In a State with Deep Inequities, a Billionaire Couple is Catalyzing Action on K-12 and Jobs



An ambitious public sector partnership with the Connecticut government will more than double the Dalio family’s education giving. Although the size is new, the recent grant and partnership bear the hallmarks of Barbara Dalio’s past work in K-12.

Until now, the Dalios’ education work has flown under the radar, confined as it has been to small programs in Connecticut, but family members, specifically Barbara Dalio, who leads those efforts, have the potential to become big players in education philanthropy should they choose to. It all comes down to their wealth and their promise to give it away.

Related: Doing and Seeing: Barbara Dalio’s Immersive Approach to Education Philanthropy

Ray Dalio started Bridgewater Associates, one of the most successful hedge funds in the country. The couple is worth an estimated $18.2 billion, and has signed the Giving Pledge, which means they’ve promised to give away at least half of that.

Not all of that will go to education, but this new initiative puts Barbara Dalio’s education work in the spotlight, and is a big step up in scale from previous endeavors. The Dalios’ contribution accounts for $100 million of a $300 million project in partnership with the state of Connecticut. The state government will put up $100 million, and will raise another $100 million through gifts from business leaders and philanthropists.

The resulting $300 million project will take aim at the state’s education system and try to boost economic opportunity through microfinance and encouraging community entrepreneurs. The investment was driven in part by the rising gap between rich and poor in the state. Connecticut ranks among the states with the highest income inequality.

On the education side, the initiative will work with high schools, nonprofits and higher education institutions and businesses to connect youth with jobs. A central goal is reaching disengaged kids, especially in under-resourced communities, from age 14 to 24. The money will sponsor work in low-income communities with high rates of disengaged youth.

There’s a big emphasis on including community voices and stakeholders in the design of the program. The partnership also spelled out expectations for using evidence-based tactics, and measuring and sharing results.

It’s likely the partners will create a new, independent organization to oversee the grants and engage community experts and leaders. The organization would include representatives from Dalio Philanthropies and the state’s legislative and executive branches.

New Heights, Same Approach

With a price tag of $300 million, the partnership is much bigger than anything else the Dalios have taken on in the education space to date. Before this project, the foundation had invested $65 million into K-12 education, according to the CT Post.

Ray’s wife Barbara leads the family’s education giving. Though this new partnership is much bigger than anything she’s taken on up to this point, the project is very clearly a Barbara Dalio initiative.

First, and perhaps most obviously, there’s the focus on Connecticut. Although the foundation’s work is wide-ranging and includes support for initiatives all over the world, the Dalios’ K-12 giving has centered on Connecticut. Last year, Dalio shared with IP that even as the foundation’s education giving grows, she wants to remain focused on the state where she raised her family.

Also present in the new partnership is Dalio’s emphasis on elevating community voices and making sure their ideas are included in the design of the program. That’s the first stipulation listed in the press release about the new partnership’s goals and priorities.

It’s an approach that’s characterized Dalio’s work in education up to this point, as well. In an interview with IP last year, Dalio said when she first got involved in education, she had little first-hand experience in the system.

Dalio grew up in Spain and came to the United States as an adult, so she hadn’t even experienced U.S. education as a student. Her contact with the system was limited to what she observed as her sons grew up and attended school.

When she decided to focus her giving on education, she learned everything she could. “The way I learn best is by doing, seeing, and by talking to people,” she told IP last year. “When I started to get involved with public education, I realized that the best way to help was for me to understand the districts, teachers, principals, superintendents, union leaders, social workers and students, and ask questions so I can find out how to help.”

Dalio reached out to contacts she’d made through after-school programs the family had supported previously, and set up visits to a local alternative high school, where she spent time at least once a week learning the ropes.

“I talked a lot to the teachers, to the principal, the social worker, and I was really a student. I wanted to learn,” Dalio said last summer. “The issues are complex. Education is complex. I never felt I was qualified to tell them what to do, or judge them, or anything like that.”

That approach carried over into Dalio’s grantmaking. In the past, she’s described meetings with grantees as a brainstorm, during which they bring ideas to her and she can ask questions and learn from them.

Dalio was also quick to acknowledge the importance of communities and that it’s important to her that the ideas she supports originate with them. “They know. You sit with them and they know what their challenges are. They know what they need, what they don’t need. They live it,” she said. “It would be counter-productive to really tell them what to do.”

It’s clear that Dalio’s insistence that communities be included in decisions has carried over as the work scales.

The age range that the partnership targets and its emphasis on disconnected youth also appear to reflect Dalio’s past work. The foundation has sponsored work with those kids before through its support of the Connecticut Opportunity Project, which helps schools and teachers connect with kids in the first half of high school, before they have the chance to disengage or drop out of school entirely.

The project focuses on students who are still in school but showing signs of pulling away from their studies, and kids who have dropped out of or “disconnected” from school. One in five high school students in Connecticut are disengaged or disconnected, the organization estimates—a stat the new partnership used in its press release.

Why It Matters

This gift is a big step up in size from the Dalio’s early education work. It more than doubles their grantmaking in education to date. However, this big grant isn’t a one-off blip. The Dalios have been slowly scaling up their giving in this space over the past several years.

Before this grant, the foundation’s education giving totaled about $65 million, but of that, $50 million was handed out in just the last four years. With an estimated net worth of more than $18 billion, the Dalios need to scale quickly if they are going to meet their Giving Pledge goals.

Given Ray’s investing track record, that fortune is likely to keep growing. But even if it stays where it is, the couple and their children would need to give away at least $9 billion to charitable causes to fulfill their pledge. In another reminder of how fast the philanthropic order is changing, annual giving by Dalio Philanthropies is already greater than that of august legacy foundations like the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Beyond education, the Dalio family also gives to ocean conservation, initiatives in China, and other causes. Ray is especially passionate about the environment, but like many billionaires these days, the hedge fund winner is clearly worrying about economic inequality. In an interview on 60 Minutes set to air Sunday, Dalio said that the growing income gap has become a “national emergency.” He added, “If you look at history, if you have a group of people who have very different economic conditions, and you have an economic downturn, you have conflict.”

Dalio elaborated on his views on inequality in a LinkedIn post published last week. These statements may offer important clues about where Dalio family philanthropy may be heading next. As we’ve reported, a growing number of billionaire donors have lately shifted their giving to focus on poverty and economic mobility.