do we ally?
Nina Sharma 0:20
Welcome to fresh. Take a candid interview series featuring thought leaders and innovators from across the capital region, these one on one conversations, highlight the incredible work happening in our communities and showcase both where we are and where we are going as a region.
JB Holston 0:38
Hello, everyone, I'm JB Holston. I'm the CEO of the Greater Washington partnership. Thanks for joining us for a fresh take where we talk to great leaders in the region or nationally who are doing great things. And I'm delighted today to have as our guest Carol Thompson call Good morning or good afternoon or good midday, Carol, I should say it afternoon. Thanks for joining us a little bit of background about Carol and venture philanthropy partners raise DC for those of you who don't know, Carol Thompson Cole has extensive executive management experience. If I read her entire resume that would take up our entire fresh take. So I won't do that. Because we missed the public and private sectors strong history of leadership, particularly in the Greater Washington region's philanthropy and nonprofit community, as well as federal and local government successfully partnered with cross sector stakeholders building networks in the region to tackle major social challenges being expertise, passion and reach necessary to achieve life changing results. I know exactly how difficult all of that is, Carol, so thank you for all of that commitment. Born and raised in the region with deep roots in the community, Carol Thompson co began work at venture philanthropy partners in 2003. So it's your 18th anniversary this year, which is great and became president CEO in 2007. Prior to this experience, highlights include a special adviser to President Clinton on the district and executive director of the DC interagency task force Executive Office of the President, Vice President for Government and Environmental Affairs at RJR Nabisco, the District of Columbia City Administrator, Deputy Mayor for operations and Deputy Mayor for economic development at in the District of Columbia. So welcome again, Carol, thanks for joining us.
Carol Thompson-Cole 2:26
Thank you very much for having me.
JB Holston 2:28
I thought we'd start by talking a little bit about backgrounds and really to two elements here, Carol, if we can, one is love to talk about the origin story or for venture philanthropy partners. But maybe we could start by your journey, you've obviously been in a hole in a wide range of contexts. And understanding how that took you to venture philanthropy partners as it was getting going, I think would would be interesting for our audience. Okay.
Unknown Speaker 2:57
So I'm born and raised in Washington, DC, I attended public schools, graduate of the DC public schools having been in K through 12. And as I was ready to go off to college, it was a time of unrest in our city in our country. And I'm the oldest of six, and my family decided to move into Montgomery County, Maryland. And my father's view was that he got me off to a good school, and he wanted to make sure that the opportunity was there for my five siblings. And so that's when I started to really begin to understand the differences and communities and opportunity, as we were making that journey out of the city into the suburbs, and I was making my journey to Smith College. And so I think one of the first things that really hit me, having been a really high achieving scholar in DC, my first year at Smith was not the easiest, I had to spend a lot of time in remedial work in terms of writing and really learning how to critically think. And so it's made me start to realize if I did so well there, why am I having to go through this. And so, as I was in college, I was very lucky to be in a place that had all the resources and opportunities and really pushed me to move to do the best that I could be. I went off to college thinking that I would be going into the Foreign Service and pushing democratic principles across the country, but kind of shifted to American government and decided I want to come back home to my region, and really help to improve opportunities for all. So that's where it all got started. So I went to NYU and got a degree in public administration, and actually had the opportunity to come come home and you've talked about the different places I've been. So I started in city government, when I started actually on Capitol Hill and in the house district committee when home rule was put into place, and I realized that either you stay on Capitol Hill and be a lifetime staffer, or you become a member, but I wanted to really get some experience and I went to the Urban Institute. And I really learned there about, you know, evidence based programs, and how important research was to really helping you to do the best in the public administration world. So I went to HUD, and then I ended up 12 years in the government of the District of Columbia. As I was leaving city government, that's when we had some of the most intractable problems. So we're beginning to hit our community homelessness, issues of the crack epidemic, you know, declining schools. And so I knew then that to solve the problems facing our communities that we really had to do more public private partnerships. And actually, I was part of one when I was the deputy mayor for economic development, which was the DC Downtown Partnership, which is the forerunner to the bid that is very successful here in our community in several bids in our community today. And I realized that we had the same intentions for our community. But we really had different language and different points of views. And we had to figure out how we could really work together to align our resources and accesses to get the results that we really wanted. And so having had that experience, I had the opportunity to go to the White House, and was part of the team that did the revitalization plan that has led to the wonderful city that we have today. But I also realize why the opportunity was greater in the economy was much better in the city, there was still many people in our community, many young people and families that had great needs. And I went out and did some consulting work, and 911 hit, and I was traveling a lot. And I said to my husband, I said, I'm gonna come back home, and really want to double down. And that's how I found VPP, I reached out to several of my friends said, I want to come home, I'm done with going to government, what's happening in the city. And I learned about venture philanthropy partners, I met Mario Marino, and as you said, this is my 18th anniversary here, why VPP VPP provides a wonderful opportunity to bring together all parts of our community to really solve the most intractable problems that we're faced with. And I know a lot of times people feel like whenever a new organization's comes into play, that they're trying to take over and do different, and I always say to people, there's so much that needs to be done. We have a place all of us have a place. It's just how do we ally? How do we connect in the right ways and learn from each other and make the advances that are so necessary for all in our community?
