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Mission Possible: Disruption of Childcare Industry

How might we re-imagine the business of childcare to increase access to quality opportunities and increase workforce participation?

Photo of Regen
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Name or Organization

Early Matters Dallas, a part of the Commit Partnership, is the coordinator for this effort. Early Matters Dallas is a collective impact initiative that facilitates a coalition of of over 200 community partners including 13 independent school districts in Dallas County. This project is a collaboration of Early Matters Dallas, the Mayors of Ft. Worth and Dallas, and a dedicated team from the Boston Consulting Group that help lead a group of innovative thinkers through a strategy process.


Our focus will be North Texas with an initial focus on Dallas and Tarrant Counties.

What is your stage of development?

  • New Innovator, with less than one year of experience in ECD


  • Non-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

DFW needs 42,000 more workers qualified for middle-skill jobs this year. These jobs power economic growth, increase economic security for families, pay above a living wage, and reduce dependence on entitlements. DFW will lose an estimated $2 billion in GDP by leaving these 42,000 jobs unfilled. One potential source to fill this gap is parents who are not participating in the workforce. Almost a fifth of non-working parents say that unaffordable or inaccessible childcare is the number one reason they aren’t working, and 60% said it was an important reason.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Business model: a better model with more effective structure or financing

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Rather than a focus merely on the funding streams for childcare and how to fix how things have been done in the past, we will involve new brains to help design an industry as if they were starting a new division of their company. We will challenge these thinkers to create a healthy division that produces a “product” (children who have been intellectually stimulated and emotionally nurtured), serves the “customer” (parents who need childcare in order to work) and which provides the “company” (the providers who operate the small businesses) a living wage, if not a profit! By re-imagining the industry without prejudice to how it has been done in the past, we hope to disrupt the industry in a positive manner that results in systemic change which benefits children, parents and providers. In addition, we can have a significant impact on our local economy by enabling adults to work, supporting small business owners as well as providing the stimulating environment for children that supports their future success in school and in life.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

In Dallas County, 65% of zip codes do not have sufficient child care spots to meet demand. This issue is more pronounced in low-income communities, where access to infant and toddler spots are the lowest. In neighborhoods with a median annual income less than $50,000, more than half of parental demand cannot be met with current supply.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

Value of project Although there has been increasing investment in childcare/early learning across the nation, funding is too often used for standalone initiatives that do not do much more than plug the holes. Dallas is fortunate to have many foundation investments in place. Early Matters Dallas already convenes all of the providers serving young children to advocate, communicate, collaborate and align their work. Workgroups are already in place to focus on systemic solutions to attracting, training and compensating early learning professionals. Furthermore, discussions are in the embryo stages around the use of Community Development Financial Institutions to give loans for capital improvements to support facilities’ needs, combined with philanthropy to forgive loans if quality metrics are reached. This project seeks to approach the issue in a different manner. The experts whom we plan to gather are disrupters, innovative thinkers and entrepreneurs. The intent of the Dallas approach is to attempt to re-imagine the industry so that it is both affordable to parents and sustainable for providers rather than just plugging the holes in an existing system. DFW Commission on Childcare The Mayors of Dallas and Fort Worth understand the economic impact that the lack of quality early learning/childcare has on our local workforce and on the future of our children. As part of this work, the Mayors will appoint a Commission from the business community including innovative and design thinkers to be spokespeople for the importance of childcare as fuel for workforce participation across industries and, most importantly, to help re-imagine how quality childcare can be both affordable to parents and profitable for providers. The work of the Commission will not focus on how to provide quality childcare, as that is already known. Rather, the work of the assembled members will be around the economics of the industry and how to re-think the model(s) so that childcare fuels the ability to work rather than impedes it. In order for the Commission to make progress toward a strategic plan with actionable outcomes and to ensure that the time of these experts is used effectively and efficiently, Early Matters Dallas has engaged the team at The Boston Consulting Group to guide the work. The BCG team will insure that we answer these questions: 1. How can we, as a community, solve this issue? • Clearly articulated overarching strategy and set of initiatives to close the gaps • Facilitated process to draw on the Commission’s expertise and align on a strategy • Summary of research and benchmarks examples to inform opportunities and feasibility • Estimate of resources required to implement initiatives, identification of potential sources of resources, and an assessment of the expected value of initiatives • Communication plan and corresponding collateral for sharing the strategy with stakeholders, such as a follow-up EMD/BCG report 2. How will we carry this work forward? • Broad coalition of engaged and supportive stakeholders that are mobilized for action • Comprehensive implementation plan with forward-looking milestones and timelines • Sequencing and timing of initiatives (e.g., quick vs. long-term solutions, local vs. state) • Recommended structure and detailed plan to operationalize a backbone entity to carry the work forward • Clear owners for initiatives and a centralized performance management tool to track progress 3. How will we know we have been successful? • Metrics and targets for the goals in both the childcare industry and in workforce participation to inform the strategy and to show progress over time • Baseline of the success and performance metrics and a plan for enabling the ongoing measurement of these metrics to measure progress The Commission will identify a set of transformative strategies that could fundamentally change the childcare industry. The objective of this phase is to ensure that any plan draws upon the unique perspectives of stakeholders with a range of vantage points and that the plan is owned by a broad group of leaders with wide and diverse influence.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

