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  • THE CONTEXT


    Michael and Susan’s background in business, technology, and innovation played a
    significant part in shaping the foundation’s approach to problem solving. As
    entrepreneurs, they knew the importance of thoroughly understanding issues on the
    ground before designing solutions to address the root causes of a problem. Moreover,
    what motivated them to start and build businesses—a desire to find a better way of doing things—was fundamental to the strategies they would eventually deploy at the
    foundation.

    We knew that [the issue of] children living in urban poverty was most important to us,
    but we needed to focus,” said Susan. “As I had done in my business, I had to work out
    what would be our main focus. We decided on education and health, because to break
    the cycle of poverty, education and health are the most important building blocks.”
    The way they approached tackling these issues also reflected their background as
    entrepreneurs. “At their core, entrepreneurs are all about solving problems,” Michael had written in a 2014 blog post.2 Susan agreed: “We run the foundation somewhat like a business,” she said. However, their strategy was not to tackle every problem that faced children worldwide, but to look for problems that, given their skills and resources,
    presented the foundation with the biggest opportunity to make a difference.

  • THE CAMPAIGN

    In their desire to transform the lives of children by tackling urban poverty, the Dells had an ambitious vision. But despite the foundation’s considerable financial resources, its founders recognized they needed to find additional ways to effect change on entire systems rather than only on discrete communities or institutions. In education, for example, in addition to funding individual institutions and education-focused nonprofits, the Dells sought to change the underlying systems that influenced the access to and quality of education. In India, for example, the foundation worked with local assessment partners to establish a benchmark against which the performance of any student, school, or region could be mapped. This work enabled key stakeholders to measure and assess which areas were performing well and which required support.6 In these kinds of initiatives, technology and data proved to be powerful tools. This was because all the sectors in which the foundation worked—education, childhood health, and family economic stability—involved two things: a large number of human interactions and large-scale transactions. In using technology to manage complex data and burdensome administrative tasks, the foundation allowed skilled professionals—from educators to the foundation’s program officers—to spend more time using their core skills to effect change. 

Case Study