JB Holston 7:47
Thank you for that. Carol. Talk to us, if you will a little bit about how the partnership was originally formed. You mentioned one of the philanthropists who was instrumental in getting it going but I know it's had a very broad range of support across the philanthropic community. So let's talk a little bit about the origins and the early years of VPP. If we could,
Carol Thompson-Cole 8:07
so VPP was started in 2000. And it was after several years of really doing landscape across the region and across the country about what worked in philanthropy, and the founders and founding investors in VPP. They were technologists and venture capitalists. And they said, What made us successful? And how can we replicate that? Or can we replicate it to do good. And so venture philanthropy was being tested around the country, and about 12 organizations. And we were one of them, we were the only one at the time that was truly placed based. And so the originators decided that they really wanted to give back to the community. Most of them lived in our community. They made their wealth here, but they were giving across the world. And so VPP became that opportunity to become connected to the greater Washington area, and really bring their learnings and their resources to help. And so we kind of became, when I came on board in 2003, we started to bring people like myself, who had been living here, working here and really understood the nuances of our community. And we started to all sit at the table and learn from each other and have to learn differences. And we started to say how do we really improve the lives of the most vulnerable youth in the community? We focused on education, health and youth development. And we said we wanted to be the footprint of the Board of Trade, because that's where business government and philanthropy came together. And so we've been on this journey and as a result of our work, at least 50,000 Young people annually are better served by nonprofits, business and government from our collaboration.
JB Holston 10:00
That's great. I'm going to flash forward to more recent history, but then talk a little bit about sort of the breadth of the work if we could, but now, of course, your your, your VPP, raise DC. Could you talk a little bit about how that came about? And what what does it mean that these organizations are now are now brought brought together.
Carol Thompson-Cole 10:20
So VPP, we were a capacity builder. And we had we did it through investments. So we had an investment fund, able to go out and find where there was need. And then where there was opportunity, raised DC is part was originally part of the StriveTogether national network of collective impact. And so they were going broader and deeper in the community through change networks, and really looking at how you bought tables together for people to come and discuss and come up with the actions necessary to make the change. And so we were both at inflection points in our lives, and needed change. And we thought coming together, that we could really make a difference. A couple years before that, they decided that they really wanted to have co chairs have their change networks. And so VPP was the non government co chair for the disconnected youth change network. And so coming together, bringing organizations that we knew about to the table, and really going hard, we created the first reengagement Center, here in the District of Columbia for disconnected youth. And so we saw from that example, if we could talk, struggle and push forward for change, we could really make a difference. And so we decided we wanted to go on this journey together. And so we started, we brought the organization together last April. And we've been doing strategic planning, we have a new strategic direction, and we're building the organization so that we can have more young people that have the opportunity. But the key to this work is ecosystem change. It's not just individual efforts, you've got to deal with program policy and advocacy.
JB Holston 12:11
That's great. And with respect to the new strategic direction, I don't know how much of that you can talk about yet. Because I know sometimes these are processes and there are a number of constituents. But what of that might you be able to share with with us today?
