Spun off the Omidyar Network in January 2020, Imaginable Futures recently announced a change in strategy.
Originally focused on social entrepreneurship and innovation in education, the philanthropic investment firm now aims to tackle disparate systems and barriers that prevent communities from unrestricted access to education. Target regions include Brazil, sub-Saharan Africa – particularly Kenya and South Africa – and the USA
It also has a hybrid funding structure, part philanthropic foundation, part impact investor.
Before the pandemic broke out, managing partner Amy Klement and her team spent over a year speaking to everyone from teachers to policymakers in the organization’s target regions and examining how current systems tend to address societal inequalities reproduce and create barriers to learning. “It was very clear that the systems there in each of our focus regions were perfectly designed to achieve the unfair results that we saw,” says Klement. The result: a decision to redouble initiatives to tackle inequalities that may exacerbate the status quo.
Then the pandemic and the assassination of George Floyd added a new urgency to the strategy update.
The focus is different in each region. In Brazil, the focus is on K-12, especially social and emotional learning, for example. In the US, on the other hand, the approach is partly to invest in early childhood initiatives. “From 0 to 5 years of age, childcare and learning are seen as a family responsibility,” says Klements. “That is why childcare is so expensive, even though it is usually paid below the subsistence level.”
Another focus in the US is supporting parents who are studying at the same time. Almost every fourth high school student has a child, according to Klement. But while parent-students, on average, have a higher GPA and are more motivated than their peers, they are less likely to graduate in six years. She calls the group “an often invisible and forgotten population”.
“We like to believe that there is a performance society, but it really doesn’t exist,” she says.
One company in the United States supported by the firm is Edquity, a startup that provides parent students with quick emergency aid during a financial crisis, as well as financial assistance with budgeting and day-to-day cash flow management. “Sometimes only $ 200 can help keep these students in school,” says Klement.
During the pandemic, Klement says the company really grew, helping colleges distribute $ 75 million in federal funding to nearly 100,000 students with an average funding time of 25 hours. “In the past, it could have taken up to three weeks and by then your child hasn’t been fed and you have been kicked out of your house,” she says.
Imaginable Futures began as a business unit within Omidyar and then was spun off into the larger company as part of a larger strategy. But the team had long planned to refine their approach in 2020. The opportunity to do so coincided with the spin-out.
Klement can’t discuss what’s in the pipeline. However, future investments will be based on several principles: working with changemakers to tackle unjust systems that stand in the way of learners reaching their full potential; Ensuring that those most affected are also involved in developing solutions; Promoting learners as critical to the well-being of individuals and families and to building fair societies; and as impact-first investors.
“Social change is not just about listening to the customer, going back to his office and developing a product,” says Klement. “It’s really about working with communities to develop solutions that last.”