Improving the childcare landscape would drive big impact for the Dallas-Fort Worth region: • Stimulating local economic growth of $2B in annual GDP through increased workforce participation and economic activity • Providing employers access to a larger, more productive workforce to fill the open middle-skill jobs • Providing families with economic security through the ability to join the workforce and make a living wage • Improving economic and life outcomes for children through high quality early childhood environments As a part of the Commit collective action network, Early Matters Dallas already convenes all of the providers serving young children across Dallas County to advocate, communicate, collaborate and align their work. Through this network, we have relationships with school districts – principals, early childhood directors, board members and administrators - childcare providers, our local workforce board and our State Commissioner of Education. Because of the Workforce Report, we have engaged employers – especially those with middle skills jobs gaps - in this conversation as well. In both Dallas and Fort Worth, we have structures in place that insure that all constituents in the early learning community are at the table and that the business leadership is informed about the issues and, hopefully, potential solutions.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

It is our grand idea that if we can re-think the industry so that it is sustainable, affordable and quality in our region, we could be the model for other communities across the country. We recognize that all communities are struggling with the same issues, but our approach is different in that we want to approach the child care industry as a workforce solution. Funding streams are critical, of course, but apart from increasing the flow of funds, what else could be done to re-organize, re-frame the work? We have a number of starter ideas that we hope will spur other thoughts like: Could/should the childcare industry be merged with elder care to more effectively and efficiently deliver a quality service? Could some city department be privatized (trash collection?) in order to re-allocate funds for childcare? Could we re-think the space requirements and physical needs for children in a way that retains safety and appreciates the need for physical movement in learning but which is less costly? Can we identify spaces/locations (city/county owned, churches, etc.) available for this use which reduce expenses related to mortgage/rent? If this process does produce sustainable solutions to rethink the industry, it will have an extraordinary impact on both our economy and the success of children in our region.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

If the industry can be re-modeled so that it is sustainable and, even, profitable, people will open more of these small and mid-sized businesses and quality childcare will be available in the neighborhoods where they are most needed. (Currently, ~65% of Dallas zip codes do not have adequate childcare to meet demand.) Children currently sitting at home with parents who may or may not have the understanding of how to stimulate brain development and healthy social-emotional skills could be served if we can encourage more businesses to open in all neighborhoods and/or figure out how to serve more children in a different way. We know that children who spend their days in quality early learning environments will be more successful in school and life. Low-income children are the most adversely impacted when quality childcare doesn’t exist because they are both denied appropriate stimulation and the resources that could come from income their parents might be able to earn. But, we also want to point out that this issue is not just impacting low-income families. The lack of childcare (of any quality) is keeping qualified middle-skilled adults from going to work as well. So, fixing this issue will improve the lives of low-income children as well as middle-income families and lower the number of children living in poverty in our city.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

The market size in Dallas and Fort Worth is significant given that our region has one of the largest numbers of children living in poverty in the country. And, as mentioned above, this issue also impacts children in middle-income families as well. Because solving for the broken economic model of the childcare industry is the issue, long-term financial stability is the key question. But, rather than assuming that money will solve the problem alone, we want to explore what other drivers might be modified in addition to the funding streams. Scaling the idea/solution is the ultimate goal although specifics will depend upon what the “big” idea is. We have been able to demonstrate scaling good ideas in Dallas and Fort Worth. For example, we have helped ensure access to pre-k has increased by 18% in the past five years. We are confident that if an idea is generated and is accepted by the providers and consumers, we have the infrastructures in place, the political will, the corporate and philanthropic support to scale any idea.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

We do not have specific ideas to measure feasibility, but built into our process is the work to understand if the ideas generated by the Commission are acceptable to all constituents and, whether there is the political will as well as financial resources to make the idea feasible to pilot in our region.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

