Isabelle Hau
Venture Partner
&
Ashley Beckner
Principal, Investments

Why We Invested: DonorsChoose.org

July 14, 2017

We believe there are few better paths to opportunity and a bright future than a good education, and that an education that begins early in a child’s life sets the tone for everything that follows.

In the US today, our efforts are focused on increasing kindergarten readiness. The need for that is clear. Study after study has demonstrated the importance of early childhood education in preparing children for success in school and success in life. At the same time, more investment in this area is needed, as teachers struggle to connect their early learners with the resources they need, including technology.

So we were thrilled in April when one of our longest-standing education investees, DonorsChoose.org, extended its crowdfunding platform to support the nation’s 10,000 Head Start teachers. Now they, along with their PK-12 counterparts in the nation’s public schools, can use the platform to seek crowdfunding for everything from classroom needs to technology for learning projects to reach students before kindergarten.

That’s also why we have extended our investment in DonorsChoose.org to support a unique “Innovation Challenge” designed to uncover and fund the most creative ideas from those teachers for using technology in their classrooms.

First announced at the Early Childhood Innovation Summit, the goal of the challenge is not only to develop hundreds of new technology-based projects in early childhood classrooms all over the country, but also to provide exposure to those innovative ideas so they can be shared across classrooms and communities.

To participate in the challenge, early childhood teachers will submit their most innovative technology request to DonorsChoose.org. Omidyar Network’s $500,000 grant will be used to match donations to those projects, and, at the conclusion of the challenge, will provide the five teachers who submit the most innovative projects with another $10,000 in materials for their school.

Additional funds will go to teachers who adapt the winning ideas to their own classrooms to encourage the best ideas to spread to schools across the country.

Why technology? According to a DonorsChoose.org survey, a majority of early learning teachers are eager to innovate with technology, and 93 percent want to use technology to further other innovations. Teachers love technology in part because it enables them to offer differentiated and personalized learning; 84 percent of teachers reported they use technology to help students who are struggling, and 75 percent of teachers use it to supplement learning for students more advanced than their peers.

Teachers are already using the DonorsChoose.org platform to make technology requests—from tools that give our youngest learners their first exposure to robotics to digital cameras that can help young students bring their classroom stories to life—and we want to unleash more of that teacher energy.

We support DonorsChoose.org because we share with them a strong conviction that the people closest to a problem are often in the best position to come up with an innovative solution. When it comes to education, it’s often classroom teachers who know best what their students need, and they are always generating great ideas on how to meet those needs.

DonorsChoose.org gives those teachers and those ideas a national platform they otherwise wouldn’t have had, and the chance to connect with individual philanthropists who support those ideas.

It’s a great example of how to create impact at scale with technology, and it has been an unqualified success for DonorsChoose.org in public PK-12 classrooms around the country. To date, DonorsChoose.org has raised more than $552 million in donations from individuals and companies, supporting 934,000 teacher-created projects that have reached 23 million students.

To understand how important opening the platform to Head Start teachers has been, consider that more than 1,000 new Head Start projects have already made their way onto DonorsChoose.org in less than four months.

That’s impact, and that’s what we’re about at Omidyar Network. Great ideas are beginning to spread from just one teacher to a public platform that reaches thousands of colleagues working with the country’s youngest learners. With the Innovation Challenge providing even more exposure for great ideas, our support for DonorsChoose.org continues to accelerate the impact of those ideas far beyond the individual classrooms where they originate.

 

Image Credit: DonorsChoose.org

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