By Ted Adams, ASF
If the name Sal Khan doesn’t ring a bell, check out Time Magazine’s annual list of The 100 Most Influential People in the World. Or ask my ten-year-old to tell you about Mr. Khan’s video on the Revolutionary War and subtracting fractions.
Salman Amin ‘Sal’ Khan is the founder of the Khan Academy, a free online education platform and nonprofit organization. From a small office in his home, Khan has produced over 3,000 videos elucidating a wide spectrum of academic subjects, mainly focusing on mathematics and the sciences. As of July 2012, the Khan Academy channel on YouTube has attracted more than 355,000 subscribers. …Wikipedia
I asked my son why he likes Sal Khan from the Khan Academy. “I can stop him and start him in a way that I can’t in class,” he said. “I like him because he’s having a conversation with just me. He keeps my attention and uses the computer and pictures and real examples. I can learn as much as I want and it doesn’t matter what grade level.”
As a father, that was sufficient endorsement for me.
Beyond creating a learning platform that engages millions of people around the world, Mr. Khan’s story (from 60 Minutes) is also inspiring and relevant as a case study that reflects key elements of effective philanthropy.
Over the past year ASF has been focusing on the essence of leadership in small foundations. We have spoken with many of our members — trustees, directors, and staff of small foundations – about their perspective on the subject. Many of our findings point to leadership characteristics similar to those embodied by Mr. Khan — a passion and drive to make things better, the capacity to gather information and bring the right people together, and an ability to fully understand a challenge and create a greater vision.
Khan’s story and personal qualities mirror the traits and pathway of many of our members’ own experiences in taking a personal and ultimately simple desire to help and then expanding their vision into a strategic, sustained response to an issue that far transcends the initial rationale for getting involved. Like small foundations, Khan was on the ground, listening and responding creatively to unmet needs.
Mr. Khan has introduced an idea, an approach that has sparked not only enthusiasm and investment but also a global education debate about the appropriate way to maximize technology and the role of the classroom teacher. It is an inspiring story that shares a recipe similar to how our members approach their philanthropy and make an impact in their communities across the country and around the world.
What does on-the-ground philanthropy mean to you? How can philanthropists stay agile and responsive enough to see the next great idea when many of the issues seem so large? One way is to keep a look out, and be ready, for the next Sal Khan.
Ted Adams is ASF’s Director of Marketing and Communications. He and his wife focus their personal philanthropy on raising two creative and compassionate sons.