Last week, innovators from around the country gathered in Seattle, Washington to attend the first-ever Early Childhood Innovation Summit. Head Start began as an innovative experiment 50 years ago and, in that spirit, early childhood education leaders across the country are continuing to find innovative ways to better serve their communities. Last week’s summit, hosted by NHSA and the Washington Head Start Association, provided a new opportunity for change-makers to come together in the name of collaboration and innovation.
Innovations are the ideas that keep you up at night...in a good way!
For three days, leaders from the Head Start community and beyond engaged in conversations with peers and learned about opportunities from traditional and venture funders. Many attendees experienced virtual reality for the first time, practiced the problem-solving approach of human-centered design, and thought about how the concept of Moneyball could be applied to early childhood education.
Jim Sorenson, a world-renowned entrepreneur, business leader and societal innovator, kicked off the Innovation Summit with a keynote on social impact and the principles of social entrepreneurs. Jim stated that all social entrepreneurs must possess vision, faith, innovation, adaptability, execution, and tenacity. These characteristics were certainly on display throughout the Summit by attendees constantly seeking to hone their projects and improve their work.
One highlight of the summit was the Bright Spots showcase - programs excelling in practice and innovation. We saw just how far Head Start is willing to go to reach children and families in need with the only prison-based Residential Parenting Program in the country. One Utah program has created a state-of-the-art central kitchen that provides health and nutrition to Head Start kids in the form of tofu jambalaya and pumpkin soup, while also generating revenue for other areas of the program. Another Bright Spot program showed concrete ways they are actually using data to inform and tackle innovative practices.
The Summit wrapped with sessions from Mary Kay Gugerty, Professor of Nonprofit Management at the University of Washington and Lisa Nitze, President of Social Venture Partners. Mary Kay spoke about fostering innovation within our own organizations by harnessing theories of change and double-loop learning. Lisa gave us concrete examples of how social enterprise can be made a reality at home.
Everyone’s energy, excitement, and passion was palpable throughout the week. We look forward to once again bringing together leaders to discuss new ways of approaching the critical work of early childhood education - to keep it effective and impactful. And of course, none of this would have been possible without the generous support of our co-hosts and sponsors.