Early Matters Dallas is a part of The Commit Partnership, a collective action organization which is now part of the Strive Network. We play the role of convening providers, schools, agencies and organizations to communicate and collaborate better. The Early Matters initiative is made up of over 200 organizations working in and around early childhood. EMD staff have experience with facilitating collective action, early childhood education, and design thinking. The Board of EMD is made up of funders and civic leaders, many of whom have extremely deep roots in early learning work in Dallas. EMD led the process to create and gain adoption of a county-wide plan to reach two goals by 2025 in our county – to raise the level of K readiness to 80% and third grade literacy to 60%. Fort Worth has a parallel effort. One of the first tactics of the plan was to increase enrollment in preK across all schools. The role that ISDs are now playing in providing preK to 4s and 3s has made providing early learning in independent community centers unsustainable. While this is not news to many who have been in early learning, the magnification of the problem and the trend toward center closures (and its impact on our workforce) has brought to much higher prominence the fragility of the industry which is the fuel for all other workplaces. Because many of us in leadership within the EMD structure have been aware of this problem and attempted to bring it to the attention of policy and civic leaders for many years without success, we felt that we needed to change the message so that the issue could be given the consideration it needed. JPMorganChase released a report in 2015 which articulated the middle-skills job gap that is impacting our local companies especially those in healthcare, technology, manufacturing and finance. We believed that at least part of the driver for these empty jobs was the lack of childcare. So, we funded a report which quantified the impact of this issue NOT on the children (which is the usual message) but on our local workforce and economy. Knowing that other industries have been disrupted, approaching this issue from a different perspective – i.e. re-starting the industry rather than fixing a broken system – seems like an approach worth merit. North Texas is a “can do” region with institutions which focus on systems design and innovation. So, we thought, why not try a different way of solving the problem which is generative rather than corrective? We are energized by the hope that a different approach to problem solving might result in a "big idea" which could change an industry and, as a result, change the trajectory for large numbers of children and their parents who need quality early learning in order to thrive as people, employees and citizens in our region.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

We need people that won’t be restricted by the current realities and who have the courage to try something different. I think in practice this means people who have expertise in facilitating innovate processes and innovative thinkers themselves. We have identified many of the local people who we believe will make the work of the Commission successful but are very open to people outside of our community who might contribute innovative ideas and thought processes.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

We plan to connect with the intermediaries who are working with Pritzker on their 0-3 work but help with connecting our work to other related initiatives would be appreciated. While BCG will do some of this work, we would love helping us know what has or has not worked in other geographies. In addition, IDEO's design thinking expertise would be a huge support to this work. While we have local design thinkers, IDEO's depth of expertise in solving complex social problems through a design thinking framework is unmatched.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

We would like mentorship support in: 1) The selection of our commission to ensure we have an appropriate representative of stakeholders to think through "out of the box" solutions. 2) Frameworks and suggestions on how to facilitate the ideation stage so that we maximize innovation. 3) Support in how we might approach prototyping solution to understand if these innovations have the ability to be sustainable and scaled.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).
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Attachments (2)

Closing the workforce gap in Dallas.pdf

This report is the foundation and basis for the phase of work described in this application. The formation of the Commission seeks to move the conversation from problem statement (report) to strategies for solutions.

EMD Team Bios.pdf

Attached is a description of the EMD participants in this team for your reference.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Iliriana Kacaniku

Hey Regen 
Welcome to the Early Childhood Innovation Prize. We're thrilled to host your idea and help it grow through our human-centered design approach and toolkits. I enjoyed reading your idea about the systemic change of the child-care industry in Dallas you seek to accomplish. This is very ambitious idea and agree with Beth Rous that if you can make this work than it can serve solving for similar problem in other cities in the US as well. Though disruption can happen and be fostered in many ways, it does require entrepreneurial leadership across organizations that will align on the vision. While aligning and coordinating various stakeholders is not impossible it does come with its own set of challenges. To this end, I am curious to learn about your vision of what would be your preferred initial outcomes of this engagement and indicators that you have started disrupting the industry?

To this end, I would like to suggest our prototyping toolkit as a guide. Since you intend to engage experts and users across various organizations, it would be interesting to run simultaneously several prototyping sessions and then compare and aggregate the results. Through such an exercise you would get valuable insights of whether your initial intended outcomes would service best your goals, or if you would have to adjust/pivot in a different direction.
The beauty of this challenge is that you can grow and evolve your idea continuously until the final deadline using the design thinking toolkits we have designed for you, and I'd be curious to learn how are they helping you in your idea journey.

Do you have any questions regarding the toolkits that we can help you with?
Best regards,

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