Best Practices
January 7, 2009

Richmond Chamber Working to Ensure "Smart Beginnings"

Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce

While most chambers to date have not actively worked on early childhood education issues in their community, in Richmond, Virginia, the chamber has been doing so for more than a dozen years. After successfully running its own Youth Matters program for a decade, the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce joined up with the United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg in 2006 to strengthen their Smart Beginnings initiative. Smart Beginnings is a national United Way program that local communities personalize to promote early childhood development in their region. The partnership paid immediate dividends.

The alliance allowed the Chamber to focus on advocacy, research and business engagement, while allowing another partner, the United Way, to contribute a different set of expertise such as capacity building with service providers, program piloting, community mobilizing, and fundraising. During the 2008 Session of the Virginia General Assembly, the Smart Beginnings partnership was an integral part of a statewide coalition including the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation and private sector partners that led the lobbying effort in favor of Governor Tim Kaine's proposed 2-year, $56 million funding increase for pre-K education. The partnership made sure business leaders were armed with the right research and a cost-benefit message, which helped frame the proposed legislation as a step forward in terms of economic development.

Going forward, Smart Beginnings will implement a Regional School Readiness Plan. The plan will synchronize the efforts of a multi-jurisdictional region, to share best practices, and to raise awareness of the benefits of braided funding streams for early childhood development programs and services. In addition, the Chamber will continue to develop materials that educate business leaders and the general public on the importance of early childhood education and how it is tied to a region's economy. Two materials, the Early Childhood Development Directly Affects Economic Vitality brochure and Early Childhood Development Reference Manual were instrumental in recruiting the region's four police chiefs, public school superintendents, and high ranking business leaders and human service professionals to back the initiative.

"In short, our Smart Beginnings partnership works across localities to ensure that our youngest citizens are ready for school and ready for life with the knowledge that they will ultimately become contributing members of our workforce," says Rob Bradham, seniorr vice president for business development and government affairs, Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce.