Coming from the Omidyar network in January 2020, Imaginable Futures recently announced a change in strategy.
Initially focused on social entrepreneurship and innovation in education, the philanthropic investment firm now aims to target inequitable systems and barriers preventing communities from fully accessing educational opportunities. Target regions include Brazil, sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Kenya and South Africa, and the United States
It also has a hybrid financing structure, part philanthropic foundation, part impact investor.
Before the pandemic hit, Amy Klement, Managing Partner, and her team spent over a year talking to everyone from teachers to policymakers in targeted regions of the organization, exploring how current systems have worked. tendency to reproduce societal inequalities and create barriers to learning. “It was very clear that in each of our main regions of interest, the systems were perfectly designed to produce the inequitable results that we saw,” says Klement. The result: a decision to double down on initiatives focused on tackling inequalities that have potentially reinforced the status quo.
Then the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd added a new urgency to the strategy refresh.
The emphasis is different in each region. In Brazil, the focus is on Kindergarten to Grade 12, especially social and emotional learning, for example. In the United States, by contrast, part of the approach is to invest in early childhood initiatives. “From 0 to 5 years old, childcare and learning is considered the responsibility of the family,” says Klements. “This is why child care is so expensive, even though it usually pays below a living wage. ”
In the United States, another goal is to support parents who are also students. Almost one in four post-secondary students has a child, according to Klement. But while parent-students on average have a higher GPA and are more motivated than other peers, they are less likely to graduate in six years. She calls the group “An often invisible and forgotten population”.
“While we like to believe that there is a meritocracy, there really isn’t one,” she says.
One business in the United States backed by the company is Edquity, a startup that provides quick emergency help to parent-students during a financial crisis, as well as financial budgeting and cash flow management support at the day by day. “Sometimes just $ 200 can help keep these students in school,” says Klement.
During the pandemic, Klement says, the company really stepped up, helping colleges distribute $ 75 million in federal funding to nearly 100,000 students with an average funding time of 25 hours. “Previously it could take up to three weeks and at that point your child was not fed and you were kicked out of your home,” she says.
Imaginable Futures started out as a business unit within Omidyar and then was created as part of a larger strategy within a larger organization. But the team had long intended to refine their approach in 2020, so the opportunity to do so coincided with the spin out.
Klement can’t discuss what’s in the pipeline. But future investments will be based on several principles: working with change agents to challenge inequitable systems that prevent learners from reaching their full potential; ensure that those most affected are also involved in creating solutions; uplift learners as crucial for individual and family well-being and build equitable societies; and be the first investors to impact.
“Social change isn’t just about listening to your customer, going back to your office and creating a product,” says Klement. “It’s really about co-creating with communities to develop solutions that will be sustainable.