Inequality is one of the most significant long-term risks worldwide, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Risks Report. We cannot realize a human-centred vision of the future if we leave behind millions of people for whom our educational, economic, and community systems were not designed – particularly people of colour, women and other minority populations.

To create a shared future in a fractured world, we need to activate the untapped potential of children and families who are struggling to succeed by reorganizing city systems and infrastructure to be more personalized and interconnected so that every child in every community has a fair shot at a bright future.

This is the moral issue facing our generation, and there are endless perspectives about how to catalyze a future of learning and work that truly works for everyone. Despite high-profile investments, well-intentioned efforts, and vast amounts of hard work, opportunity and achievement gaps stubbornly persist in the cradle-to-career continuum. Factions with entrenched perspectives vigorously debate the virtues of particular schooling models or myriad technological solutions, while ignoring the larger need for a more fundamental transformation of our systems.

No silver bullets

We need to change how we organize entire communities’ assets and resources to design a stronger social safety net – a truly integrated system of community support. UN Sustainable Development Goal 17 calls for inclusive, cross-sector partnerships to unleash bolder efforts to achieve universal education goals, reduce inequality and strengthen societies. We need to shift our perspective from schools as the focal point to having learners at the centre – with all systems working cohesively to support their success.

There is no silver bullet to ending global inequality. No individual or institution alone can prepare the next generation of our world’s leaders. It takes all of us working together – setting aside dogma in service of a shared community vision, working across lines of difference and being willing to change everyday behaviours and practices – to achieve measurable results at scale for our world’s most vulnerable children and families.

This vision for a future of learning is taking hold in communities across the United States. Leaders across sectors are moving from good intentions to purposeful and aligned action and getting results to unleash communities’ full potential.

StriveTogether has developed and refined a shared framework for action and a rigorous, data-driven process for testing and improving portfolios of community-led strategies that address the root causes of educational inequities. As a result, communities are achieving better and more equitable results from cradle to career.

Moving from talk to action

It starts with aligning partners around a shared community vision. In the urban core of Dallas County, Texas, the Commit Partnership encouraged 13 school districts, non-profits, investors, and businesses to commit to a shared strategy to enrol 5,800 more students in quality pre-kindergarten programmes. Partners organized a common early learning registration week; adopted a bilingual texting platform for family engagement; and disseminated registration information through cross-sector messengers, such as faith leaders, paediatricians and city water bills.

Enabling practitioners to use real-time data for continuous improvement gets results. In Portland, Oregon, racial achievement gaps in high school graduation and post-secondary enrollment are closing despite 19 superintendent transitions across seven school districts and three city mayors in seven years. All Hands Raised supported community leaders to dramatically reduce disproportionalities in disciplinary referrals by race, keep high school students on track for graduation and remove financial aid as a barrier to college entry.

To transform systems we must involve learners’ perspectives. In rural Racine County, Wisconsin, post-secondary completion rates are improving two years in a row. When data revealed that students of colour encountered many barriers to persisting from the first to second year of college, Higher Expectations for Racine County engaged a group of students of colour to uncover what had supported and hindered their progress and developed targeted strategies to prepare first-generation college-going students for success.

In 70 regions across 32 states in the US, teams of community leaders are working to engage their communities and using data to build stronger systems to create opportunities for every child. But there’s more that needs to be done to harness our world’s full human potential.

What’s your contribution?

1. Aligning action for results cannot be the responsibility of one heroic leader or one capable organization. Everyone has a role.

2. Local community leaders must convene partners in service of shared results and to support practitioners to test and improve their daily practice.

3. Learners and families must be involved to change the power dynamics from a charity mindset towards co-developed community solutions.

4. Technology giants and entrepreneurs must do their part to enable real-time access to data and support personalized learning.

5. Philanthropists and policymakers must create incentives for results-based decision-making and purposeful alignment.

6. Higher education and corporations must better support pipelines of underrepresented leaders to serve and succeed.

7. Politicians must be held accountable for large-scale, community-wide transformation.

8. Individuals must be more purposeful in where they volunteer their time and donate their charitable contributions.

By working together across lines of difference, aligning networks and rebuilding systems for the most vulnerable children and families, we can move beyond good intentions to purposeful action. It’s up to each of us to do our part to spark and sustain this movement towards aligned action for results.