The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated longstanding systemic and structural inequities in early childhood, particularly for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and low-income families and providers. Through the remainder of 2020, we anticipate that the pandemic will continue to disproportionately impact these communities. This will likely include uneven experiences with virtual learning and services, fewer child care options, and an emotional toll from isolation, a deepening recession, and high unemployment.

In July and August, we spoke with parents of young children, child care providers, and community and field leaders, with a particular focus on people of color, to understand what funders might do in 2021 to build back early childhood systems for equity. We listened to voices not always heard by philanthropy speak about the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on, and the longstanding systemic barriers faced by, these communities. This process illuminated, frankly, what many in the field have been naming for some time: there is not enough investment in the long-haul, deep work of organizing, advocating for, and centering the lives of those experiencing the challenges of current systems.

Those we spoke with highlighted three types of investments funders can make to build back for equity:

  1. Build community power and capacity locally and nationally by supporting communities to design solutions and investing in community organizing.
  2. Advance state and federal policy advocacy with more holistic, integrated agendas by supporting advocacy campaigns and building capacity for longer-term advocacy and lobbying efforts.
  3. Build infrastructure and capacity to connect efforts and create feedback loops by connecting organizing efforts, encouraging connections between grasstops and community organizations, and advancing data systems and communication channels.

Our conversations also highlighted grantmaking principles aligned with broader shifts we are beginning to see across philanthropy around the power dynamic between granters and grantees:

  1. Listen deeply to proximate stakeholders with an inclusive approach.
  2. Cede power and engage others in decision making.
  3. Fund organizations led by those most proximate to the issues and communities.
  4. Adjust grantmaking practices to be more flexible.

While near-term relief efforts continue to be necessary, funders can make investments in a long-term recovery and build back more equitable early childhood systems for children, families, and providers.