The Investors Table is a group of community partners and philanthropists working alongside residents and service providers to create catalytic change. This is the first time that a group of local funders has come together to tackle a community challenge, by implementing a collaborative, pooled investment approach.
The Investors Table is a shared success model, so rather than recognizing individual contributions, we recognize the investors as a collective, because we’re all working together to solve tough community problems, alongside residents and service providers. We hope to reduce service duplication and fragmentation, and measure results in real time while elevating the voices of the community in solution design to achieve meaningful impact.
The following roundtable discussion is a call to action to our community, to philanthropists who want to be on the cutting edge of collective community impact, to join us in the fight to ensure that children in our community have every opportunity to succeed in school and in life.
Members of the discussion:
Liz O’Neil Meuregh
The O’Neil Foundation, and Co-Chair of the Investors Table
United Way Board Member and Co-Chair of the Investors Table
John McGivney Children’s Centre and Co-Chair of the ProsperUs Leadership Council
Regional VP of BMO Bank of Montreal and Co-Chair of the ProsperUs Leadership Council
CEO of United Way, Backbone Organization for ProsperUs
Round table discussion
Karen: Liz, I’m going to start with you. Tell us what exactly is the Investors Table?
Liz: The Investors Table is a collective of funders from different sectors, foundations, individual philanthropists, government, private business, and funding-based not for profits. All those individuals and organizations are committed to sustainable support of the cradle to career strategy.
It also changes how we think about philanthropy a little bit because we’re not talking about a short-term donation, we’re talking about a long-term view looking to create systemic change.
Karen: I understand that this is the first time that a group of local funders has come together this way to tackle a community challenge. Tim, can you tell us how ProsperUs is acting differently from the way funders traditionally operated?
Tim: Traditionally funders would look at a proposal and decide whether to fund it or not. We’re not looking at it that way at all. Instead, what the Investors Table is looking for is, how can we support the community, how can we support the providers, and how can we work together to make sure the solutions that are being developed by the community are going to be effective and sustainable. To drive improvement in the life of children and families, barriers must be removed for kids to succeed and our community to change through reduced poverty.
Karen: Lorraine, why is this new model needed?
Lorraine: I think we can all agree that there’s been millions of dollars invested in the community to try to solve some of these persistent problems. But sadly, we’ve not been able to change the trajectory for many children in our community, in a measurable way.
This model is looking at reducing fragmentation and duplication, strategically focusing our dollars where it’s needed the most, sharing data and evaluating in real time to ensure that these investments are effective, and recognizing that when they’re not, we’re going to adopt a continuous improvement approach so that we are getting the greatest bang for our buck.
Over time, this is going to allow us to realize some cost savings because things are going to be linked, coordinated, and all lined up. That is really going to serve our community well.
Karen: Jessica, the ProsperUs vision is about ensuring that all kids in our community have the opportunities to succeed in school and life. How will the Investors Table leverage these pooled funds to support the Cradle to Career strategy?
Jessica: The Investors Table really embraces an equity-centered philanthropy philosophy which knits together well with the whole purpose of ProsperUs. What that means is that the Investors Table will be offering multi-year funding, as opposed to single types of investments or one-offs, as well as supporting organizational support and capacity building.
And what I find really fabulous about this approach to philanthropy, is that investors will be working in partnership with people with lived experience, residents, front-line service providers, and other subject matter experts to continuously develop a collaborative and empowering consensus building type of model to program development and continuous improvement.
Karen: Lorraine, I understand that we’re not really relying on a traditional request for proposals process, so who will be delivering these community solutions?
Lorraine: I like that you’re using the language ‘solutions’ because it is about trying to invest in solving problems that have been around for a long time versus just investing in programs. We’re working with community organizations that serve children, youth and families, and those that have the experience. So, they really have the skills in each of the solution areas that we’re investing in. They have the capacity to deliver the desired impact, and they might be a registered charity, a not-for-profit or even a grassroots organization. But what’s important is that they all have deep ties to residents in the priority neighborhoods.
Karen: Jim, as an investor through BMO Financial Group, why is this exciting for you?
Jim: It is exciting for me personally to really accelerate positive change in our communities. It was really quite a while ago where we identified the neighborhoods in Windsor and Leamington that we were going to target. To finally get to a place where we can be action oriented through the solutions that have been identified to really make a positive change goes a long way.
When I think about the organizations that I’ve had the privilege to work with within ProsperUs, it makes me feel good that the values and the purpose is very much aligned to that of my organization, BMO. “Boldly Grow the Good” is very much aligned to the work that we are doing in the Windsor-Essex community. And so that makes me feel really good and I’m excited about the work that we have in front of us.
The final thing that I would say is how we measure our success. I’m excited as we start to roll out our programs and support children and their families on the Cradle to Career strategy, that we will be able to have a system with checks and balances that is able to validate that we’re in fact making meaningful progress.
Karen: Liz, I’ll throw that same question to you, why are you excited?
Liz: I’m so excited, Karen. And that’s an easy one to answer. To me, the Investors Table represents our first opportunity to practice catalytic philanthropy, and to think about catalytic philanthropy we have to also think about traditional philanthropy, where we have organizations who are vying for a limited pool of resources. Sometimes there are repetitive or competitive work that’s being done.
This model totally turns that upside down. This model is all about coming together collectively with every stakeholder within the ecosystem that we’re hoping to change so that we can have sustained funding over the long term and that we’re able to push on all the levers that need pushing to change that whole ecosystem.
So just as the Cradle to Career strategy around ProsperUs was, in my opinion, groundbreaking and a very bold move when it was first initiated, I believe this is now the equivalent move on the part of investors to come together, work collaboratively and really see if we can move that needle.
Tim: For the last two or three years, there’s been a lot of work done in Windsor and in Leamington to really listen to people living in those communities. What are the barriers that they face? What are the things that are the most important? What will let them, their families, and their children start to succeed? We have listened to this and then involved providers, and now we are starting to see solutions come up for funding and for support. It’s just so incredibly exciting to see that we are really doing things in a different way, in a way that’s being driven by the community, the people who really know what they need.
I really believe that this approach will lead to more effective solutions, but more importantly, long-term sustainable ones. It’s absolutely a shame that 1 out of every 5 children in our community live in poverty, in some of these communities its even higher, and the problems have only gotten worse during the pandemic. The need for these programs and the difference that this can make in people’s lives is amazing.
Jessica: I am a huge fan of the philosophy of philanthropy that the Investors Table is bringing to investment in this initiative. And mostly because I’m really excited and proud of the work of the ProsperUs group.
We’re talking about solutions to very long-term problems and those solutions are being developed in a way that is collaborative, that will be delivered by community organizations that are serving children and youth already. I think there’s so much opportunity that exists already out there in in this community. With the support of the Investors Table, there is much more opportunity to come and ability to leverage the opportunity that is just sort of sitting there waiting to happen.
So, I think the Investors Table and ProsperUs will really be the catalyst in being able to harness the opportunity that we know is out there.
Karen: Lorraine, I’ll give you the last word on excitement, how are you feeling?
Lorraine: I am really excited because we’re going to actually be getting out some of our first investments in the very near future. It’s really exciting when you’re developing a new way of working. You have to really think about the values behind that and the culture you’re creating and bringing people along.
And I have to say, in all honesty, I feel that our community was ready for this change, this shift. We are wanting to bring more investors to our table. We have a lot of solutions that we need to move to implementation, and we certainly will invite anybody that is able to come to our table and make our minimum investment of $50,000 a year over five years. As Liz eloquently said, this is about a sustainable funding model. It’s not about quick fixes, it’s about long-term improvements. And so certainly anyone can reach out to me directly, and I’d love to tell them more about the fantastic work that’s being done.
Karen: Jim, what has it been like developing direct connections with the community through the Investors Table?
Jim: We’ve talked a little bit about the importance of residents and having the input from people with lived experience. I had the opportunity to attend some of the Community Action Network sessions in the city and also attended a session in Leamington, which included some of the residents. I think what really resonates for me is why it’s so important, bringing the residents together with investors to work on the solutions and to support them so that there is alignment.
It forces us to listen. Traditionally, I’m not so sure that we’ve always done a great job when it comes to figuring out what we are going to do to help the community. I think the work that we’ve embarked on has demonstrated to me and to ProsperUs that we’re going down the right path.
I don’t think any one organization or group of residents can do this on their own. It is about putting aside ways that we’ve traditionally viewed solving issues and make a difference. It gives a positive energy, it reinforces the work we’re doing, it makes you feel good in your soul, and it’s just a validation in the compass that we’re going down the right path.
Karen: I want to unpack something that Liz talked about, she mentioned the term ‘catalytic philanthropy’. Does anyone want to chime in on what is this new way of working and what catalytic philanthropy means to you?
Tim: Maybe I could try that. Just last night, we were talking to some of the people who were involved from the community and one of the ladies said ‘this is the first time I feel like anyone’s ever listened to me’. She was saying that in response to a question about what are the biggest barriers that you face?
She said, everybody’s well-meaning. There’s lots of stuff out there in terms of programs, activities, but they’re not always accessible. You can’t get childcare or they’re not the right hours or in the right location. Like she said, nobody’s listened before. And so, this exercise isn’t just about listening, but it’s about trying to put into place the solutions that those people have identified and have helped us develop.
This is a significant transfer of power from grant makers to people who are solution facilitators. We have put a lot of money into programs over the years but why haven’t things gotten better? Why is there such inequity in the community? Well, the answer is because we haven’t really asked the people who know the answer the question.
I’m a believer that in five or ten years from now, we won’t have one out of every three children living in poverty, that kids won’t go to school hungry, and not able to do their homework. They’re succeeding. That’s pretty exciting.
Karen: And Lorraine, I understand that Investor’s Table has already initiated $5M for community investment in this LOCAL Cradle to Career strategy, or $1M a year for five years, but your goal is $15 million. Can you talk a little bit about that and what the goal is here?
Lorraine: Not only are we looking at system realignment, let’s help make existing services work for people so they are accessible. Let’s make sure that the system’s not so fragmented because that’s where kids are just falling through the cracks. It’s about topping up investments in some existing programs that are really proven to be effective and also about investing in new solutions because there are gaps.
Our goal is to raise $50 million. That is essentially 5 million per priority neighborhood. And certainly, the Investors Table is the vehicle through which we’re trying to invite other philanthropists, corporate partners, government to help us achieve that goal so that ultimately our community is better off, kids are successful, and we all benefit from a healthier community.
I’d like to just thank all of our partners that have stepped up to the table in so many different ways. I can honestly, in my specific role at United Way, say that our partners have really stepped up in a lot of different ways, not just with their time, their talent, their financial resources, their staff resources. This has really been our true collaborative effort, and I think this is one of the big changes and why we’re really going to continue to see this success as we move to implementation.
Karen: Well, I really appreciate everyone participating in this discussion today. This is an exciting new era for our community, and it’s great to have you all at the forefront of this work.
The Cradle to Career strategy has been developed by ProsperUs, a cross-section of 40+ community partners and residents, with the support of the Backbone Organization United Way/Centraide Windsor-Essex County.
Initial investments will focus on improving academic success in elementary-age children, by providing tutoring, mentoring, nutrition and mental wellness supports for children through out-of-school programs, and wrap-around supports for parents and families. Programs will be delivered in three priority neighbourhoods, including West Windsor, Downtown Windsor and Leamington.
If you would like to learn more about the ProsperUs Investor’s Table, please visit www.weunlockpotential.com/Investors-Table.