George Kaiser, donor to the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF), made his mark in the business world by transforming a small Tulsa oil company into an energy and investments empire. Today, through his philanthropy, he focuses on using that wealth to strengthen the state and city that have given so much to him and his family.
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Early education is an important focus for the foundation. "We wanted to put our focus at the point at which we could make a change not just in the symptoms of poverty, but in the causes of poverty, and therefore have an inter-generational impact," says Kaiser. "That led me pretty easily to early childhood education, especially birth to 3." Kaiser says that research shows such early intervention is pivotal. "Studies have suggested that the vast majority of effective brain development is in the first three years after birth," says Kaiser. "It can be corrected later, but just like a building, it's much more difficult to correct it later."
In order to find the best early educations programs to bring to Tulsa, Kaiser and his team looked around the country to find the most-successful and well-designed programs. One was Educare in Chicago, which works to narrow the achievement gap between at-risk infants, toddlers, and preschoolers and their more advantaged peers. GKFF became the fourth group to replicate the work of the first Educare. Tulsa Educare is composed of three community centers that provide a range of educational and family engagement opportunities for low-income children six weeks through five years of age.
"I think the main challenge of bringing a national program to your community, especially or even if one is highly effective somewhere else, is determining the right partner here to actually make it a go," says Ken Levit, Executive Director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation. "We were very fortunate with respect to our early childhood programs in identifying really a best-in-class agency, the Community Action Agency, run by an individual named Steven Dow here locally; it's probably among the very best early childhood agencies in the country."
Key Messages for Other Philanthropists from George Kaiser and Ken Levit
- Focus on “outlier problems” when giving locally. Watch: George Kaiser helps his foundation identify local priorities with a quick homework assignment.
- There are strategic benefits to giving locally. Watch: George Kaiser and Ken Levit share the strategic reasons for giving to one’s community.
- Invest in proven interventions. Watch: Why George Kaiser backs early-childhood development programs.
- Budget for primetime. Watch: George Kaiser describes his funding philosophy.