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  • 07.21.10

Advance Education Reform Through Service, Creativity, and Collaboration

I recently returned from the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in New York, the world’s largest gathering of volunteer leaders from the nonprofit, corporate, and government sectors, where we explored how to leverage service and volunteerism to address critical issues–from economic recovery to education. Education, especially, provides a fertile field for service. As U.S.

I recently returned
from the National Conference on Volunteering
and Service

in New York, the world’s largest gathering of volunteer leaders from the nonprofit, corporate, and
government sectors, where we explored how to leverage
service and volunteerism to address critical issues–from economic recovery to education. Education, especially, provides a fertile field
for service. As U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told us, “Now–more than
ever–service must be a cross-sector strategy for advancing the national
education agenda.”

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He’s right,
because education today is not a pathway to success but a prerequisite
for success. The economic downturn has underscored the urgent need to engage
the next generation of critical thinkers to help solve our most
pressing problems–challenges that range from clean water and sanitation to
clean technology and cancer control. Our economic competitiveness, national
security, and social health and wellness also depend on it.

Already, we have
made valuable progress in the past year with the launch of such pioneering
initiatives as Educate to Innovate campaign; creation of the
White House Council on Women and Girls; the Let’s
Read. Let’s Move
campaign;
and the Race to the Top Fund.

However, much
work remains. In our schools, graduation
rates remain subpar, math scores continue to decline, and U.S. student
achievement still ranks as mediocre among that of other countries. The weak
economy, however, simply worsens schools’ financial conditions, with severe
budget cuts now threatening the quality of education. To make progress, we
need to be creative and engage in nontraditional ways to solve challenges.

Companies must
be incubators, connectors and innovators

This brings us to
what corporate America can do. The private sector must help bridge the gap
within our education system between what the government and nonprofits do to
advance the national education agenda. We must help unite disparate groups,
make connections, and create networks that will collaborate and develop fresh
ways to solve problems. We need to leverage the talent and expertise of our
employees to mentor, teach, and help create environments where children can
learn. We all must be teachers.

The Motorola
Foundation is working on this with our signature Innovation Generation Grants
program. Now in its fourth year, the program gives more than 100 nonprofits more than $7.5 million to encourage American
students’ engagement in of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
(STEM) fields. In addition to financial support, each grantee is paired with a
Motorola employee who provides mentoring and advice throughout the program. The
combined power of financial and technical expertise is a proven method of
success.

Building and
sustaining connections through networks

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The value of
programs such as Innovation Generation is its ability to connect unlikely
allies to spur innovative thinking, communication, and connections. Our annual
Innovation Generation Network conference, for example, convenes the full network of grantees
and provides a forum to share best practices, leverage resources, and cultivate
an informed front line of advocates. For smaller recipient organizations that
have a global vision but sometimes lack resources, this forum provides an
unparalleled opportunity to access a national system of peers eager to advance
ideas and programs.

Already, partnerships created
within the network have sparked new programming. For example, two grant
recipients–Northwestern University’s Early Elementary Science Partnership
(E2SP) and Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History–work together to link
Chicago Public Schools’ staff with resources and training to address teacher
weaknesses in early science education. This type of collaboration illuminates
exactly the type of outcome we seek to create.

For us, the
journey has just begun. But for our future’s sake, it’s an essential journey.
This must be a collaborative effort. We must leverage service to help solve
problems, we must tap into networks and we must not be afraid to innovate. If
we do this and well, we can change the national dialogue, fill gaps in our
education system, and create a more sustainable future.

Eileen
Sweeney is director of the Motorola Foundation.

About the author

Eileen Sweeney has over 15 years experience in philanthropy and leads the Motorola Mobility Foundation and global community relations in its mission to benefit the communities in which it operates around the world, by making strategic grants, forging strong partnerships, fostering innovation, and engaging stakeholders. At Motorola Eileen started the “Innovation Generation Grants” program for STEM (science technology, engineering and math) education in the US and lead a global effort around disaster response.

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