10/16/2014 05:48 pm ET Updated Dec 16, 2014

Pooling Resources for the Common Good: An Important Lesson to Build on

In colonial times, America was known as a young country that depended on people working together, separate from government, to make a difference, whether it was to start a church or clear a road. Working together often meant people agreed to put their dollars into one pot.

Alexis De Tocqueville wrote, "Wherever, at the head of some new undertaking, you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association."

We like to think this spirit is what inspired foundation leaders in Oregon to join together a decade ago. The Collins Foundation, The Ford Family Foundation, The JELD-WEN Foundation, James F. & Marion L. Miller Foundation, Meyer Memorial Trust, and the Oregon Community Foundation came together to form Foundations for a Better Oregon (FBO).

In creating FBO, the CEOs had a vision of improving the lives of Oregonians by building collaborations around citizen engagement and public policy issues. They had common interests and concerns in reversing the decline in Oregon's public education system, and came to the realization that together, they would not only learn from each other, but could also increase their individual effectiveness if they found a way to work together.

This inspired the foundation leaders to pool their resources to fund FBO, a risky and rare practice among foundations.

They embarked on an open-ended journey of discovery with no preconceived solution and not knowing where the process would lead. But they were committed to doing what it takes to make our public schools among the nation's best.

FBO launched Chalkboard Project and has invested more than $19 million in this education initiative in the past 10 years. It has reached nearly 40 school districts and 40 percent of students in Oregon.

With a focus on educator effectiveness to increase student achievement, we started from the ground up, partnering with educators to elevate the teaching profession and to put educator quality at the center of education reform. We knew we couldn't come to legislators with just an idea, we needed to bring them proof that an idea will deliver results.

The plan has delivered results. Students from these districts are moving to proficiency in state tests faster than the rest of the state. Achievement gaps are closing. Today, many of these efforts have influenced legislative priorities and are embedded in state education laws. Chalkboard Project has become recognized both locally and nationally as a results-driven, evidence-based transformation initiative.

I recall how often the foundation leaders looked back at this experiment as a true test of stamina and a willingness to accept risk. They never saw this about collaborating on a single project, but about working together to improve public engagement and to address key societal issues in Oregon. In a recent Oregon Business Magazine article, they were hailed as change makers, for maximizing their social impact and finding a way to work together. And as I speak with others across the country, many want to know how we succeeded in building such a successful venture.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently said about our initiative, "Your philanthropic collaboration is unique and truly a model for others across the nation. Together you have lifted up the state and are making an exceptional impact."

We have so much more to do in Oregon. Whether it's continuing to raise the bar in our public education system or tackling other complex social issues, we are confident FBO's unique model will continue to offer Oregon's most influential foundations the ability to deploy their resources most effectively, engage in public policy with credibility, and work collaboratively towards improving the lives of all Oregonians.