Spun out of Omidyar Network in January 2020, Imaginable Futures recently announced a change in strategy.
Initially focused on social entrepreneurship and innovation in education, the philanthropic investment firm now aims to target inequitable systems and barriers preventing communities from full access to educational opportunity. Target regions include Brazil, Sub-Saharan Africa—particularly Kenya and South Africa—and the U.S.
It also has a hybrid funding structure, part philanthropic foundation, part impact investor.
Before the pandemic hit, Amy Klement, managing partner, and her team spent over a year talking to everyone from teachers to policy makers in the organization’s targeted regions, delving into how current systems tend to reproduce societal inequities and create barriers to learning. “It was very clear that in each of our main regions of focus the systems there were perfectly designed to produce the inequitable results we saw,” says Klement. The upshot: a decision to double-down on initiatives focused on combatting inequities that potentially reinforced the status quo.
Then, the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd added a new urgency to the strategy refresh.
The focus is different in each region. In Brazil, the emphasis is on K-12, particularly on social and emotional learning, for example. In the U.S., on the other hand, the approach, in part, is to invest in early childhood initiatives. “From age 0 to 5, childcare and learning are seen as the family’s responsibility,” says Klements. “That’s why childcare is so expensive, although it usually pays below a living wage.”
Another focus in the U.S. is supporting parents who are also students. Almost one in four post-secondary school student has a child, according to Klement. But while parent-students on average have a higher GPA and are more motivated than other peers, they’re less likely to graduate in six years. She calls the group, “An often invisible and forgotten population.”
“While we like to believe there is a meritocracy, there really isn’t,” she says.
One enterprise in the U.S. backed by the firm is Edquity, a startup that provides rapid emergency aid during a financial crisis to parent-students, as well as financial budgeting support and day-to-day cash flow management. “Sometimes just $200 can help keep these students in school,” says Klement.
During the pandemic, says Klement, the company really stepped up, helping colleges disperse $75 million in federal funding to nearly 100,000 students with an average funding time of 25 hours. “Before this could have taken up to three weeks and, by that time, your child hasn’t been fed and you’ve gotten kicked out of your house,” she says.
Imaginable Futures began life as a business unit within Omidyar, then was spun out as part of a broader strategy at the larger organization. But the team had long intended to refine its approach in 2020. So the opportunity to do so coincided with the spin out.
Klement can’t discuss what’s in the pipeline. But future investments will rest on several principles: collaborating with changemakers to challenge inequitable systems getting in the way of learners reaching their full potential; making sure those who are most impacted are also involved in creating solutions; uplifting learners as crucial to individual and family well-being and building equitable societies; and being impact first investors.
“Social change isn’t just about listening to your customer, going back to your office and creating a product,” says Klement. “It’s really about co-creating with communities to develop solutions that will be durable.”
Forbes – Entrepreneurs