People Over Products


My wife always tells me that if I am going to leave her with two toddler children for an extended period of time, it better be worth it.

Last week, I left home on Monday and did not return until Saturday. I went to San Francisco to attend the NewSchools Venture Fund Summit, then set out for Kansas City to join 240 Teach For America alumni entrepreneurs and friends for Entrepreneurs United. Fortunately (for both my organization and my home life), it was well worth it.  

Some cool things happened for Camelback Ventures while we were on the road. Our team received multiple shout-outs while at the NSVF Summit. (Special thanks to Benjamin Jealous for his public endorsement while delivering the closing plenary.) I sat on panels with folks I have admired for years like Jen Medbury, Chaula Gupta and Alejandro Gac-Artigas. And I reconnected with old friends like Wayee Chu (p.s. It’s so awesome that Reach Capital has three women-partners).

At Camelback one of our core values is to be “humble and hungry.” So while I’m humbled by the recent love, I’m hungry to keep improving what we do and how we do it. As I reflect on last week’s activity, the lesson that stands out to me most is that people are the most important part of change, not products.

For a while, I have had the sense that education reform has moved on from human capital as a lever for change. We already have great talent organizations such as Teach For AmericaTNTP,New Leaders for New SchoolsEducation Pioneers and Urban Teacher Center. This list is long. So when there is talk of another human capital pipeline, I notice some folks in our industry begin to side-eye and throw shade. 

Yet, when I think about what had the most impact me, I think of the following:

  1. Brené Brown’s powerful talk on vulnerability. Entrepreneurs often front that we are “killing the game” when we are barely holding it together. Brené reminded me that innovation and creativity do not come without anxiety, uncertainty and fear. It was those feelings as an entrepreneur of color that motivated me to start Camelback. It was those feelings I needed and still battle to lead Camelback. (I’m remembering that time—okay,those times—I found myself curled up on the floor wondering if I could pull off this ambitious vision).
  2. Michelle Molitor’s session on race and equity. Michelle made me step back and remember that while my identity often starts from a racial lens, for others it does not. And that this is actually okay; it is not a moral failure to have your identity begin with sister or husband or friend. In fact, to build great teams and movements we need to understand one another for who we are, rather criticize each other for not being who we desire.
  3. Pahara-Aspen Fellows project updates presentation. Pahara is a leadership development program founded by Kim Smith. The organization seeks change throughpeople. These people (a.k.a. “fellows”), also develop game-changing projects during the program. It is powerful to know that Henry Hipps project has evolved into a convening of education influencers of color. It is powerful to know that Aimee Eubanks Davis (a 2015 Camelback Fellow) turned her Pahara project into Beyond Z, an organization that is going to transform the college to career pipeline for 100,000+ first generation college students.
  4. A bold TFA alum entrepreneur calling out a white male VC on his privilege in open plenary. It was a surreal moment. The alum’s question left me saying “preach,” all-the-while knowing that the answer would be insufficient—not due to malice, but lack of experience and empathy. It was a stark reminder that for every product innovation or all the unique funding structure we could create, the flow of resources will never change until we educate the people in charge or we find more diverse investors (e.g., Reach Capital).
  5. Ben Jealous imploring our movement to make the tent bigger. Invoking Dr. King, Ben said, “If you are comfortable in your coalition, your coalition is too small.” He said that we need to dream bigger dreams and bring more people into the tent.

All these examples start with people. Just like Brené, Michelle, Kim, the “bold TFA alum” and Ben, our team at Camelback is focused on people. The people we focus on are underrepresented social entrepreneurs because they have a “worm’s eye view” on many of the challenges we seek to confront.

We know to get there we need everyone—a broad coalition of people from all walks of life. Please join us--here and here--in our big dream: to create thriving communities, quality education and economic opportunity for everyone in one generation