Better Way Foundation and the Rauenhorst family have a long history of partnering with Indian Country. Family members volunteered on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the ‘80s and were inspired by the Lakota people and culture. The first large programmatic grant was made in 2003, and the foundation has continued to support language and culture revitalization programs in schools throughout Indian Country.
In 2016, Better Way’s Board of Directors asked the staff to undertake a major review of our programs. Better Way contracted with Crystal Echo Hawk of Echo Hawk Consulting to conduct a landscape analysis of Early Childhood Development in Native Communities.
The analysis concluded that Better Way should focus future efforts on 1. Building trust with grantees. 2. Developing indigenous evaluation. 3. Working to support Native led, controlled and based institutions. 4. prioritizing models that are holistic and based in Native culture. 5. Invest in emerging models and capacity building for grantees. 6. Developing our own internal systems to document and learn from our partners. 7. Making long-term commitments and engage grantees as partners.
Additionally, Echo Hawk Consulting encouraged Better Way to consider funding: Collaboration, Networks & Partnerships; Teacher Recruitment & Retention; Native Language & Culture; Planning and Capacity Building; Mental Health Support; Facilities and Buildings; General Operating Support; Systems Approaches; Place-Based Work; Piloting Competitive Grant Opportunities for Demonstration Projects and Multi-Year Grants in order to deepen and sustain impact and progress.
In June of 2016, following Echo-Hawk’s report presentation and recommendations, the board approved a 5-year, 5-million-dollar commitment to Native ECD with a geographic focus on Minnesota, New Mexico and Pine Ridge, South Dakota. In September 2017, the board reorganized the overall funding strategy to target 65% of annual funding toward Indian Country, and 35% to our work in Tanzania.
In June 2018 the board assessed the progress of the first two years of Native ECD implementation and moved to expand its commitment to Indian Country. The board approved a 10-year, $10 million-dollar commitment to Native ECD.
The staff and board continue learning and exploring ways to be better partners to the Native serving organizations we work with.