Georgia Early Learning Initative: United Way of Metro Atlanta Turns to "Community Building"

John F. Kennedy School of Government (Harvard)



Case Study Sector


In the spring of 1999, United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta (UWMA) was in the midst of historic organizational change. It had become convinced that the traditional United Way approach to philanthropy—one of soliciting funds from the public and disbursing them to selected organizations—could no longer be sustained. Competition from other forms of fundraising and philanthropy made it crucial, United Way leaders believed, to devise ways that the organization could provide some other “value added” for those who entrusted it with their charitable dollars. It was in this context that UWMA signaled its intentions to embark on an approach it called “community building”. It would identify the types of needs which metro Atlanta residents most wanted to address and itself help build a coalition of interested parties which would work toward finding the best ways to address those needs. This case tells the story of the first, major community-building effort undertaken by the Atlanta United Way chapter: the Georgia Early Learning Initiative (GELI). Rather than delivering social services itself, GELI was established to push for ways in which child care centers for young children—especially those from poor households-- could promote “early learning”, the sort of preparation for formal education which children from more affluent homes are more likely to receive. The case describes the range of tactical and political questions which develop as GELI seeks to influence state policy regarding child care center standards and reimbursement rates for public funds, in an effort to advance its early learning agenda. The case provides a vehicle for discussion of coalition-building and interest group politics issues.



  • Field Building
  • Partnership
  • Strategy


  • Northern America

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