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Reflections On “The Future of Early Childhood Development” Emerging Leaders Retreat

Reflections on “The Future of Early Childhood Development” Emerging Leaders Retreat

Building on an ECD Design Blitz hosted in October 2014, the Institute for Child Success partnered with learning and leadership design firm, Openfields, to empower leaders in ECD with the creative space, perspective, tools, and relationships to imagine how the entire early childhood sector might look in 30 years. Earlier this month, ICS invited twenty-three leaders from policy and provider groups, funders and for-profits, to meet together to imagine what the future could hold. The result was a remarkable two-day summit at the Inn at Serenbe, in which a new generation of leaders considered how a small committed group, one that could think and act beyond their single organizations and beyond ECD, might forever change the way the United States serves its youngest children.

The following reflection on the retreat is by Christina Triantaphyllis, Chief Officer of Public Policy & Strategic Initiatives at Collaborative for Children in Houston, Texas. Before coming to Collaborative for Children, Christina worked as a consultant at The Bridgespan Group. She has a BA from Rice University and an MS in Public Health from Harvard University.

Recently, I had the privilege and honor of joining 22 other emerging leaders in early childhood development from across the country in the Chattahoochee Hills of Georgia.  From Greenville, South Carolina to Los Angeles, California, Chicago, Illinois to Houston, Texas, we had the unique and exciting opportunity to begin jointly envisioning and reimagining what a future for our nation’s youngest children might look like.  Armed with new vocabulary in design thinking and case studies on systems leaders such as Nelson Mandela, we took the first steps toward gaining a new perspective on early childhood challenges by mentally stepping outside our roles and organizations.  The goal was to define the leadership mechanisms that are required to achieve the future we collectively desire.

It was refreshing and energizing to spend multiple days with people who exude passion for breaking cycles of intergenerational poverty through early childhood intervention and who hold such high expectations for how our nation faces this issue.  We thought critically about the forces, influencers, cultural trends, challenges and opportunities that might shape the complex early childhood ecosystem, and began creating a systems view of our collective perspective.  We asked ourselves and each other tough questions, challenged assumptions, and at times were left with more questions than answers.

Future of ECD 2015 Retreat Participants
Future of ECD 2015 Retreat Participants

I was surprised at the feeling of exhaustion towards the end of our working session.  But it was that good kind of mental exhaustion that results from productive dialogue, reflection and “think big” brainstorming.  Despite the overwhelming nature of many of the challenges our field faces, it was motivating to begin to build relationships with peers across the country grappling with the same questions and seeking to grow personally and professionally in a way that allows us to meet these challenges.  I took away with me many of the “ahas” and “what ifs” that we came up with, including:

  • What if we could develop the equivalent of key performance indicators many companies use as leading indicators of the child outcomes we care about?
  • If Google, Facebook, Target can identify every first time, low-income mother, how can we learn from their approaches and do the same?
  • What if we set out for all children to be bi-lingual and bi-literate?

I am very grateful that the Institute for Child Success has prioritized the development of future leaders and for its vision in beginning a long and important conversation on the skills we will need to build bridges in our field and with other fields that are essential partners in preparing our youngest children to succeed in school and in life.  Complex problems require leaders that can think and act in service of the “whole” over the long term.  Our time at Serenbe was an inspiring first step toward the future we imagine, and I look forward to continuing to work at a systems level with this group and others.

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