What is the Community Foundation Opportunity Network?

Dr. Robert Putnam has started an enormously important conversation about America’s growing “opportunity gap.” The issues and trends he raises in his landmark 2015 book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis comprise an existential challenge to our notions about fairness, the future of American communities, the basis of income inequality, and our assumptions about long-term economic and social sustainability. Putnam’s credentials as one of the world’s foremost scholars and his access to national and international leaders have galvanized attention to this issue from governments, academia, philanthropy, social change institutions, and the media. Putnam has advised President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, and Paul Ryan, among others. He has met privately with the Democratic caucus of the U.S. Congress. He has received more than 1,000 speaking invitations and 500 media requests in the past year. Expert national panels convened by Putnam at the Harvard Kennedy School are releasing a highly actionable white paper that outlines five community solutions to narrow the opportunity gap “from cradle to career”: Family supports and parenting; early childhood development; K-12 education in and out of school; strengthening community institutions; and on ramps to successful work. Many of these solutions are known to social change advocates and foundations. The challenge is to align them and empower sustained action. That’s where community foundations come in.

We have created a national leadership and action network of community foundations committed to narrowing the youth opportunity gap. The Community Foundation Opportunity Network, launched in Summer 2016, includes 40 leading foundations from every region in the US. Participating foundations serve communities with a spectrum of geographic, demographic, racial, and socioeconomic diversity. We welcome additional community foundations and other change-oriented funders.

CFON has two mutually reinforcing objectives:

  1. Create deeper awareness of the opportunity gap and advance a range of solutions in cities and states served by participating community foundations. This will include building understanding and coalitions among government, business, academia, and faith leaders; establishing an effective way to learn from one another as we develop and advance solutions, including those outlined in the five white papers; identifying and advocating for relevant public policy reforms at the state and municipal levels; communicating results within and outside of the field; and other activities TBD.
  2. Create a national hub and voice around which other opportunity gap stakeholders — funders, policymakers, social change institutions, and others — might coalesce. This could include a national convening of thinkers, funders, and leaders who have embraced the opportunity gap as a defining problem and are seeking long-term solutions to narrow it; building a cadre of individuals and organizations who are available to speak to policymakers and media about the opportunity gap and how it is being addressed in different part of the country; identifying and advocating for relevant public policy reforms at the federal level; and other activities to be determined.