Sometimes two organizations get to know one another and quickly realize how profoundly they share an outlook and operating philosophy. Such is the case with the African Leadership Group and Colorado Succeeds, an education-focused nonprofit located in Denver.
Colorado Succeeds is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization committed to the continuous improvement of our state’s education system and shaping the future of Colorado’s workforce. It was founded in 2006 to connect Colorado’s business community more closely to its public education systems.
Today, Colorado Succeeds focuses much of its work in three broad areas: policy, practice and philanthropy. Focused on creating change in education systems through its Vision 2030 Framework, their team of 11 utilizes public policy, partnership with innovative education partners, and investment in agile educators to spark systems change across the state.
Recently, Colorado Succeeds made an unsolicited donation to ALG to help us further our education-focused work. We are grateful to the Colorado Succeeds staff for their faith in us, and we promise not to let them down.
ALG had a chance recently to sit down with Scott Laband, president of Colorado Succeeds, to discuss his organization’s relationship with ALG, why it is so important to him, and how he hopes to see collaboration intensify in the coming years. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
ALG: Why is Colorado Succeeds interested in partnering with ALG?
Scott Laband: I first met (ALG founder and executive director) Papa Dia a couple of years ago. I find Papa to be incredibly inspiring. He is a very authentic leader: humble, kind, and generous. When I see how he interacts with other people he displays all the qualities I discuss with my own children that I hope someday they will embody. ALG under Papa has done amazing work. I am inspired by his vision and his commitment to the community, and by the mission of the organization. There is just a genuine connection there that I hope to continue exploring.
ALG: What are some of the most significant commonalities you see between your organization and ALG?
Laband: ALG connects very closely with what we believe at Colorado Succeeds around educating all kids to their greatest potential. We might use different terms in how we discuss this, but we share many similar desires. Three come to mind right away.
First, developing more agile systems and responsive learning providers, so that you’re actually meeting families and kids where they’re at, and you’re personalizing the learning experience to what their needs and interests are, and what their future aspirations are.
Second, that you’re engaged in a continuous conversation so that you can dynamically change as family and student needs, desires, and aspirations change. Nothing is static, and being able to identify a learning experience that is a two-way communication and a relationship is something I hear Papa describe when he talks about ALG’s hope and aspiration to become partners with schools and districts. That really resonates with me.
Third, there just is not enough listening in the system now. Papa is really good at creating a space where people feel comfortable listening and talking.We are reflecting on our own policy work and the importance of listening. I’m hopeful there are more education leaders who are willing to go and participate in those kinds of spaces. ALG seems to be very solutions oriented. This is a group of people who care, and have ideas on how to improve education. It’s not a group of people who are simply pointing out flaws.
ALG: There also seems to be a shared vision about families having available a variety of high quality educational options for their children.
Laband: Yes. A central idea in our Vision 2030 framework is equipping all families with information and access, which seems like a place of commonality between Colorado Succeeds and ALG. Families deserve a variety of high quality educational options. And for them to be able to realize their choices they need access to information, transportation, and technology.
It’s also important to note that we believe education happens everywhere. We value all types of learning experiences, not just those that happen within the four walls of a school. Community centers and nonprofits, and government agencies, and employers can all be assets in the learning experience. That creates a more relevant and enriching learning experience.
ALG: Colorado Succeeds also does a lot of work in the policy arena, advocating for laws and regulations that promote the kind of education you’re describing. How can ALG help you with that work?
Laband: A fundamental question we all need to answer is, given what we’ve just been discussing, how do you build that? How do you fund it? How do you govern it? Those are questions we don’t have all the answers, but they are things we would like to discuss and learn and listen together with people who are closer to that work than we are.
There is a recognition on our end that we exist within a structure and as an organization we have a good amount of privilege in these conversations. We want to use that privilege to help elevate voices and to help encourage discussion with broader groups of people who are actually impacted by the policies directly.
ALG: Finally, what do you envision the Colorado Succeeds-ALG partnership looking like going forward?
Laband: It will be co-constructed. I am eager for the team at ALG to tell us where they would find value and what partnership ideally looks like to them, and how we could participate in ways that are supportive. We recognize that ALG does so much to bring parent voice into conversations around policy and school performance and advocacy. When it comes to who knows best what’s going on in the districts where they work, it’s clear that they do.
We have a real interest in their youth empowerment program as well, and they way ALG is continuing to develop youth in the community. There are a number of powerful strategies ALG employs to create informed and engaged citizens who want to participate in conversations around school improvement. And that’s exactly what we do. So there really are a lot of areas of mutual interest and potential partnership. Ultimately though, we provide a donation to ALG to move work forward in whatever way they would like and given the priorities and needs of their community.