Philanthropy SCE Community

SCE: Our Story, Model, and Mission

Emotional intelligence has matured from a buzzword, or an exciting-yet-untried idea. Now there’s data to back it up. Daniel Goleman has been studying it since the 1990’s, and so have University of New Hampshire’s John Mayer and Yale’s Peter Salovey. As Goleman writes on his website: “Now the case can be made scientifically: helping children improve their self-awareness and confidence, manage their disturbing emotions and impulses, and increase their empathy pays off not just in improved behavior but in measurable academic achievement.”

Eleven years later, Goleman wrote “Social Intelligence,” distilling other powerful truths about how humans learn and interact. He wrote: “Neuroscience has discovered that our brain’s very design makes it sociable, inexorably drawn into an intimate brain-to-brain linkup whenever we engage with another person.”

Yet how do we teach emotional and social intelligence, and non-cognitive smarts—the fundamental skills for life satisfaction and success? And further, how will the explosion of technology play a synergistic role in helping students access every chance to grow and prosper in a changing society?

These questions get to the very heart of the SCE story, what we’re all about, and what we aim to accomplish.

The story of SCE: Susan Crown came to the task of forming SCE after three decades as an executive and foundation CEO, with experience in social and commercial investing, and plenty of hands on work in urban education and global poverty. But she was eager for a better approach and in 2009 launched the Susan Crown Exchange. She persuaded some incredible talents to form a board and get rolling. Why start a new organization when so many nonprofits already exist?

The answer boils down to this: SCE seeks to take bigger risks on innovation in driving educational change. But it is not about creating brand new programs on a whim and hoping they work. This distinction gets to the heart of SCE’s revolutionary exchange model.

Our exchange model: In their groundbreaking book “Enlightened Leadership,” authors Ed Oakley and Doug Krug write, “People tend to resist changes thrust upon them, while they naturally support ideas and changes they help create.” Here’s another way of putting it: The best ideas in social learning are bubbling up already, healthy wellsprings of change and promise created by daring innovators. All they need is a chance to grow and flourish, given the right conditions.

With the exchange model, SCE recognizes this truth. Like detectives on the hunt for clues, we partner with and invest in practitioners doing exceptional work with youth. Working with “ideas and changes they helped create,” rather than believing we are smarter or imposing a strict agenda on them, we hope to offer support —both financial and strategic—to take their outstanding work to a new level. We call this our SEL Challenge (standing for Social and Emotional Learning).

We exist to connect talent and innovation with market forces to drive social change. But it’s not all as complex as you might think. Great ideas that drive social and emotional learning often begin as something simple.

Our mission: In studying this area, we’ve been humbled to learn a few things. One key statistic is that children spend almost 80% of their time outside the formal school environment. As a society we think of classrooms as the places where kids learn, and they do. But in looking at emotional intelligence and “non-cognitive” smarts, here’s the bottom line: Structured yet fun environments outside of school can have true, lasting impact.

That is, informal learning pathways—the kinds of programs that often exist in small pockets beyond the educational system, or school walls—help us to reimagine education as a broad and rich ecosystem for learning beyond academics.

Once we identify the best practices and evaluation methods of these organizations, we will then share these findings broadly through an SEL Field Guide. Think of it like this: In these programs, treasures exist for our children. Our agenda is to discover the programs, uncover their treasures, and then give other groups far and wide the roadmap to find them.

Is Social and Emotional Learning the whole of the SCE story and agenda? Far from it. Digital learning investments also make up a large part of what we’re about. Currently, the average American child spends about 7.5 hours per day consuming digital media. Yet many of the billions of kids’ hours spent with digital media (even inside school settings) provide little or no learning value.

We seek to influence the quality of the digital learning media tools that reach low-income youth. But there’s much work to do here. We need to increase the supply and quality of digital learning media. We need to stimulate demand for it. And we intend to help build the digital learning field—hitting all of these goals through our funding initiatives.

Is this an ambitious agenda overall? You bet. But SCE, based in Chicago, reflects the spirit of a great Chicagoan, architect Daniel Burnham: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”