Carol Thompson-Cole 12:24
So I think the first thing that we're really trying to focus on is how do we align for action. And so we've decided that we want to stay regional. And so we'll be setting regional issue tables and collaborative tables jurisdictionally. But raised is C VPP. Raise DC realizes that we can't do it all. And so we want to make sure where is momentum, where do we have the skill set. So we're going to be very much focused on early childhood, career and college readiness, and young men and boys of color. Those are areas of work that we have been successful in. And we have a real sense of how we drive it. But it is going to be a cradle to career collaborative. So we'll have people at the table that will be doubling down in their work on other areas. But we'll be able to come together in our tables and action and really be able to drive change across the whole spectrum of the young person's life. Zero to 20.
JB Holston 13:30
That's great. I love cradle to career collaborative. That's a that's a that's a great way to put it. You mentioned regional Carol, and are you defining how are you defining the region in the work right now?
Carol Thompson-Cole 13:42
So for us, it's the District of Columbia and Prince George's County, and then the inner ring, Northern Virginia suburbs. Got it? Thanks. So when we first got started with our work, most of it was really DC focused, because that's where people recognize poverty. And that's where they wanted to drive their philanthropic dollars. And so early in VPPs life, we had to help people understand that as rich as many of our suburbs are, there's growing pockets of poverty. So for example, we partnership in Fairfax County, and we've been working with the county they created a one Fairfax equity framework. And it's, it's a community council and executive initiative in the county. And so they really have identified that there are nine communities of sick of slowly but steady growth of poverty. And they're looking at how do they really address the needs of those communities, identify the resources and then fill gaps. And so we're going in based on what we've done with our high performing nonprofits, what we've done with high potential nonprofits building their capacity and then working in Prince George's County with our readiness For work champions for career and college ready, graduates, how do we bring those learnings and work in partnership with Fairfax County, because we know if we don't address the issues of all people in our community, Now, none of us will live the life that we really can.
JB Holston 15:16
Thanks for that. And that's, that's helpful to understand in terms of how you define region, and also how you define it define the work, I'm going to jump back a little bit, because you've got a unique perspective on on the district over an extended period of time. And I'm obviously new here, although I've had connections for some time. But it does appear that that it's a pretty remarkable story over the last 2530 years in the district, and maybe a story that isn't told as much as it could be around the world. But as you reflect back and dpps, obviously been a central part of that you mentioned the work out of the White House that that helped set a framework, etc. What are the things that have made this work? So well, and then I'll talk a little bit about what's still what's still missing?
Carol Thompson-Cole 16:04
Well, when I was, when I went to the White House, President Clinton realized that we were in a difficult period of time for the city of Washington. And with the federal government being the primary employer at that point in our our city in our region, he wanted to make sure that we were in partnership. And so at one other point in time, they had had a special advisor on the District of Columbia. And so they decided to go back to that model. I think what was important about the work at the time was not only was there a special advisor, that was the point person on all things dc, we set up an interagency task force across the federal government, and then connected with the appropriate district government agencies, and tried to make sure that more resources were going into those agent into the city agencies. But we had the capacity built to be able to take advantage and utilize in a successful way those resources. So over time, the relationships between the federal government and the in the DC government have been strengthened. And we heard from other program last week or the week before, that there's good relationships between the two governments at this point in time. So we were very focused on the economy, how do we really build the economy of the District of Columbia. And as a result, we have we have a thriving economy. Now things have changed based on the pandemic period. But one of the things that I realized as things started to really change and I moved on to other things, is that during that we didn't intentionally folk focus on the least among us. And so while most people in our community, we're doing much better in the District of Columbia, their significant community still that are underserved. And so coming to VPP, allowed my work to really focus on that. And we've been able to connect with the business and governments in the in the community. And I think you're seeing improvements, and there's a lot more to be done.
JB Holston 18:08
I agree with that. You mentioned the pandemic. And if you think about the communities that you're that you've been working with, and you think about the effect on those communities over the last year, the data seems pretty clear that our response to the pandemic has exacerbated inequalities, and potentially reversed, you know, a significant amount of the progress that's that's been made. Are you seeing that as well?
Carol Thompson-Cole 18:08
We definitely are. So we we knew about the disparities that are out there, but I think that the community at large really understands, you know, the the disparities in various communities, racial disparities, economic disparities. And I think people have focused while they focus maybe on the city, they realize those disparities and in every part of our region. So I think that we have to figure out now how do we keep people focused on that? And how do we come together? I think that was one thing that happened very well, is to see the partnerships and the funder collaboratives. That came out for pandemic response. And I think we have to keep that focus in that cooperation and collaboration to really continue to address and kind of get to the root causes of the problems in the community.
JB Holston 19:25
Yeah, we I think the greater Washington partnership, certainly our board members talk a lot about that. We came out with a study about two weeks ago that he is one of our partners had developed about the future of work in the region. And one of the findings is that there's a very substantial probability here that a lot of the companies will come back on a permanent hybrid basis that, you know, even firms that are based, whether it's in the district or in Baltimore, in Richmond in the city areas, it may well be that a substantial portion of their workforce. Only returns to to commuting kind Is your work maybe three days a week, and that can have some real implications for small businesses, particularly in in the in the cities may create some opportunities outside of the downtown areas, but can can can really present some ongoing and permanent Small Business pressure, particularly in the cities. Is that an area of are you seeing that as well? And I guess the question is, is that an area of prospective work for the VPP race, DC.
Carol Thompson-Cole 20:26
So number one, right now I'm in my office in downtown DC, and it just amazes me, it's a ghost town. Yeah, there's just no one down here. And so just the number of small businesses that we interact with with on a daily basis, they're closed, or they're at limited hours, or where I go to the carry out, usually for lunch, everything is DoorDash, you know, an Uber Eats is no one's in there, but a few of us every time I've gone in, so, DPP, we want to make sure that we stay connected. So our focus really is bringing the youth and vulnerable family perspective to all of the issues. But if we don't include them in the broader picture, then we'll never get to the solutions that we're trying to get to. So for example, I'm, I'm on the board of the Washington housing Conservancy. And so I asked to be on that board, because one of the big issues and all the families that we serve as affordable housing, and community economic development, and so we want to bring their voice and the issues that we deal with that perspective to solving those problems. When you talk about transportation as an issue. You know, the people that really struggle the most are those east of the river trying to get into the downtown area get throughout the region, we had a very interesting experience with regard to transportation early in our time, we were working with a nonprofit that was actually on the verge of scaling beyond the DC metropolitan area. And so there were philanthropists that were willing to bring that program into, into Baltimore. And they actually had young people that came to Baltimore, to go to Europe's offices in Northern Virginia, it was hard for us to believe but we realized at that point, it was easier for a kid to get from Baltimore, over to I think it was Arlington than it was was for a kid and southeast Washington to get there. And so we started to realize that one of the biggest issues and barriers to our young people success was transportation. And so while we are not one that focuses on transportation, we worked on some transportation issues, issues that come up within the education networks of race, DC, their issues that have come up in the work that we did in creating ready for work, how do you get a kid to a good school, then get them to an internship or after school program and home without them being on the bus or a subway for over an hour or two hours a day? While we may not directly you know, deal with certain issues, they are tangential and we weren't looking for partnerships to solve those problems.
JB Holston 23:26
Now, you've mentioned ready to work a couple of times. Carol, could you talk a little bit about what that program entails and and how it works.
Carol Thompson-Cole 23:34
So we created what's called Youth Connect, we received an award from the Obama administration for their Social Innovation Fund. And so we use federal dollars to create for r&d to create our network approach, which was used to connect bringing nonprofits several into one place to get greater outcomes for the kids in that school or in that community. And so what we did it we pilot piloted here in the District of Columbia, at the LA YC Youth Academy, and we said, if that worked, we'd like to see if we could take that program into another jurisdiction. And the long term goal is to see that those kinds of successes can be applied across the entire region, so that we really uplift the lives of kids across the full region. So Rushern Baker, at the time, was a county exec. And he reached out and said, you know, we'd like you to bring Youth Connect to Prince George's County. And so we went into three high schools, Oxon Hill, high point and Suitland, and we bought six nonprofit organizations that filled gaps of programs that were not available through the school system. They were tutoring programs, career preparation, and they work side by side with the with the school teachers and leaders. And we started to see some real positive results reinforcement Good values. But we really started to see academic improvements, kids that were in career academies, they were beginning to improve in their skills development and passing the credentials to get into post secondary education and different careers. So we reached out to one of our philanthropic investors. And they said, this is a business when, you know, if you can make sure that these kids come to us ready for work, it's beneficial for us to invest in it. And so we went from youth connecting the high schools to creating ready for work, rear champions for career and college readiness in Prince George's County. And so we went from just taking program nonprofits into the schools, we started working with the school system to improve their career in college, and technical education programs. We then also work with employers in the county, and started to really demonstrate to young people the connection between work and education, that you need a good education in order to be this what is it that you want to be when you grow up, and this is what the requirements are. And we started to see improvements in them all across the way was very interesting. During the time we were in the county, we ended up being a real advocate for youth employment, most people focus on employment at college, well, you nearly need to start working with kids in middle school and early high school, so that they can start to understand doing well in school yields do a better life. And so we started really teaching that and modeling it. So we wanted to make sure that every young person graduating in Prince George's County was able to have some kind of job experience before that graduation. And so we had, for example, Kaiser Permanente became a partner with us and move it take kids to the Center for Total Health here in Washington. And they got to understand that you can work in Kaiser, but you there are many job opportunities there. And so, you know, we started to really get kids excited, and see where good education takes them for a better life for themselves and their families. And it's it's been very positive. And I will say Fairfax County, has been watching those programs, and we're looking to see how we could adapt them in Fairfax County. And that was the whole model, you get started, you see what works, you start to move it throughout the whole metropolitan area. And then we have other communities across the past us to come. But we'd say at this point, we still have a lot of work to do in Greater Washington.
JB Holston 27:49
Yeah. How was that program affected by the pandemic? Because again, the public schools, of course, have have had more difficulty for lots of reasons in you know, staying open reopening, etc. But observations on that Carol.
Carol Thompson-Cole 28:03
So I would say probably the biggest difficulty was the career and technical education programs, because those are programs that really stalled during this period, because they needed to be in the schools or in the places of employment to really advance that. So that was that was a problem. We stayed in touch with the school leaders. And I would say the nonprofits that were in those high schools, they had developed very good relationships with young people. And they stayed with them, they connected with them by phone by email, and actually started to do some zooms beyond what they were required to do. But they they know, they knew that they had to stay connected to help the kids during this time, which we are learning now that kids are experiencing significant learning loss. But we were happy to see how our nonprofit partners continued to work with kids and kids. We're reaching out to them during the period of the pandemic.
JB Holston 29:06
We at the partnership did a deep dive and over the summer at what the constraints were to reopening the economy faster. And we took a hard look at things like scaling testing in the region and some issues like that. Did the the whole debate on the pace at which public schools could reopen has been? It's been a tough conversation in a lot of places. As your organization been very involved in that conversation. How do you think about about getting involved in that kind of conversation?
Carol Thompson-Cole 29:37
Well, we we have become involved in that conversation. In addition to the work of VPP. I'm the co chair of children, youth and families working group of the Washington regional association of grantmakers. Lindsay bought bus from the World Bank as my co chair. And you know, as the conversation has come up about how and when to reopen schools. There have been proposals of expanding tutoring within schools. So we are going to have actually on Monday of next week, the children youth and families working group meeting, which will be the first one we've had, since the pandemic started, so we can find a place to bring everyone together, so that we can really think of and learn from what they've done well, during the pandemic, and how we need to continue, I think the biggest message that I'm hearing is that we really need to follow the lead of the educators, we have found out that rolling out in in just a district wide away isn't the answer, you really have to look at the context of the schools and the communities and see what's best and what the needs of those families are, and then try to come together to solve them.
JB Holston 30:52
It strikes me that much of your work, which is really creating the tables and making sure the right people are at the table and the right conversations are happening, that can be really difficult to scale. And I know you have as an objective to make sure that the solutions expand across the region, what are some of the constraints to scaling? What you're doing? And have they gotten any easier over the years?
Carol Thompson-Cole 31:14
So I, it is hard work. I think you just have to start there. I think that there are models like strive together networks, there's purpose built communities, there are many organizations that have been doing this for work for a while. And so that I think they're models and examples. But one of the things we learned early on at DPP is that all of this work is nuanced. It's about building relationships, and then really understanding the communities that you're in. So across this region, they're very different, you know, in terms of governance, governance, structure, demographics. And so you really have to think through, maybe you can use the model, that you have to look at it in the context of the community that you're in. I can see over the years that we've been doing this work, which is 20 years now that people are watching each other and learning from each other. There was a meeting that the RAC brought together recently, of funders, you know, to talk about their lessons learned. And so I think people are willing to be more collaborative, what we're learning. And the reason why we want to be a backbone, is it takes a lot of work to do the coordination. And so we feel that, you know, we have been process driven. And that process helps you get to the outcomes. And everything that we've done has been on a performance to milestones basis. And so we want to bring those lessons learn to the collaborations across the city, we're looking at issue tables, jurisdictional tables, and regional tables, and figure out what is the best structure in each case. But we realized a long time ago that one shoe doesn't fit all.
