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We're happy to announce the launch of the EmbraceRace Podcast!

Five Questions for Kim Brenneman of the Heising-Simons Foundation

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Created in 2007 by Liz Simons and Mark Heising, the Heising-Simons Foundation has had early education and learning as one of their primary focus areas since their beginnings. 

"The long-term goal of the Foundation’s grantmaking in education is to facilitate the creation and strengthening of early childhood systems necessary for children from low-income families and children of color to reach their full potential by the year 2044, the year when the US becomes majority-minority" their site reads

We asked Education Program Officer Kim Brenneman to share more about her passion for early education, her work at the foundation, and what gives her hope in philanthropy.

What's the most surprising, hopeful thing you're seeing in philanthropy lately?

A phrase I’m hearing more and more is “the people closest to the problems are closest to solutions.” I’m not naïve enough to think that every funder walks this talk, but I am seeing increased effort to offer unrestricted funds to community-based organizations recognizing that they need flexibility to make the decisions that best serve their constituents. Philanthropy is opening its doors more often to partner with community-based advisors to co-develop grantmaking strategies and recommendations. In my own portfolio, I’ve also seen organizations shifting from creating educational programs and resources for educators and families to co-creating them with educators and families. The expertise of these adults is recognized and valued as not just nice to have but critical to creating solutions that are practical and culturally meaningful and, thus, are actually going to be used to effect positive change.

What drew you to this career?

I was in college when I fell in love with the preschool mind through developmental psychology courses and a part-time job as a home-based childcare aide. I’ve devoted myself to children’s development and learning ever since. Whether as a developmental psychology researcher, curriculum developer, advisor to children’s media, or now funder, the motivation has always been to discover, foster, and celebrate the brilliance of young learners. In my current role, I have the great privilege to collaborate with organizations and individuals who share this motivation. 

What is the hardest part of your job?

Children grow fast, and the pace of systemic change is slow. My colleagues and I know it’s well past time to offer each and every child the learning opportunities that foster their strong self-identity, learning success, and confidence that they are part of a community that values them. We also know that far too many children, often because of their race or families’ economic status, do not experience these opportunities and outcomes. In a world in which many worthy organizations are fighting the necessary fights and making the necessary alliances to create change, identifying those that will receive the Foundation’s support and partnership is challenging and humbling.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Not much makes me happier than facilitating connections among amazing people doing meaningful work. No one person or organization is going to solve the challenges that face our society. I am blessed with partners who also know that the only way to make lasting progress is together. Going it together, though, requires learning from one another, listening to one another, and persevering when our differences might derail us. Every day I learn from brilliant leaders – like Andrew and Melissa - who approach this challenge with openness, humility, curiosity, and persistence.

Tell us about one of the organizations that you are funding that you're most excited about (other than EmbraceRace of course!).

Thanks for the opportunity to spread the word about excellent and effective organizations, but there is no way I could name just one! That said, I’ll offer that I’m really excited about an initiative called Families Lead California, which embodies some of the shifts in philanthropy and the meaningful collaboration that I mentioned earlier. FLC brings together 11 community-based organizations that strengthen the pipeline of diverse parent leaders in California. As funders, our goal is to contribute to the sustainability of the individual organizations and to create conditions for the formation of a network that partners for collective action. FLC recognizes that parents know what their children need to thrive, and it is through their leadership that systems will become accountable and responsive to diverse families. 

Kimberly Brenneman

Kimberly Brenneman is a program officer for early mathematics at the Heising-Simons Foundation. Prior to joining the Foundation in 2015, Kimberly was research faculty at Rutgers University’s National Institute for Early Education Research. More about Kimberly >
Kim Brenneman