You might say my years at Microsoft were my formative years. In the first three years with the company, I was working 100-hour weeks and I never took a day off. Well, that’s not entirely true – I took one day off. That discipline continued during my remaining years with the company, but a lot happened in my life over that 10-year period. Most notably, I got married and had two children. I began feeling as if I wanted to spend more time with my family and have the flexibility of doing other things with my life. That is what ultimately led me to retire from Microsoft eighteen years ago at the age of 43.
Shortly thereafter, I established The Oki Foundation and became a full-time volunteer devoted to causes that I care passionately about – particularly if they benefit children. I even went so far as to develop a personal mission statement, which is: “To marry my passion for things entrepreneurial with things philanthropic in ways that encourage others to do the same.”
I’ve served on almost one hundred advisory boards and boards of directors for both for-profit and nonprofit corporations and I’ve founded or co-founded sixteen nonprofit organizations. The most recent entities are SeeYourImpact and the Outrageous Learning Foundation. To give you an idea of the thinking and inspiration behind them, I’ll briefly share the story of each.
SeeYourImpact is a micro-giving organization that connects donors in the developed world with recipients in the developing world. What makes it unique is that we’ve designed a system that allows charities on the ground in the recipient country to capture digital photos and video of the actual beneficiary of a gift. SeeYourImpact will then route these images to the appropriate donor to create a meaningful, virtual connection between them.
This idea materialized because I noticed a sizeable void in the philanthropic world. I know everyone isn’t capable of writing large checks, but I also know there are a lot of people with very good intentions who haven’t been active in conventional philanthropy. That’s why I became determined to find a way to engage them. Now, with a small gift of $5 to $50, they can have a significant, positive impact on the life of someone living on the other side of the world.
I also wanted to create a satisfying, personal connection that might inspire them to give repeatedly and tell their friends about it. It’s a groundbreaking concept and I’m confident it’ll improve the lives of thousands and perhaps even revolutionize global philanthropy as we know it.
The Outrageous Learning Foundation is an organization I formed after writing my book, “Outrageous Learning: An Education Manifesto”. I’d never written a book before, but I decided to do so after my wife Laurie encouraged me to tackle a big problem. I was threatening to retire from my full-time volunteer work and, faced with the prospect of her husband spending more time at home, she wanted to help me find a project that would keep me very busy. After a great deal of discussion, we both arrived at the same conclusion – our public education system is in dire need of reform and we’ve avoided the issue for too long. We had always been convinced that our time and money wouldn’t make a difference because the problems just seemed so large, complex, and intractable, but we decided it was time for me to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty.
Please don’t get me wrong – I’m a product of Seattle’s public school system and, while the system wasn’t perfect back then, it served me and my family well. In the decades since my graduation, however, things have steadily become much, much worse. The problems are now so deeply ingrained, the outcomes are now so appalling, and the costs are now so astronomical that we, as a society, can no longer afford to accept the status quo.
I’m fortunate to be able to send my three children to private schools, but I understand this isn’t an option for many families. I believe that all families – regardless of their financial means – deserve an education system that is innovative, well-managed, and staffed by insanely great teachers.
I certainly don’t think I can achieve real, systemic education reform by myself, but I’m committed to raising awareness of the issues, igniting public dialogue, and working collaboratively to arrive at solutions with parents, students, teachers, and community leaders. That’s why I wrote the book. It’s an effective vehicle for spreading the message and engaging people who want to make a difference.
In closing, I believe that each of us has a duty to get involved in our communities – local, national, and global – and that we need to work collectively to make them better places for all of us to live. I intend to continue doing my part as long as I’m able and I hope to see you in the trenches.