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Spotlight June 02, 2021

Learning and Impact at Ascendium

Bethany Miller

Author: Bethany Miller, Deputy Director - Learning & Impact

Six short months ago, I was excited and honored to join Ascendium’s growing Education Philanthropy team as deputy director - learning and impact. As a first-generation college student, I could have never envisioned a career working at the nexus of philanthropy, education and evaluation. You’re welcome to view my LinkedIn profile for more details.

This role provides a unique opportunity to lead with my heart and head. By heart, I mean it provides an opportunity to work with talented partners to make the world better, to ensure many individuals from low-income backgrounds, not a select few, can experience the same transformational mobility that I did thanks to education and training. This is deeply personal and human work. By head, I mean it also requires us to be clear-eyed about whether we’re contributing to change that ultimately benefits low-income learners and how we know.

Acting on evidence of progress and success has always been a core element of Ascendium’s philanthropy. This commitment is reflected in our three grant types — exploration, validation and scaling grants. These grants give innovators the space to explore untested approaches and support partners in validating emerging best practices. They also facilitate the scaling of evidence-based approaches that can lead to changes in systems, at institutions and, ultimately, in the experiences and outcomes of many learners.

My role builds on this orientation and adds a focus on strategic, intentional learning. Roles like mine are in fact growing in philanthropy, as shown in a recent benchmarking study from the Center for Evaluation Innovation. While there is a new shared emphasis on intentional learning, these roles vary from grantmaker to grantmaker.

Given that variation, my first few months here focused on consulting with others inside and outside of Ascendium to clarify our goals for learning and impact. I landed on three primary goals.

  • Ensure Ascendium and our and grantees have a collective understanding about the context in which they operate, their efforts and their results.
  • Strengthen — using evidence — the decisions we make about our strategy and the grants we make in support of our strategy.
  • Communicate lessons learned to internal and external stakeholders to share knowledge.

To achieve those aims, the Learning and Impact team and I will advance three workstreams

  • Collecting, analyzing and synthesizing actionable information from many sources, including performance measurement, evaluations, research and other fact-finding projects.  
  • Creating and shepherding internal learning practicesthat give our team and our partners the time to reflect and determine how to turn information into better decisions, strategies and grants.
  • Supporting the communication of the resulting knowledge to internal and external audiences.

To help deliver on this ambitious agenda, I’m looking for new team members to join the Learning and Impact team this year. We’re currently seeking our first addition — learning and impact officer. This individual will work in partnership with our program officers, select grantees, underserved learners and external evaluation partners to ensure learning from upcoming grantmaking initiatives. And more! In addition to technical skills in qualitative and quantitative methods, we’re looking for an individual committed to the power-shifting, inclusive practices embodied in culturally responsive and equitable evaluation. If that sounds like you or someone you know, learn more about the position and apply here.

Stay tuned for more!

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