A Master Class in Diversifying Education

April 18, 2017

A year ago, I was finishing up business school at Berkeley – trying to finish strong academically, wrap up extracurricular commitments, enjoy those last few weeks of student shenanigans…and find my dream job. Not long after graduation, I heard about a role at NewSchools Venture Fund investing in entrepreneurs working to advance Black and Latino leadership in education. With my new MBA and a passion for social change and equity, it sounded perfect for me. I jumped at the opportunity and have been working at NewSchools ever since. It’s been an exhilarating year, and I’m excited to share some of the highlights, what I’ve learned, and what’s next.

Highlights from the Year

I joined NewSchools at a pivotal time. The Diverse Leaders investment strategy was less than a year old, formalized in October 2015 based on a series of learning investments in 2014 and 2015. The team had already made its first round of investments, and our next steps were to capture our early results, ramp up our field-building work, and also look inward to make NewSchools a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization.

Fast forward a year. We have invested nearly $2.5 million in entrepreneurs working to advance Black and Latino leadership in education, and they are showing incredible early results. Collectively, our entrepreneurs have supported more than 2,300 leaders who serve more than five million students. They’ve gone on to raise more than three times our original investment amount. And they’re just getting started – their impact will only grow as they pilot new programs and expand existing efforts.

We are also getting others excited about diversifying education leadership by presenting at conferences, highlighting pioneers in this work, and encouraging other education funders to deepen their commitment to the work. In addition, we recruited several funders to partner with us and Bellwether Education Partners on a project to better understand the current state of diversity in the field. The early insights are compelling, and we look forward to previewing the data at NewSchools Summit 2017 this May.

NewSchools is also working internally to make sure that we, as an organization, are well equipped to deliver on our goals. Our staff and leadership team are racially diverse, with more than 40 percent people of color. We also have Black and Latino representation on our board of directors, helping us fully deliver on our commitment to diversity.

At the same time, we are committed to helping every NewSchools staff member develop the skills and mindsets to foster an inclusive and equitable organization. For us, this means teaming up with the Fellowship for Race & Equity in Education (FREE) and its founder, Michelle Molitor, on staff training and organizational culture work. It also means updating our policies and practices to institutionalize our commitment to equity across all we do.

What I’ve Learned

My job has truly been a master class for me over the past year. In addition to my team’s investing, field-building, and internal work, I have learned much from leaders across the education sector. Here are just a few of my key takeaways:

  1. To an early stage entrepreneur, coaching and connections are just as important as funding. This is especially true for diverse entrepreneurs who tend to be first-time founders and disconnected from traditional education networks and resources.
  2. Few funders are focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in education right now; and while several are considering it, in the short term, the market is capital constrained. Black and Latino entrepreneurs feel this constraint most acutely as they are far less likely than other entrepreneurs to have the personal reserves to “bootstrap” their ventures, or to have friends and family who can lend financial support.
  3. There is no “right way” to engage in DEI work, and the work is never done. I’ve heard dozens of DEI journeys, and no two look quite the same. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, I’ve gathered that the most important, impactful step is to get started.

What’s Next

Armed with new insight, I’m excited to announce our game plan for the remainder of 2017:

  1. Invest another $1.5 million to support Diverse Leaders.
  2. Deepen the management assistance we provide to our ventures to accelerate their success.
  3. Continue to encourage funders to prioritize DEI in their grant making strategies.
  4. Tell stories that highlight how education leaders are advancing DEI to “de-risk” the work and inspire action.
  5. Share insights from the data collection project at upcoming conferences and workshops.

How You Can Get Involved

We love it when folks are proactive in connecting with us, so please, get in touch! Here’s how:

  • Sign up to receive updates on our Diverse Leaders work, including our next funding opportunity, which will open in August 2017.
  • Reach out to us directly, and get to know us; we are always eager to connect with entrepreneurs who fit our strategy and education leaders who are open to share their DEI journeys.