In 1930, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) was founded upon one man’s belief in people. A belief so formidable that he donated his life’s earnings based on his belief in their inherent capacity “to help children everywhere to face the future with confidence, with health and with a strong-rooted security in their trust of this country and its institutions.”
As I look at the work that is before us, I am committed to that belief more today than ever before.
The past year was marked with rhetoric and actions that underscore a deep racial divide in our country. While the discourse is disheartening for our children, it crystalizes the path forward for the Kellogg Foundation and our investments. Our children – especially those living at the margins of our great society – need all of us to bridge those divides for the sake of our collective futures.
The Kellogg Foundation has been on the forefront of conversations about the impacts of race and racism for decades. Since our board declared WKKF an anti-racist organization that promotes racial equity in 2007 to the launch of our Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation enterprise in 2016, a commitment to advancing racial equity remains explicitly embedded in all of our work. What makes our work unique is how it begins with racial healing and grows through community engagement.
The realities of the past year challenge all of philanthropy, including the Kellogg Foundation, to work differently if we are to achieve real change for our children. For us, this means clearer, deeper prioritization in the areas in which we fund – shared in the “Our Priorities” section of this report. These emerged as a result of 14 community conversations with 1,600 grantees and partners held in 2016.
I am reminded of President Herbert Hoover’s words, “Children are our most valuable resource.” It was Hoover’s White House conference on Child Health and Protection that Mr. Kellogg attended and which inspired the foundation’s commitment to children. That vision for children’s well-being will always be our north star, and in order for them to reach their full potential, we also need to support the families and communities in which they live.
What does that look like?
WKKF remains committed to supporting children’s early development with a healthy start and quality early learning experiences through their 8th birthday.
A significant component of our work in the U.S. is the equitable implementation of public policies dedicated to improving outcomes for children. WKKF investments in family engagement, effective teaching and aligning local and state early child care systems, continue to guide our work to ensure that all children have access to quality early learning that is culturally appropriate, responsive to community needs and supportive. This is true for our work in Haiti and Mexico as it is domestically in the United States – in other words … culture matters.
For example, in the Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico, the Walatowa Head Start program, which serves predominantly low-income children, is conducting classes entirely in Towa, the Jemez Tribe’s native language. Studies show that grounding children in a traditional language supports their brain development and makes it easier for them to learn other languages. They also are more likely to be successful in their lifetime and have greater metacognitive skills and thinking ability.
Many models and efforts in promoting health equity have led to strong, positive changes in communities and we plan to scale those models by engaging other funders and sectors. These models include supporting and educating parents about the health benefits of breastfeeding, increasing local access to healthier foods, and creating new mid-level dental providers to offer quality oral health care to children and families.
Equally important to providing economic stability to a child as they learn, grow and develop is ensuring that the adults in that child’s life are able to find, obtain and keep quality jobs that provide a living wage and are family friendly. As such, WKKF is keenly interested in supporting programs that help adults prepare for quality jobs and then connecting them with employers searching for prepared and talented candidates. Programs supported by foundations have often trained people for training’s sake. This is no longer enough. We must go one step further and work with employers to ensure there are opportunities available.
A fine example of this is a program called Women in Construction, coordinated by the Moore Community House in Biloxi, Mississippi. This program has graduated 16 classes totaling 160 women in the fields of general construction, welding, green job training and disaster relief and recovery. Of the 160 women who have graduated the program, approximately 70 percent have gained employment, increased their earning power, and continued their education in a construction related field. Graduates have gained living wage jobs in nontraditional occupations in trades such as welding, ship fitting and construction management, earning from $14 to $28 an hour. This transformative work offers a fresh perspective on employment pathways for women and shows great potential to improve these women’s lives and that of their families and the community.
Internationally, our focus is on building economic stability for families by prioritizing agriculture production and transformation. As such, we are partnering to help address complex challenges causing malnutrition, including producing a highly nutritious peanut food and teaching smallholder farmers innovative approaches to farming to increase and diversify crops. Currently 50 percent of all the food Haitians eat is imported. In collaboration with the Abbott Fund, we supported Partners in Health to create an 18,000 square foot production facility in Mirebalais that produces 60,000 kilograms of Nourimanba, a highly nutritious, peanut-based therapeutic food, each year. This production is helping 6,000 cases of malnutrition each year.
And through our partnership with Technoserve, more than 1,000 farmers have learned strategies to increase the quality and quantity of their peanut production. In the first year, farmers increased their yields by 51 percent and this year the number of farmers and entrepreneurs who are benefiting is expected to double.
Our founder, Will Keith Kellogg, believed that all people have the inherent capacity to effect change in their lives and in their communities. In other words, people who live in a community are the best source of ideas, wisdom and solutions to the challenges they face. This appreciation for authentic community engagement is central in our work domestically and internationally. It’s also why we continue to support place-based programming in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, New Orleans, Haiti and Mexico.
Just recently we announced Hope Starts Here, a partnership with The Kresge Foundation to bring together parents and leaders in Detroit to create a vision and a plan to make the city a world-class community for its youngest residents. While more than 200 organizations are working on behalf of the city’s children, they have not always coordinated in a way that helps all 80,000 children have access to quality early learning environments. Hope Starts Here is a promising start and I’m inspired by its potential.
Not unlike Detroit, visioning work in WKKF’s hometown of Battle Creek, Michigan, affirms that communities must explore and tailor approaches that work for them. Battle Creek is two years in to a community engagement process focused on increasing jobs, talent and a culture of vitality. It has not always been a quick or easy, especially when you authentically engage all neighborhoods or sectors. In fact, broad grassroots engagement can feel messy and demanding and even slow at times. But the synergy that eventually comes from this process strengthens the transition from planning to action and the eventual outcomes. I am confident that Battle Creek is better positioned today for its future because of the wise contributions of so many residents.
Authentic engagement also matters for advancing equity in communities. In 2016, WKKF announced the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) enterprise, which builds upon decades of our work to advance racial equity.
That work invested in communities that have been historically disenfranchised; supported research on the impact of racial and implicit biases by the Yale Child Study Center, the Kirwan Institute and others; engaged the country’s leading human and civil rights organizations to work in more coordinated and collaborative ways; and advanced community-based racial healing efforts.
TRHT will be implemented in 2017 in communities across the country to foster genuine conversations about race, racism, ethnicity and xenophobia so each community can begin to heal. Only when we have a shared understanding of our collective past can we begin to dismantle the structures, policies and systems that divide us and create something new together.
Partners from multiple sectors – government, business, education, media, health care, local funders and others – will carry the torch for this transformational work. To date, there are already more than 130 organizations committed as TRHT partners, with a reach of 289 million people.
According to a November 2016 poll, 80 percent of Americans say we are deeply divided on major issues. At a time of great need and despair, we are bringing people with knowledge, passion, commitment and discipline to heal these divisions. What greater unifier can we rally around than our children and their future?
Looking ahead, I am inspired by the wisdom of Nelson Mandela, who said “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
The Kellogg Foundation continues to support people in transforming communities so they are equitable and vibrant. I ask communities, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, businesses and the public sector to join us. For I am confident, when we work together, open our arms and our hearts to one another, we will realize brighter futures and real change for children.