Updated: Jan 18
Why 2021 will be the year of social impact via partnerships for our team and partners.
How I discovered the power of partnerships.
About 20 years ago, I’d started my first “real job” at a tech company when a good friend of mine asked that I join her in volunteering for a local after-school program. If I was being honest, working with children was never something I aspired to do but I figured I could support my friend for one evening. That was the day I found my calling.
The students I worked with were 3rd, 4th and 5th graders and a lot of their realities mirrored mine: children of immigrants, multilingual background, Black and Brown, navigating a system with structured barriers. I spent two years volunteering with the program, while adding more volunteer opportunities to my plate, before coming to the conclusion that I needed to pursue this as a full-time career. I left my job to pursue a master’s in education, taught for a few years and learned what had already been evident for me as a volunteer: to make the type of impact I wanted, I needed to be doing the work outside of the classroom, in partnership with the school and community at large; that started my journey into educational nonprofits and the power of partnerships.
Partnerships move mountains but are not easy. Real partnerships force us to look inward, to do the necessary self reflection to improve ourselves. They help seed innovation. They are vital for inclusivity.
In my career as an engineer, educator and nonprofit leader, the partnerships I’ve formed have been critical to the work I’ve done. Partnerships move mountains but they are not easy. Real partnerships force us to look inward, to do the necessary self reflection to improve ourselves. They help seed innovation. They are vital for inclusivity. And in 2021, at a time when the pandemic has highlighted the ever-increasing digital and education gap in our society, the Endless OS Foundation is making partnerships our call to action.
Why partnerships? Why now?
Endless started eight years ago with a focus on bringing digital access and agency to youth in emerging markets like Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia because, like many in the US, we thought this was the immediate need. In time, we learned that the digital barriers we were aiming to solve –device, internet, literacy and engagement– were nearly as prevalent in the United States: of the 51 million K-12 public school students in the US, we have 12-16 million who are still digitally divided. That’s nearly 30% of students in the United States. While Broadband For All has become a national catchphrase, the reality is that estimates put the goal up to ten years away, in addition to the majority of current efforts being only temporary solutions. The longer we wait for broadband, the wider the gap becomes for one-third of our student population. They can’t wait, we need innovative partnerships and solutions now.
Of the 51 million K-12 public school students in the US, we have 16 million who are digitally divided. That’s nearly 30% of students. We need more partnerships and solutions now.
At Endless, we know that the solutions cannot be championed by us alone. In April 2020, we became a nonprofit to focus squarely on the question of how to maximize our social impact. Just as we’ve looked to technology partnerships in the open-source community to make the Endless OS available and affordable, we need partnerships beyond the software community. With hardware partners we are developing a Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) platform, to provide families with affordable payment options for their starter computer. Nonprofit partners like Learning Equality, the creator of the Kolibri Learning Platform that provides learning resources to students with no or limited internet, ensure that educational content can be accessible via the Endless OS and the Endless Key, a customized USB that runs on MacOS and Windows-based computers. And with Common Sense (Media) and their Wide Open School partnership of content providers, we ensure that these students have access to high quality content whether it’s through our Endless Key or Learning Equality’s Kolibri Learning Platform, with the support and collaboration of education leaders and educational nonprofits.
At Endless, we know that solutions cannot be championed alone. As the pandemic widens the digital and education gap, we are making partnerships our call to action for 2021.
What our partners are saying about collaboration in 2021.
"So many kids and teens have lost months of learning during the pandemic, and we have to act now to help them reach their full potential. That's why Common Sense is a proud partner on the Endless Key project and the #KeepAllKidsLearning campaign. It's critical that we make sure kids and families have access to high-quality learning and enrichment resources now, while simultaneously raising awareness about the needs they have and putting in place the long-term infrastructure to end the digital divide once and for all. It's a big problem to tackle, and partnerships like these across organizations will be critical to success." — Rebecca Randall, SVP Development & Regional Growth, Common Sense
“To address the resource and infrastructure gaps in low-connectivity environments, Learning Equality has always been focused on developing needs-based solutions that support effective learning. We are thrilled to be working alongside our collaborators, and are excited by the potential for new educational providers to join in to promote the importance of supporting continuity of learning for students without reliable Internet at home.” — Jamie Alexandre, Learning Equality’s Co-Founder and Executive Director
Without strategic alliances formed with leading nonprofit organizations like Common Sense and Learning Equality, our initiatives would have a much smaller impact and success. But together the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
As we deeply think about our partnerships, it's important to jointly call out what pathways and results specifically look like. To us, it's critical right now to keep all kids learning. With that in mind we and our educational resources partners are rallying around the #KeepAllKidsLearning campaign. Throughout 2021, this campaign will spread the word about offline learning resources for families and encourage educational content creators to make their online resources available as a free download, and distributable via offline channels like the Endless Key if possible.
So many kids and teens have lost months of learning during the pandemic, and we have to act now to help them reach their full potential ... partnerships will be critical to success.
What’s next for us and the nonprofit community?
As we continue to work on solving the barriers to digital access for our younger members of society, a question I continue to ponder is: “What should innovative education look like during this time?” Many educational experts, scientists and physicians have hotly debated what students need during this time, looking at old ways of schooling as a model. The truth of the matter is that these pre-pandemic modes of learning haven’t worked for our most vulnerable students. So, what will work, and what should we try? I believe that our partnerships at Endless will lead us to some of those answers in 2021.
What are you doing to increase your organization’s impact this year? Are you considering how your current partnerships could contribute, and maybe how to forge some new alliances? I’d love to hear how you are doing in this area. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or firstname.lastname@example.org
Bunmi Esho is the Program Director at the Endless OS Foundation (EOSF). She is an engineer, educator and nonprofit leader with over 20 years of experience, the last fifteen years with educational nonprofits in California and Southeast Asia.