JB Holston 33:03
Right, and too quick doesn't necessarily mean better. I'm sure that's true.
Carol Thompson-Cole 33:08
That's true, we say that you always have to be focused on being bold and moving fast, but you never move as fast as you want. I think you have to stay intentional to get the results to hard work.
JB Holston 33:21
Yeah. Talk about let's talk a little bit about the, you know, you'd mentioned the cradle to career collaborative, this, this idea that, to do the right thing, by youth, there really has to be an intentional approach across that entire timescale. And there are a lot of different players trying things, you know, we've we've got our initiative around colab, which is very much digital tech capability oriented, trying to broaden and deepen the pipeline of digital talent across the whole region. And we're doing work as you know, you know, in K through 12, as well as in higher ed, but it is very focused on digital skills and, and digital tech, and a lot of a lot of our partners on that journey have been higher ed institutions just sort of given the way that work started. But then there are also groups like CityWorks, which which are, you know, working hard on apprenticeships and kind of looking at the Swiss model and, and seeing how we can really scale those things up? Or they're easier more opportunity to collaborate across these things, or does that just create? And if so, sort of, how do we do that? I guess would be the question, Carol, or is that also you sometimes ecosystems grow because you get a lot of flowers that bloom to a certain point before you start trying to get everybody into a bouquet, which was a really bad metaphor, but thoughts on that, Carol?
Carol Thompson-Cole 34:38
So I'll say one of the things that we try to stay on top of is doing the landscaping to see what's going on in the region, so that we know what new innovations are out there. So when we started our work of VPP it was about serving more kids serving more kids better and making sure If there were systems just routers out there, that we could help people learn about them and adapt them to their situation. So I think with those learnings, I think of a conversation I had early with Jenny Niles when she was talking to us about city works, and we were talking about becoming the regional backbone. Her view was, I'm glad to hear you're willing to be the backbone so I can get the work done. And so I'll go back to what I've said several times is how do you find the different programs? And then how do you make sure people understand what they're doing, how they're doing it, they learn from each other. And then we can see where their gaps are to see if you can attach those to other programs, or something else needs to be connected. But I think people do benefit when they really can understand what each other are doing. When we started, Youth Connect, it was very interesting. These were nonprofit leaders who all knew each other. But we were surprised at how little they really knew about how each other's organizations worked, their points of view on issues. And so we really had to spend time sharing that information, and then creating a common goal, common outcomes framework, and then they could work together a lot better. And so I think that's the value of being a backbone. And everyone can benefit from that, like we were going to be very focused on, as I said earlier, early childhood education, career and college readiness, and boys and young men of color. So we're looking to see at who's really focused on other pieces of the work, and how when we come to the regional or jurisdictional tables, that they can really keep people apprised of that work. So we really do see the continuum cradle to career, I found it very interesting in my early days of VPP, that an organization would decide that they would start at a small piece of work. And sooner or later, they wanted to start with kids earlier, or stay with them longer. And so for us, he started to realize you have to find the best programs, you have to improve with necessary, but you really do have to have that high performing work and organizations across the spectrum. That's the only way you're going to really solve the problems long term.
JB Holston 37:29
Yeah, that's great. One of the interesting things, I think for organizations like these is kind of knowing when to hold them and knowing what knowing when to fold them. It's because you're right, I think there's a there's an inherent momentum toward trying to do more in many cases. And that's not always the best solution.
Carol Thompson-Cole 37:44
I think the biggest challenge for us going forward is everybody's busy with what they're working on. And so how do we create the right framework? In the meeting frequency and the like? How do we make sure there's a process that we're benefiting from, and not wasting people's time. And so that's where we're spending a lot of our initial thoughts, because we know where people are. And so the right time is a process and then plug everybody in? And hopefully in a couple of years, we'll see some greater results.
