Billion Dollar Philanthropy Venture Bets Big on Child Welfare, Justice, Education

A few youth-serving organizations will never be the same once Blue Meridian Partners, a group of ten major grant makers in the United States, announces the recipients of its big bet gambit for kids.

Blue Meridian, which was spun together by the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (EMCF), is expected to spend between $750 million and $1 billion, and plans to make $200 million investments in four organizations serving children and youth in the U.S.

You read that right: $200 million. The grants will be dispersed in a five-to-ten year window, and will be made without any strings: pure general support. There will be performance metrics, so a grantee would face a cutoff if it fails to produce outcomes.

The goal, laid out in a letter from EMCF CEO Nancy Roob, is to help the recipients “expand their impact directly, by allowing them to strengthen their work, grow and serve greater numbers of youth, as well as indirectly, by helping them increase their influence.”

In her letter, Roob specifies three sectors that will garner attention from Blue Meridian: child welfare, education and the judiciary, along with “other systems that affect children’s lives.”

Let’s start with the biggest question: Is this money still in play? The answer is yes, according to EMCF spokesperson Albert Chung.

“Blue Meridian Partners will be assessing and considering large-scale investment opportunities as part of its work going forward,” Chung said. “Nothing has been decided here.”

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s up for grabs. Certainly the recipients of these investments are going to be entities that have proven themselves on a grand scale. This is going to groups that can make the case: “The only thing stopping us from making a bigger dent is money. The model is beyond question.”

So Youth Services Insider’s best guess is that the winners will be national-scope organizations that are in a position to take this funding and drastically expand the scope of their operation, either by expanding to new states or by widening the reach of existing offices.

EMCF’s list of active and former grantees is full of potential candidates. If YSI had to lay a bet, we’d go with the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl and Nurse-Family Partnership as a Blue Meridian grantee. Youth Villages, another EMCF grantee, is another organization we could see fitting the bill.

Some more details on the new partnership:

What’s with the name? Blue Meridian sort of sounds like a consulting company, or a shell structure for Walter White’s operation in “Breaking Bad.” The name is explained thusly on EMCF’s website:

The Partners hope to establish a new “Meridian” — a point of reference — for what strategic philanthropic investment can achieve by supporting programs that benefit children and youth on a large scale. “Blue” connotes the optimism the Partners feel opening up new possibilities for vulnerable young people by working collaboratively.

Alrighty! Hey, if you’re pumping $1 billion into youth services, you could probably call it anything other than ISIS and nobody would care.

Who’s at the table? There are two tiers of funders buying into Blue Meridian:

General Partnerships ($50 million or more):

  • Steve and Connie Ballmer
  • The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation
  • Stanley and Fiona Druckenmiller
  • The Duke Endowment (with a focus on North Carolina and South Carolina)
  • George Kaiser Family Foundation (with a focus on Tulsa, Oklahoma)
  • The Samberg Family Foundation

Limited Partnership (between $10 million and $50 million):

  • The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
  • The JPB Foundation
  • The David and Lucile Packard Foundation
  • The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation

Who’s leading this? Here’s a list of key staff and leadership attached to the project:

Billionaire and former hedge fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller will chair Blue Meridian. Druckenmiller was a college friend of Geoffrey Canada, of Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) fame, and his money helped propel the HCZ model.

EMCF vice presidents Chuck Harris and Woody McCutchen will now serve as managing directors of Blue Meridian Partners, along with Kelly Campbell and William Foster of the nonprofit consulting firm The Bridgespan Group.

Meanwhile, EMCF has promoted Lissette Rodriguez to vice president of programs, and has tasked her with overseeing a “major planning effort” in regard to the rest of EMCF’s youth services portfolio.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 945 Articles
John Kelly is senior editor for The Chronicle of Social Change.

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