Verizon Foundation: Incubating New Social Solutions & Getting Kids ConnectED

A recent interview with Rahim Kanani for Forbes magazine got to the heart of the Verizon Foundation’s commitment to improving educational achievement in America, especially for disadvantaged youth, through greater STEM engagement. Speaking with Rose Stuckey Kirk, president of the Verizon Foundation, Kanani explored the company’s choice to take part in President Obama’s ConnectED program and learned about how the Foundation’s investment strategy was tied to its corporate social responsibility goals.

“We think of ourselves as an incubator for new social solutions,” said Kirk, “and we work with partners who can help us engineer positive social change – faster, easier and with real impact.” Such was the rationale for joining other American tech and telecom companies in pledging $750 million in devices, software, and wireless services to the nation’s students.

President Obama’s ConnectED program strives to connect students in needs with quality education and opportunities to succeed. Acknowledging the potential of digital connectivity to enhance educational outcomes, Obama called upon the tech sector to become more active partners in improving outcomes for students across the nation. It’s a mission Kirk takes seriously.

“We’re taking a holistic approach to ensure that teachers have not only the technology, but also the training and best practices to understand how to use the technology to impact student outcomes,” she said. “We go one step further to work with independent experts to measure our programs, compare our results to others’ and analyze what works and what doesn’t. And we make these learnings available to educators for free.”

It was apparently the Verizon Foundation’s approach to STEM preparedness, teacher training and benchmarking results that attracted the Obama Administration to the company as a partner in the ConnectED effort. “The White House was interested in the fact that we are not just making grants or donating devices; we are evaluating the results of our programs and determining how they are changing the way teachers teach and students learn,” Kirk relayed.

The Foundation will invest up to $100 million in cash and in-kind contributions to build on the success of its current programs, like VILS – the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program – and “expand [its] existing programs designed to provide teacher training around using mobile technology to improve student performance in STEM, and to inspire more kids to learn about coding and mobile app development.”

In targeting its outreach, Verizon has been focused on creating opportunities for students most in need. The Foundation is committed to working “with innovative partners, the most advanced technologies and a group of truly talented people…who share a commitment to making an impact in underserved communities.” VILS are eligible to receive Title 1 funding, and at least 40% of their students receive a free or reduced-cost lunch; roughly 50% are minorities.