To mark the fifth anniversary of the Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation Fund (i3), Jeff Raikes was asked to join other leaders in the education field and offer perspective as one of the foundation executives who initially helped launch the effort. The following was contributed to Medium, which is working with the DoE to curate an online discussion to reflect on five years of i3 grants.
In October of 2009, Jim Shelton approached me with an idea. Jim was then assistant secretary at the Office of Innovation at the U.S. Department of Education, and I was in my second year as CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The department wanted to launch a new initiative called the Investing in Innovation Fund, or i3, to cultivate promising ideas in education and to help proven concepts go to scale. The department would invite applicants to compete for grants, but with a catch: winners needed to secure up to a 15 percent private funding match before they could receive any Department of Education dollars. The department wanted to maximize the chances for i3 winners to find funders who would provide the matching funds, so Jim wanted to know if our team could help create a way for the winners to share their proposals with potential private funders.
As Jim and I discussed the idea over the ensuing months, I became persuaded that the project offered an intriguing opportunity to promote something that can be surprisingly rare in education philanthropy: collaboration between funders who — although united by a dedication to provide young people with the highest quality education possible — often differ in their approaches and perspectives. The project also provided a chance to increase collaboration between philanthropy and government, which can also be elusive. That’s not to say that numerous and fruitful partnerships don’t occur, but the untapped opportunities for collaboration are considerable. i3 provided the impetus to shift the landscape.