Recalling EP’s ‘Best Week Ever’

As Scott Morgan, Founder of Education Pioneers, stepped down as CEO earlier this month, he has been sharing some reflections and memories from his 15 years of leadership at EP. In that spirit, here is a story he shared from EP’s first year.

We celebrate EP’s birthday each year on June 16, the anniversary of my drive to Sacramento to file EP’s articles of incorporation back in 2003.

But there’s another important milestone during EP’s first year of operation. It took place during the last week of March in 2004.

Going into that week, I had worked closely with EP’s founding board members, Miguel Jiménez and Tom Bradshaw, to put a strong long-term foundation in place for EP. Using Jim Collins’ Built to Last framework as our guide, we had established our core purpose and defined our core values. We also cast a big, hairy audacious goal (BHAG) to recruit and train 300 leaders per year and place them with outstanding partners in 15 cities across the nation by our 10th anniversary.

Despite this bold vision, we hadn’t made meaningful progress in piloting our model and proving the concept behind Education Pioneers. Early wins were especially hard to come by and I had been consistently hearing nothing but “no” for months.

In fact, at the start of that week in March, with more than nine months under my belt of intense start-up hours to get a pilot program off the ground, we had zero program participants; zero partner organizations; and zero lead funders on board (it’s safe to say this was not the trifecta we were going for!).

Fortunately, earlier that week, we had our first Education Pioneers Fellow ever say ‘yes.’ Marisa Bold, a Harvard Business School student with strong private sector experience who was looking to use her business skills in the social sector, let me know that she was coming on board and was excited to be part of our first EP Fellowship cohort and the larger cause of co-creating EP.

That same week, we also had Aspire Public Schools, where I previously worked as in-house counsel, commit to becoming our first Partner organization. Don Shalvey and Gloria Lee, the founding CEO and COO respectively at Aspire, put their faith in EP and me to connect them to exceptional EP talent to advance Aspire’s mission and work.

The last thing we were still missing was a major investor to support our launch.

Fortunately, I had a big meeting lined up that week with the Draper Richards Foundation (now the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation). As the final step in its due diligence process that we’d been in for months, I was invited in by Jenny Shilling Stein, the Co-Founder and Executive Director, to head to their office to meet with Bill Draper, a legendary venture capitalist.

I remember how nervous and excited I felt as I wound my way up 280 driving from San Jose to San Francisco for this make-or-break meeting.

In that meeting, Bill asked a lot of penetrating questions about the vision and model of EP. He had done his homework and was eager to learn about me and what I was looking to build.

At one point during the meeting, Bill looked me in the eye and asked me a question that got to the heart of our model and ultimate viability of us as an organization: “Are you really going to be able to attract the type of top talent you’re talking about to join your program?”

Fortunately, I had my secret weapon; I pulled out a copy of Marisa’s resume, handed it to him, and told him all about her as he looked it up and down. He then looked back up at me and asked, “You’re getting talent like this to work in education?”

I replied with as much confidence as I could muster, “Yes, we are!”  [I truly believed it and – at the very least - we had one person like that!]

At the end of the session, Bill and Jenny asked me to take a seat in their lobby so they could talk things over. A few minutes later they called me back to Bill’s office and let me know that they wanted to be our first lead philanthropic investor, coming on board with a $300,000 investment over three years. We were the foundation’s 7th investment in its early history.

That big bet on EP and me capped off what I still consider to be Education Pioneers’ best week ever!

Indeed, that week gave Education Pioneers our first Fellow, our first Partner organization, and our first lead investor. It also gave EP critical early momentum that continued to build as eight other founding Fellows and six other founding Partners bravely joined Marisa and Aspire in the weeks that followed.

Now, fast forward this founding story 14+ years…

Marisa Bold not only made a lasting impact as an EP Fellow at Aspire (making important contributions to building their “College for Certain” culture); she’s also gone on to apply her passion and skills to make a difference for millions of students since then through her work at NewSchools Venture Fund, the New York City Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Education, and now the Walton Family Foundation.

Aspire Public Schools now prepares 16,000+ K-12 students for success in college, career, and life at 40 community-based public charter schools in California and Tennessee.

The Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation has gone on to fund more than 125 social entrepreneurs focused on changing the world, including leaders behind many breakthrough organizations like EducationSuperHighway, Kiva, and One Acre Fund.

As far as Education Pioneers goes, we blew past our founding BHAG and are now celebrating 15 years of impact with a diverse network of talent that’s over 4,000 strong (with more than 70 percent of EP Alumni in the workforce driving impact in education).

I’m grateful that these leaders had the courage to bet on EP and me during this memorable week in EP’s history.

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