Key Points

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation created Starting Smart and Strong, a 10-year place-based initiative in three California communities, to develop and test solutions that support parents, caregivers, and educators as they prepare young children to be healthy and ready for school. The initiative brings together public and private partners to create comprehensive early-learning systems and ultimately scale what works.

This article offers key insights into the foundation’s experience, three years into implementation, with managing this complex initiative and how program officers were compelled to think differently about the best roles staff can play to support grantee communities and amplify constituent voice. Shifts in mindsets and commitments that challenge traditional foundation orthodoxies were essential for effectively supporting inclusive community change.

Program officers also had to develop new capacities that both focus on the development of systems that are locally designed and driven and work in service of the foundation’s broader strategy goals. This juxtaposition has upended business as usual and set the foundation on a path that seeks to better understand authentic partnership with communities and the importance of co-creating strategies to sustain lasting change.

Open Access