Portfolio & Transparency
I have supported many education-related entities. Occasionally, people ask, “What’s in it for you?” It’s a fair question, and I have no problem providing complete transparency.
For starters, none of my commitments will generate any personal financial gain for me. Almost all are grants to non-profits. A few (noted below) produce fees, or could potentially produce a financial gain — all of which goes to the 501(3)c edu21c. I’m fully retired from my venture fund, and have no economic interests in current funds or investments. In terms of net worth, here’s some perspective. If people like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg are the Empire State Building, I’m less than a twelve-inch ruler. So I have to be judicious in what I support, and just wish I could do more.
Most of my commitments are focused on initiatives involving K-12 students. I recognize the vital importance of pre-K, but there’s only so much I can take on. It’s quite challenging to change higher education, so I make limited commitments there — usually to alternatives to traditional higher education. Across K12 schools, my grants have been focused (in number and magnitude) almost entirely on organizations helping our public schools. My priority is helping all kids and schools, not shifting the balance of kids from one type of school to another.
Prior to the pandemic, I spent more than 250 nights in hotel rooms each year, for five years, visiting schools and meeting educators. I rarely accept a fee (which goes directly to the edu21c foundation). Why make this kind of commitment? I genuinely fear for a future where machine intelligence profoundly reshapes what’s required for career and citizenship, and has such destabilizing potential that our democracy may not survive. If you’re not worried, you don’t understand the exponential growth of technology innovation, and the vulnerability of any adult whose education was focused on the narrow skills of memorizing content, replicating low-level procedures and following instructions. Many assume that I’m part of the “STEM is the key to success” crowd, but I’m a big believer in the liberal arts and humanities. Young adults can create a countless number of meaningful life paths. But as the lower rungs of the economic ladder disappear, our children deserve an education that equips them to find, or create, fulfilling life paths — something they will have to do numerous times during their adult life.
In the world of film, I organized, funded and helped produce a feature-length documentary Most Likely To Succeed, directed by the remarkable Greg Whiteley. Many believe it’s the best film ever done on the topic of education. I’ve also been the executive producer of other films on education and youth leadership, including A Most Beautiful Thing, College Behind Bars, She Started It, The Hunting Ground, CodeGirl, They Call Us Monsters, School in the Cloud, and The Bad Kids.
Initiatives I’ve Donated Money To
After going to all fifty U.S. states during the 2015-2016 school year, I have focused much of my time, effort, and donations in three states — North Dakota, Virginia, and Hawai’i. They’re quite different, but each is remarkable in its own way, with adults in all sectors — education, business, public policy — committed to working together to help all schools provide great life paths to children. I’ve supported a number of initiatives in these two states (all with donations), including collaborating with North Dakota United in their Cutting Ed podcast and funding professional development initiatives.
The Coalition for College has the potential to change a very broken college admissions process, letting high school kids focus on authentic accomplishment, instead of jumping through hoops. Sir Ken Robinson and I wrote this op-ed about its importance.
The Mastery Transcript Consortium is led by the impressive Scott Looney of the Hawken School in Cleveland, with the goal of completely reimagining the high-school transcript. The initiative is gaining traction, not a moment too soon.
School Retool is a non-profit that helps leaders bring cultures of innovation to their schools. Its roots are the Stanford d.school, IDEO, and the Hewlett Foundation. They train cohorts of public-school principals to develop expertise in creating cultures of innovation. Their Shadow A Student initiative encourages school leaders to walk in the shoes of a student for a day, and share reflections.
The Future Project, with the great tagline, “Re-imagining education, one dream at a time,” helps kids identify dreams and passions they want to explore, and learn how to make these dreams become reality. I love their conviction that school needs to support students in setting big, authentic goals and learning how to accomplish them.
Big Picture Learning works with almost 100 schools around the globe, helping them create learning experiences that go beyond the narrow boundaries of school. Their students have access to internships, meaningful projects, and advisors — engaging students and helping them develop essential skills. I was their seed funder for ImBlaze, the BPL internship management platform helping more schools support internships for their students. Buck Institute for Education is a champion for project-based learning in the classroom. I’ve also supported another leader in project-based learning, New Tech Network. And I’ve supported High Tech High, and their Share Your Learning initiative.
