Kim Smith on Creating Schools, Companies and the Pahara Institute

Kim Smith

On this episode of the Getting Smart Podcast, Tom sits down with Kim Smith founder of the Pahara Institute and co-founder of NewSchools venture fund and Bellwether Education Partners.

Kim Smith is widely recognized as an innovative and entrepreneurial leader in education, and was featured in Newsweek’s report on the “Women of  the 21st Century” as “the kind of woman who will shape America’s new century.” On top of the previously mentioned successes, Kim was also a founding team member at Teach For America, created and led an AmeriCorps program for community-based leaders in education, managed a business start-up and completed a brief stint in early online learning at Silicon Graphics. She has helped to incubate numerous education and social change organizations and has served on a range of boards.

In this conversation, Tom and Kim discuss investment opportunities, Kim’s impressive career in identifying and supporting innovations in education and advice for this year.

When NewSchools Venture Fund launched in 1998 there was no such thing as an education venture fund. In this process she realized the power of networks as a scale vehicle and their ability to focus on social impact rather than merely politics. She cites the quote “philanthropy is society’s passing gear” as a helpful way to think about social impact as well.

On starting a successful company/org: “You need people who are committed and have a sense of purpose want to work with people who are equally committed and share that purpose. You need people, ideas and resources.”

In the creation of the Pahara Institute, Kim learned about the really intense personal growth of leadership programs, cohort building through the new social network. She also learned about how to better learn as an adult: “What we know about adult learning is you have to pause the doing and reflect to learn.”

At Pahara, Kim observed the constant give and take of the cohort: “I’m grateful you made me a better leader, but you helped me to be a person.”

On advice for philanthropy:

  • Be brave, take long term view

On advice for system heads:

  • Keep at it.
  • Figure out the places where the workarounds may be a solution
  • Pay attention to parent/family roles. Keep them centered.

On advice for Governors:

  • States have to find a way to collaborate to know what is going on for kids. Particularly for the sake of assessment.
  • Budgets will be so constrained going forward — philanthropy and the Federal Government have to step in.

On advice for the new secretary:

  • The new secretary needs to be a bridging leader. We can’t have the pendulum swing too far.

Key Takeaways:

[:09] About today’s episode with Kim Smith.
[1:03] Tom Vander Ark welcomes Kim to the podcast!
[2:19] Kim shares how both of her parents were also educators and how they influenced her career.
[3:49] How long was Kim at Teach for America?
[3:57] What did Kim do after Teach for America?
[5:17] The origin story of NewSchools Venture Fund.
[6:34] Tom underscores how innovative of an idea the NewSchools Venture Fund was when it was founded in 1998.
[7:26] Kim speaks about the early criticisms of the NewSchools Venture Fund as well as the challenges.
[7:50] What led to the idea of NewSchools Venture Fund?
[10:49] How Kim recruited an incredibly talented team for NewSchools Venture Fund.
[12:53] Lessons learned from the incredible success of NewSchools Venture Fund.
[16:39] Tom gives John Doerr a shoutout for the role he played in the success of NewSchools Venture Fund.
[17:15] Kim’s legacy at NewSchools Venture Fund has certainly resulted in a thousand great schools — all of which are still thriving to this day! Kim shares how she is proud of this accomplishment.
[17:51] Tom shares his appreciation for Kim’s early insights and leadership with R&D and ed-tech venture funds.
[19:23] Kim’s recent thoughts on philanthropy.
[20:50] In 2012, Kim founded Pahara Institute, a non-profit focused on talent. Kim shares the origin story, why she wanted to create it, and its main mission.
[24:49] How many leaders have been a part of Pahara over the last eight years?
[24:58] What Kim is proudest of with Pahara Institute.
[28:34] Kim’s advice for philanthropists in this day and age.
[29:57] Advice for system heads.
[31:30] Advice for state leaders that would help support families and learners.
[33:00] Kim speaks about her hopes for the new Secretary of Education.
[33:35] What Kim hopes all of these groups keep in mind as we head into 2021.

Mentioned in This Episode:

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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