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Basketball star LeBron James’ foundation partnered with the public school system in his hometown of Akron, Ohio to open the I Promise School, a public elementary school. The new school is intended to serve under-privileged children who are falling behind in educational attainment. The first intake consists of 240 third and fourth graders, who will also receive a free bike and helmet, as well as free transport to school, meals, uniforms, and free tuition at the University of Akron. I Promise plans to serve first through eighth grade students by 2022.

Kudos to Lebron. Of course, the fact that this kind of intervention in the US education system is needed is disheartening. And, crucially, many are uneasy at what they see as the creeping privatization of the US school system at the hands of rich philanthropists. A case in point: back in 2017, education secretary Betsy Devos choose to visit a charter school founded by rapper Pitbull; the school is run by a for-profit foundation that was once under federal investigation. So one crucial aspect of Lebron’s project? It does much to assuage those kinds of concerns. The I Promise School is a co-project alongside the local authority, it will be run by the school district, and will serve families who need it most.

Two powerful underlying lessons here…

  • Yes, brands are increasingly solving shared problems and stepping into the gaps left by government. Can you? But remember: do it in a way that assuages concerns about this ongoing trend, and proves your intentions are good.
  • If you’re in search of a shared problem to address, think broadly about your knowledge, expertise and capabilities as an organization. A basketball player can open a school. An insurance provider can protect the elderly from Zika. What can you do?

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