JB Holston 38:15
We've got a question and I'll kind of paraphrase that if I might, Carol, but the whole the digital divide in skills training for virtual work it careers and you know, there's arguments that all the need for that as accelerated in light of what we've all been through. E commerce is twice the part of the economy that it was just a year and a half ago. And so jobs are going to change is you think about ready for work, I think about career readiness and college readiness. Do you feel like they're been there? Or are we on the verge of fundamental changes in what it means to be ready and what people should be ready for? Or do you feel like this is just a continued evolution?
Carol Thompson-Cole 38:51
Well, I would say it's a continued evolution. But one of the things we focused on our ready for work program, is that we wanted the educators to understand what the high demand jobs are, and what are the skill sets that need the kids need to get ready for those. And so we actually did some work, bringing the people from industry together with the teachers and helping them to benefit. This is how you teach. And, you know, this is how, you know, this is what we need. And some of those partnerships, you know, became very important. And then that's when we started to see the improvements of young people passing the test for the different entry to jobs. So I think it's that collaboration between the business community with the education community, and I think that we say career and college ready, because the most vulnerable young people there, they don't go the straight through path that many of us have gone through. They'll get a job than they realize. They need to go back to school. So there are programs like Urban Alliance and year up that are in our community that really keep the kids connected and help them to see that and advance, which is why we say we all have to sit at the table and learn from each other. But I think it's a lot intentional conversation and education of adults that needs to go on to make sure young people really on the right path is not fits and starts.
JB Holston 40:28
That's great. The the greater Washington partnership has decided that the frame for its work for the next extended period is inclusive growth. And I both words are intentional inclusive is about having the most inclusive and equitable economy, regional economy in the country, the view is that if we can achieve that, we will have the fastest growth, the highest return economy as well. And that will do the best for the talent that's here, but also be the most attractive place for the talent that that that's coming. And then growth because largely it's business large organizations that behind the greater Washington partnership. So of course growth, innovation, entrepreneurship, those are all issues that logically fit but if you think about inclusion and equity and and opportunity, you mentioned do we need to provide equally for all or we're all bereft to some degree, but what's still missing in the region, where are the areas where the work really has to focus?
Carol Thompson-Cole 41:27
So I think the first thing is what I know, that you are aware of is that businesses when better in an inclusive economy. And I think there's still a lot of people that think too much about employment for vulnerable populations, and students, particularly his charity, it's about opportunity and advancement for the entire community. So I would start there. I know in many cases, the focus is at the college level. And so many of the young people that are coming to the colleges in in our region are coming from other places in the country. And so while you want them, I have so many friends that I convinced to come to Washington after college and graduate school, we want them here. But I think there has to be a more intentional focus on the kids from Washington, DC, and then building the programs and the strength in the education with the apprenticeships and the internships and work opportunities. I think if we continue to just focus at older kids, we'll never get to really changing the community. So we really do have an inclusive growth economy.
JB Holston 42:39
Thank you for that. Carol, I want to thank you. Obviously, the greater Washington partnership looks forward to doing everything we can with you, I think we've really got an alignment of goals. And certainly everything we can do to help you extend expand your work and the processes from Baltimore to Richmond is directly aligned with what our partners and what our board would like to do. Congratulations on your work. Thank you for for joining us. My guest has been Dr. Thompson Cole, who leads VPP rays, DC, and we're delighted to have had the chance to talk with you today. And Carol, thank you for all your work.
Carol Thompson-Cole 43:17
Well, thank you for having me. And I appreciate this opportunity. But I know our teams are already looking for opportunities where we can work. And I also remind people that many of the innovations and the improvement in the nonprofit sector in DC, have benefited the Baltimore and the Richmond communities, because many of the nonprofit's that we invest in early now have programs in both of those communities. So while we're focused on Greater Washington, it reaches to the broad scope of the Greater Washington partnership. So I look forward to us working more together in the future.
JB Holston 43:53
Thanks. Thanks very much, Carol. It's great to see you today. Have a great rest of your week. Thanks everyone for joining us. This has been fresh Take with a greater Washington partnership. Thanks again.
Carol Thompson-Cole 44:02
Nina Sharma 44:06
Thanks for tuning into fresh take. This episode was produced by Jenna climb Francesca Fraida, Ian Lutz, Nina Sharma and Justin Mathis and Turner. If you liked what you heard, share it with your network. For more information and to access all of our podcasts, events and publications visit Greater Washington partnership.com.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai