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When you work at a philanthropic foundation, a lot of information comes across your screen. Pitches for funding, invitations to events, newsletters, action alerts, etc. It’s a lot. Sometimes too much. Couple that with the explosion of news sites (and fake news sites), specialty blogs, twitter feeds, and the information flow quickly becomes an information avalanche. 2016 was a year like no other, but when seeking enlightenment from the events that transpired, finding the signal amongst the noise was almost impossible.

That’s why, in 2017, we are noodling on the concept of “actionable intelligence.” If information isn’t something we can use to take action, it shouldn’t crowd our feed. If news can’t lead to progress, then its value is diminished. With so much content available today, we have to become more discerning about what enters our brain. Gone are the days when we had to ‘hunt’ for content like a shark. These days, we have to filter for good content, like a sponge.

Here at AJF, that means we are spending more time listening to our partners and grantees. We are consuming more local information, and we are committed to having an ear to the ground like never before.

While we pride ourselves on our ability to be responsive to community needs, we will continue to strengthen our efforts on issues we have been engaged with for some time. This new year may require us to think differently about how we can be helpful, but it doesn’t require us to step away from causes we have been engaged in for decades. So what do we know now based on our work in 2016, and how will this inform our work to come?

Investing in kids is the right thing to do, and the smart thing to do.

We don’t have to look far to see the results of investing in professional development for teachers, academic offerings, education technology, and community outreach. The Fletcher Academy has strengthened efforts in all of these areas and the school is buzzing with excitement and optimism as a result. So much so that they’re expanding their efforts. In Spring 2016, The Academy pioneered a new literacy development initiative at PAVE Academy, a charter school in Southeast Raleigh and now serves fifty elementary students.

Our care and concern for our children is one of the most compelling ways we connect in communities. This is certainly true in East Durham and Southeast Raleigh, two communities that, despite barriers, are dynamic, diverse, and determined to make life better for kids that live there.

The East Durham Children’s Initiative has nurtured more than 1300 children since its founding five years ago. Through an established pipeline of services, community leaders are working towards high school graduation and college and career readiness for each of these kids. Each child and their family receives the support they need to thrive through individual case management and a connection to shared community-wide initiatives that build pride and shared accomplishment. And it’s paying off — every child who attend the LEAP early childhood academy in the zone arrived at kindergarten more prepared than their peers and all kids who were supported by EDCI’s parent advocates had developmentally appropriate communication, motor, and social interaction skills.  

30 miles southeast, one of our newest partners, Southeast Raleigh Promise Project is now actively engaged in community conversations and creating a vision for what success looks like for all residents. YMCA of the Triangle has acquired land that will serve as a “beacon site” for the community — connecting families through a school, activity center, and resources they want and need. Working with leaders who have long been fighting against intergenerational poverty, Southeast Raleigh Promise Project has demonstrated a commitment to change through conversations at dinner tables and town hall discussions. By listening to residents, finding common ground, and dedicating time to removing barriers for their neighbors, both of our partners demonstrate that they are working to ensure a brighter future for kids living in these neighborhoods.

Good reporting and analysis is needed now more than ever.   

Our founder, Mr. Fletcher, was an accomplished lawyer and insurance company founder who also had a vision for how media communications can shape communities. When he saw a television for the first time at the 1939 World’s Fair, he had yet to start his radio station or even apply for an FCC application, but he understood the irresistible nature of connecting homes across the region with programming in education, entertainment, public affairs, and music.

His vision continues in our work today as we support communication efforts so that North Carolinians have more access to research, reporting, and analysis about current affairs.

Lindsay Wagner has been with Fletcher Foundation for over a year now and in this time has centered her research, writing and analysis around the need for increased transparency and accountability around efforts to expand charter schools and school vouchers in the state. Informing our grantmaking and supporting our grantees, her work has made an impact. Some notable projects she’s worked on include, “When Charter Schools Fail,” a feature on how poor oversight and lack of accountability contribute to the demise of charters and how that, in turn, affects children, families and taxpayers. Soon after, the State Board of Education made an unusual decision to not greenlight several proposed charter schools. In addition to ongoing coverage of Charter School Advisory Board meetings, she has also investigated a small church school in Smithfield detailing the inadequacies of the school voucher program.

Jess Clark, the second Fletcher Fellow in a partnership between WUNC and UNC School of Media and Journalism is now reporting on statewide education news. Education policy has changed rapidly in North Carolina and we need in-depth reporting on what this all means for children across the state.

Speaking of making sense of all the policy changes, NC Justice Center and NC Policy Watch have worked nonstop to decipher the inner working of state policy and government, cover important events and issues across our state, and bring critical research and analysis to the nonprofit community about how changes in our state affect the lives of everyday citizens.

Our finest work comes from collaboration and togetherness.

For decades, Fletcher Foundation has approached its work with a “Let’s Fix it Together” attitude. There are daunting challenges ahead of us in 2017 surely, but in no time in our organization’s history has it been clearer that our work necessitates thoughtful, meaningful collaboration, not just investment in good ideas.

Four years ago this month, we hired Shannon Ritchie to help us shape our engagement with the wider community as well as to share her expertise on digital strategy. She has proven that showing up and speaking up in online spaces advances social and policy change and she works alongside our partners, teaching skills and encouraging them as they advance their work in a new space, often with a steep learning curve. This past year, she collaborated with Public School Forum of NC in designing and building a new website presence for the organization to more easily distribute content, and advised The Daniel Center on online fundraising strategy. Shannon has trained, supported, and cheered countless others as she works to strengthen our grantees’ work in new and exciting ways.

One of our investments from the past year was to bring the RACE: Are We So Different? Exhibit to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Race has not always existed, yet it’s studied and spoken about and analyzed in all of our work today. This exhibit is a unique opportunity to bring our wider community together in a powerful way, taking a cultural and scientific look at race throughout history. In the year ahead, we look forward to finding new ways to celebrate our differences and embrace shared histories as we learn from one another and this profound exhibit.

Another opportunity to bring about strong connectedness and collaboration is the Dorothea Dix Park. With the planning and community input process well underway, leaders and organizers including the Dix Conservancy are excited by what 2017 will bring, most notably a staff and development partner to begin bringing these ideas to life.

I woke up on January 1st, 2017 more excited about the new year than ever before.  It’s going to be quite a ride and I am looking forward to being on it.

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