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Guest Profile

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Jessie Rasmussen


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About Jessie Rasmussen

Jessie Rasmussen’s career has focused on improving outcomes for children and families, first as an early childhood practitioner and administrator and later as a Nebraska state senator and state human services director in both Nebraska and Iowa. At the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, she played an instrumental role in the development and passage of legislation that established a $60 million early childhood endowment funded through a public and private partnership. She is now president of the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, where she manages early childhood investments.

Episode Overview

Approximately 20 years ago, Warren Buffett decided to give a substantial amount of his Berkshire Hathaway stock to his three children, as well as to the Gates Foundation, to be used for philanthropy. 


His Daughter, Susie, subsequently launched the Buffett Early Childhood Fund and, today, they are a leading force investing in early childhood (1) practice, (2) policy and (3) research.


Jessie Rasmussen is President of the Fund and she explains how they believe these three key investment areas are essential to help achieve their goal of ensuring every child in the youngest years and months of their lives has access to effective quality services – and it is the interaction between these investments that makes a difference.


The Fund is a strong financial backer of two leading thinkers who drive forward research and articulate the strongest neuroscientific and economic arguments in support of early childhood investments: Prof Jack Shonkoff at Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child and Prof Jim Heckman at the University of Chicago, respectively.


Not only does the Fund drive forward research but they also aim to connect leading researchers, such as Shonkoff and Heckman, to key policymakers so that policymakers are well informed on what the latest research is saying.  


The power of collaboration: the Fund’s philanthropy is done almost always in partnership with others. For instance, along with other funders they’ve helped establish the Alliance for Early Success, which is mainly a state-wide organisation, and the First Five Years Fund, which is a federal organisation.  They engage different stakeholders but share a common theme.


Jessie shed light on a funding collaborative they’re currently involved with that encompasses 8 substantive foundations who are focusing on highly consequential areas such as 'workforce' in Early Years.  She explains how the collaborative came about, how it grew and how it operates today.


There are various funding and collaboration mechanisms that one can embrace. Jessie explains the dynamics involved in parallel funding and, also, in setting up a unified investment vehicle backed by all collaborative members.  Ultimately, irrespective of whether they’re deploying funds via parallel funding or as a unified fund, they tend to agree on a single reporting requirement, which simplifies things for the grant recipient.


The Fund does not accept unsolicited funding applications and for the most part they’re investing in major systems change and long-term sustainability of effective programs. They have a team of experts who identify great opportunities to improve the lives of children -- team members approach early childhood development from different vantage points based on their diverse experience in the field.


Jessie explains that “when Warren gave his three children funds to start their foundations, he wrote a letter and gave them advice.  And, one piece of advice was ‘take risk’, invest in things that nobody else will invest in […] because it’s when you take risk that you learn what works and what doesn’t work.” Jessie goes on to say: “I love having that direction provided for us”.


Jessie’s key takeaway for listeners: Do your homework. Don’t assume you have the answers. Do your homework and know what’s going on right now. She also encourages listeners to take the time to think about doing things in partnership with other funders because that's where you’re going to have the greatest impact.  

Please subscribe to the podcast if you enjoy it. Thank you!

Additional Resources


Buffett Early Childhood Fund

Educare Schools

Alliance for Early Success

First Five Years Fund

Center on the Developing Child - Harvard University

The Heckman Equation

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