On my mind

It’s been all over the news how Warren Buffet is giving a vast portion of his fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There are so many unique things about this gift: the stipulation that they money must be spent when received; the pre-death giving of the gift; giving the gift without requiring the foundation to change the name; not setting up an independent foundation to allocate the gift. Just as Warren Buffet’s annual letters to shareholders are legendary, so is his philanthropy. This is a man that in my opinion looks to the future and sees hope & through the Gates Foundation a way to essentially save the world for the future. I personally think this global focus is the right one.

I contrast this to the recent Stephen Hawking question posed on Yahoo.com. And I quote, “How can the human race survive the next hundred years? In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years? ” Hawking’s personal answer is that human beings must develop independent colonies off planet for humanity to survive. I admit that this answer resonates with me as I grew up reading Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein. At the same time, this answer saddens me. Is humanity, on this planet, truly irredeemable? Will we really destroy this planet and each other over the next 100 years?

In my visionary leadership class during my last semester of my MBA, we were asked to create a 5 year personal career plan. We were to outline our values, purpose and vision for the future. I blogged previously about some of my efforts on this assignment.  I did not write about  my vision. For one, even thought the MBA is now complete, the vision is not. I do not yet have an alternative for this plan and yet I am uncertain as to whether I will follow this one. That being said, my plan ties into both Stephen Hawking’s question and Warren Buffet’s recent bequest. My plan was written from the perspective of “if money was not an issue and I could do ANYTHING” how would I spend my day.

My abbreviated (but still lengthy) answer:


  1. Honor – This value is the heart of me and is the framework upon which the other values hang. Without Honor, the other values simply have less meaning.
  2. Personal Responsibility – Like honor, this value is at the heart of me. I believe that our own choices determine our fates and futures. Yes, external forces can act on us, but in the end, we are responsible for our actions and reactions.
  3. Tenacity –This is the quality that forces you to try again after failing; to stick with it even when it is difficult, even when the chance of success is remote; to not give up.
  4. Acumen –To me, acumen combines raw intellectual power that has been harnessed with training and education to create excellence, even brilliance.
  5. Service –This quality represents doing more than is required, because it is the right thing to do (so is related to honor), because the capacity exists to do more.

Purpose of my Career: The purpose of my career is to create hope and opportunity so that there is less suffering in the world.

Vision: Children are the future and yet globally they seem to be the most under-served and unprotected group of all. Globally, more than 87 million children have been orphaned. By 2003, more than 15 million children under the age of 18 had been orphaned world-wide due to HIV/AIDS. This number is expected to increase to 18 million by 2010. Most of these children are in sub-Saharan Africa. Our world is rife with genocide , imminent pandemics, starvation and chronic malnutrition (more 800 million people affected). Even in the US, it is estimated that more than 1% of all US children are abused with more than 523,000 (2003 data) children in the foster care system. Even with these carefully screened families, 0.5% of these children are abused. I see headlines daily about American children killed, starved, neglected, caged, or raped, often by family members. In 1999, more than 797,500 children were reported missing. While about a third of these were custodial “abductions”, many of these children simply ran away to escape their current situations. “Children are the future. The children of today will be in charge tomorrow. It’s as simple as that. And there are lots of children. Half the world’s population is younger than 25.” Are we, as a society, as a world, doing all that we can to nurture tomorrow’s leaders? I think the answer is a resounding “No!”

In my opinion, education is the answer. It can stop cycles of abuse, poverty, genocide, and disease. If Thomas Friedman is to be believed, we are swiftly becoming a knowledge based economy. If this is true, quality education will become even more important in the future. However, it is foolhardy to expect that children, who are malnourished, without families or with dysfunctional families, in war-torn or unstable environments, will be focused on education, even if they believe that it will free them from their current situations. There are numerous programs aimed at solving these diverse issues independently. In my opinion, all of these problems must be addressed at the same time. One possibility is to create free K – 12 boarding schools, safe havens where children can learn and grow.

As a child, I dreamed of boarding school. Compared to many in the world, my childhood would be a considered a fairy tale. However, I remember being profoundly unhappy and wanting to be anyplace but there. While I did not get my dream, I did skip a few years of school and head off to college at 16. Education provided the escape from the life I did not wish to live and broke the patterns of behavior I did not want to retain. This may be why I have yet to leave the embrace of the ivory tower of academia. For all of its flaws, it is home. Are there any boarding schools that currently provide free quality education to disadvantaged children? As of March 2006, I could find only one. The Seed School of Washington DC is an inner city college preparatory boarding school for grades 7 – 12. They have an outstanding 100% college placement rate. It was established in 1998 with a class of at risk 7th graders. The Seed Foundation intends to refine their business model so that more schools can be established nationwide. Currently, a large capital investment is required to start the schools, after which they become self sufficient. I am incredibly impressed by the success of the Seed Foundation and this first school. However, I think that capturing the children at grade 7 is far too late in many cases, especially if the concept is moved internationally. Therefore, my dream, my vision, is to create free, year round, K through 12 boarding schools wherever they are needed.

<big snip from my assignment>

There are currently myriad programs to help at risk children, but none of the programs are well integrated. In my opinion, unstable home-lives are not conducive to a focus on education. Without a quality education, opportunities for the future become quite limited. While, I do not have much sympathy for adults who make poor life choices, I strongly believe that all children should have: the opportunity for a safe and healthy childhood, access to preventative health care, and access to high quality education that prepares them for our ever changing world that is built on technology. Thus a primary need is to provide a shelter or haven in a year round school for those children with the greatest need that first provided a stable environment (food, shelter, clothing, a schedule) with integrated health, educational and recreational services.

3 comments on “On my mind
  1. Irene says:

    I keep returning to this post because it really hit a chord with me. Education IS the answer…. Right now, in most states, it seems like public education is neglected. It’s wonderful to see programs in place (such as the Seed Foundation) that gives young students a chance. It’s too bad that it can’t be that way for all students. We’ve had Magnet programs here, in San Diego, which were fantastic, but budget cuts did change the cirriculum, the quality of teachers they did have and quality of supplies. It’s a shame that education is one of the first things on the “chopping block.” When some fantastic teachers were given the option of an early retirement package, they took it. It was sad. Both of my kids lost out on experiencing class with these fabulous teachers. I could go on and on about everything that’s wrong with the public school system here, but there is some good too, such as charter schools that have their own cirriculum, but there needs to be more.
    I hope my husband catches your post.

  2. Cathy says:

    Thanks Irene. I orginally started this idea in an international entrepreneurship class as a “franchise” opportunity. While I can’t see it as a “for-profit” business, I think that it is possible to make the schools like this self sustaining after founding. It funny, I cannot express how much I value education as a concept and yet my skills in front of a class room (at least of undergraduates) are less than optimal. However, a friend of mine here in CO is the principle of a magnet grade 6-12 school. If I develop the courage to push this forward, he’ll be one of the first people I recruit.

  3. CP says:

    I am participating in a Blogathon on July 29th to benefit the Pediatric AIDS Foundation and I was looking for like-minded individuals. Your name came up in my search. Thank you for posting a very relevant and poignant article about children growing up and living with HIV/AIDS.
    Stop by the blog and check out the Blogathon! It’s 24 hours of non-stop blogging to earn money for research for the Pediatric AIDS Foundation.