EdLeader21 works with schools and districts to help them build community consensus on the skillsets and mindsets that are essential for their students to develop. Check out their online portal Portrait of a Graduate, which your community can access to help you with this very important process. This profile can serve as your North Star, helping you understand which learning experiences really benefit your students, and which are irrelevant or worse.
NBA Math Hoops, based in Denver, Colorado, is focused on using kids’ passion for basketball to help them develop stronger math skills, and appreciate and love the power of math. The CEO, Khalil Fuller, was named the youngest Echoing Green Fellow in the organization’s 25-year history.
Wishbone is an early-stage social venture in San Francisco that has a very powerful model for transforming the lives of some of our highest-potential, but challenged, kids. They recognize that immersive summer programs have a real likelihood of “lighting a fire” in a kid otherwise trapped in uninspiring educational circumstances.
I’ve supported Student Voice in a number of their initiatives. I work with them particularly on ways students can advocate for an education more aligned with the interests and goals of the student, and one that better prepares young adults for their future.
In India, Avanti Fellows is committed to providing life advantages to low-income youth in India by providing superior educational experiences (arguably better than what college kids get at top US colleges) at a very modest cost. Their early results are stunning, including that smart, motivated kids can learn better with an engaged social worker present than with a teacher. [Note, this is now a for-profit and if I ever derive a gain from it, it goes to edu21c, a 401(3)c].
African Leadership Academy seeks to transform the entire continent of Africa with a cost-effective program developing the next generation of inspired leaders. The centerpiece of ALA is a intensive two-year school in Johannesburg, South Africa, that combines academics, leadership, and entrepreneurship. ALA’s graduating classes have gone onto great colleges worldwide, and each graduate is committed to returning to their home country at some point and working for positive change.
When I represented our country at the United Nations General Assembly, I organized along with UNICEF and Conrad Wolfram, a summit in 2013 on the future of high school math, and how we can transform it to provide compelling life opportunities to youth around the globe. The gathering pointed to how math could be so much more powerfully learned and applied if we didn’t relegate kids to spending years doing tedious calculations by hand.
Through my time at the UN, I got to know the folks at the UN Foundation. A few years ago, I supported an initiative to broaden the impact of Model UN. My point is that it’s a great program, but so expensive that it’s limited in reach mostly to the more affluent schools. The idea, which didn’t end up working, was to broaden the program in two ways — let students debate each other virtually (instead of having to raise all the money to bring the entire team to NYC or DC), and to broaden the criteria to include student-driven projects that would directly seek to change issues around a problem, instead of just debating the issues. Not all of the things I support end up working, but there’s lots to be learned in trying.
In 2013, I worked closely with a professional baseball player, Logan Morrison, from January through August on an initiative we called Project Lomo. He’s worked tirelessly on behalf of fighting lung cancer, which took his dad’s life several years ago. To encourage and recognize youth leadership and civic engagement, he asked his young fans to tell him about what they’re doing to help make their community better. Five of the most compelling young social entrepreneurs stood out, and were recognized at a game on August 24th, 2013. Here’s what one reporter had to say.
In 2014, I supported Craig Breslow, a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, on an initiative to encourage kids to be social entrepreneurs. This press release describes the program. Craig is an amazing person, both on and off the field. He’s a role model for all young fans, works tirelessly on behalf of the cause of fighting children’s cancer, and will do amazing things with this initiative.
I’m an active alum of the College of William & Mary, and working with the school to develop a technology and educational strategy to help create meaningful lifetime partnerships between the College and its alumni. I’m also actively involved in a program at W&M to support research fellowships for undergraduates, helping support the college’s highest potential students to do exciting research in their field of passion. In 2014, I delivered The Convocation Address at this great college.
My past board seats (and I’ve donated to each) include Boston Lyric Opera, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), Spoleto Festival, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, the endowment Board for the College of William and Mary, and the Foundation Board for the College of Charleston. My only current board seat is with the NEA Foundation.
Education Initiatives I’ve Invested In
I have invested in three for-profit companies doing work in education. The Flatiron School was recently acquired by WeWork. The gains I made were donated to the 501(3)c educ21c. And I have provided funding to MissionU, a post-high-school immersion that helps young adults access great careers, while charging no tuition. Oddly, they were also acquired by WeWork. Any gains from these investments go to edu21c.