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At our 2016 benefit, we launched a $50 million five-year effort — called the Fund for Early Learning (FUEL) — to transform New York City into an “early learning metropolis” to ensure parents in low-income communities can provide their young children with the best possible start to their lives.

But how?

For the past ten months, we have been hard at work answering that question and laying the foundation to implement this sweeping initiative.

The vision from the outset was to translate the powerful findings from research in early brain development into simple, effective interventions that can turn every parent, grandparent, and caregiver into brain builders. The inspiration for this work is twofold: 1) the developmental stage from age 0-to-3 is the most critical to a child’s future trajectory and lifetime outcomes and 2) in New York City, there are at least 100,000 children this age living below the federal poverty line who are especially vulnerable to falling behind.

Since last May, we have consulted with over 80 leaders in fields related to our effort — from early childhood to neuroscience to pediatrics to behavioral economics and beyond. We also have convened a gathering of top specialists to provide collaborative recommendations and to identify opportunities for maximum impact.

Jackie Bezos, a Robin Hood board member and chair of our early childhood committee and John Overdeck, also a Robin Hood board member and co-founder of Two Sigma Investments, sparked the effort. More than 1,000 people answered the call. Now, with the teams at the Bezos and Overdeck Family Foundations, as well as other lead funders such as the Touradji Family Foundation, the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, and the Heising-Simons Foundation, we have created a three-part investment approach for FUEL focused on:

  • Building and strengthening programs that support parents in low-income communities
  • Enhancing the skills of non-parental caregivers (i.e. in family child care, which is childcare provided in the caregivers’ homes)
  • Creating community-wide awareness and behavior change by surrounding parents and other caregivers with affirming, science-based messages they can act on in the moment
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We’ve identified two low-income neighborhoods — the South Bronx and Brownsville — as primary sites for community engagement.

In these communities, we will develop a template that can be applied in other low-income areas in the city and beyond. Public-private partnerships will also be integral to our success, and we’re working closely with the City and its relevant agencies to create collective impact.

Besides identifying, testing, and supporting the most effective existing programs, we also will be driving the launch and growth of innovative, scalable approaches. We will do so in two ways: first, by partnering with leading program designers in the field to bring their ideas to life and to scale; and second, by launching a series of prize competitions to spark the creation and scaling of new, low-cost interventions.

With these building blocks in place, we now have the strategic foundation for a highly effective, outcomes-oriented initiative that meets parents’ needs and fits their realities.

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