Q&A with Charlie Wolfson: Investing in children’s futures by investing in early talk


Charlie Wolfson Arrow Impact

Arrow Impact, a private foundation supporting “initiatives that create pathways to economic prosperity for communities that have been marginalized and under-resourced,” first provided philanthropic support for LENA’s work in 2020 and reinvested in LENA again in 2021. Recently, we talked with Arrow Impact’s executive director, Charlie Wolfson, about how early childhood education, and LENA in particular, aligns with the foundation’s strategies.

Tell us why you are interested in early childhood as part of your overall investment strategy.

We are compelled by the research demonstrating the high social rate of return of investing in early childhood development as it relates to longer term economic mobility outcomes. For example, we know from credible studies that high quality early care can help children avoid special education, grade repetition, early parenthood, and incarceration (UPenn Center for High Impact Philanthropy). Despite these types of findings, the field of early childhood seems to be an area where philanthropy and government underinvest.

You first provided funding to LENA in 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Why did LENA’s programming stand out to you as important during this time?

What stood out to us was LENA’s commitment to continuing to grow its reach even during this extremely difficult period of uncertainty. We were impressed by how quickly and thoughtfully LENA shifted much of its programming to virtual, and by how committed LENA was to learning how the effectiveness of this work compared to effectiveness of in-person programming. We are looking forward to learning about LENA’s impact during these challenging times and the lessons that will inform how LENA and the rest of the sector should evolve.

We are tremendously appreciative of your decision to reinvest in LENA again this year. What are you most excited about with this new grant?

We are excited to help LENA build new partnerships, reach more families, and continue to progress in bringing down its already cost-effective model as it approaches operating sustainability through earned revenues alone. We are also excited to see LENA continue to produce valuable research that not only demonstrates the effectiveness of its work, but also benefits the early childhood development sector more broadly.

What have you learned as a funder over the past 18 months that you think other early childhood nonprofits and funders could benefit from?

The past 18 months have forced many nonprofits to adapt their model in ways they never imagined they would have to. This has presented an opportunity to test new approaches and learn how impactful they may be. We hope funders will be willing to invest in such learning during this crucial time, so that we can emerge with new, innovative models of impact.

Equity and inclusion are necessary foci for you and other early childhood funders. How do you see LENA contributing to the advancement of equity and inclusion? What more is needed?

LENA’s commitment to reaching under-resourced communities is extremely important for advancing equity and inclusion, and as LENA continues to grow, it will be able to reach more and more families in communities that could benefit from its programs. We hope that LENA continues to prioritize partnerships in under-resourced communities and diversify its staff and board to gain insights that best reflect the communities in which it works.

We’re in a period of time where hope continues to be a key component of change. What is it about LENA and the other organizations in your portfolio that gives you hope for the future?

Many leaders of organizations in our portfolio are recognizing the important role that parents and caregivers can play in affecting the life trajectory of children. We are hopeful that organizations like LENA, ones that empower parents and caregivers to be a key part of the solution, will continue to build on the important work they’re doing.

We are also hopeful that others in the early childhood development sector will learn from the important research LENA continues to produce and disseminate, so that more and more children will enter school ready to thrive.


The LENA Team is a dedicated group of professionals who are passionate about increasing awareness of the importance of early interactive talk. We are statisticians, speech-language pathologists, curriculum specialists, engineers, and linguists.

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