VELA Education Fund invests in the entrepreneurs who are transforming the future of education from the ground up
A trust-based approach to philanthropy can rapidly catalyze and foster innovation.
What if education and imagination could be synonymous? That is the vision the VELA Education Fund wants to serve through their work providing backing for a variety of education models for K-12 students.
The fact is, in the U.S., education has long been more about tradition than innovation. For generations, our schooling experience has experienced little change. Our school may look the same as our parents’ schools and their schools looked the same as their parents’ did. It was more about listening to lectures, memorizing facts, and writing essays than it was about exploring the things that make you uniquely you.
But what if education offered something different?
That’s the question VELA hopes to answer.
Funding innovation to transform education
For too long, the traditional, one-size-fits-all K-12 education model has failed to meet the needs of all learners. To thrive in today’s world, learners need to be equipped to think creatively, to collaborate, and to adapt.
VELA Education Fund believes that transformative change in education will come from the ground up. They invest in thousands of innovators across the country who are exploring new approaches and unlocking the unique gifts and talents of learners by stretching the canvas on where, when, and how learning takes place.
“In too many respects, education has had a status quo mindset, where what’s worked in the past, what’s rooted in tradition and legacy, continues into the future — even if it’s not benefitting kids,” says Meredith Olson, president of the VELA Education Fund, which is part of the Stand Together community and supports entrepreneurs developing new models of education.
“Education is not about teaching kids how to be automated. The role of education is to help you figure out your talents. What are your strengths? What really motivates you? And then connect you with the experiences so that you can ultimately live the life you want to live.”
VELA is doing things differently
To date, VELA has disbursed more than 2,000 grants, serving more than six million learners and families across the country.
Typically, in order for an education entrepreneur to receive grant funding, they need to be able to provide proof of concept, a burdensome amount of information about their program, and show alignment to the funder’s vision of what learning can and should be.
VELA, however, is doing things differently.
Their philanthropic model is based on trust. They trust that the entrepreneurs that they fund know best how to support learners and their families and they trust that families know what types of educational opportunities will allow them to live into their own values.
This deep belief in people allows VELA to take on more risk. They intentionally offer smaller grant amounts to larger numbers of entrepreneurs to catalyze as much innovation and creativity as possible. They have made a point of funding a diverse set of entrepreneurs, including founders of micro schools, hybrid homeschools, and cooperative learning communities, among others.
“We limit our potential when we limit the people who have access to opportunities, to drive social change,” says Olson. “A few thousand dollars to the right person can fuel innovation to a scale we never expected was imaginable.”
Building community around new ways of learning
For the VELA Education Fund, true success lies in community and collaboration.
“Success to us looks like an environment where innovators are accepted, where new approaches are welcomed, where there’s a willingness to experiment and get better,” says Olson.
Their hope is that by investing in grantees, alternative educational methods will be spread on a grassroots level. Community members can share ideas, expose each other to new types of education, and above all, tap into their unique strengths. Entrepreneurs in the VELA community also have access to storytelling opportunities that increase visibility and build awareness of out-of-system learning opportunities, driving cultural acceptance and openness.
While the programs that they run often look wildly different, the entrepreneurs in VELA’s community collaborate across lines of difference to strengthen and expand their offerings and to ensure that more families can access learning experiences that are deeply aligned to their needs, values, and beliefs.
“They get better, together,” says Olson.
Learn more about Stand Together’s K-12 education reform efforts.