I went to an amazing event this weekend. One of my close friends, Raj Vinnakota, started an education foundation about 7 years ago in Washington, D.C., called the SEED Foundation. The foundation’s first venture is the nation’s first urban public charter boarding school, located in the Anacostia section of town and dedicated to providing a college prep environment for kids who otherwise might not even finish high school in the inner city of D.C. The school has had a tremendous amount of national recognition, from Oprah, to Time, to Good Morning America, to Newsweek.
The school has now been up and running for six years, starting with a group of seventh graders back in 1998, and this Saturday, that first class graduated. Impressively, all 21 seniors are going to college, including some going to Princeton, Georgetown, and Penn. Alma Powell spoke at commencement. The event was one of the most moving things I’ve ever attended. The kids and their families were all so proud, and justifiably so.
Raj and I have followed fairly similar paths since meeting in college. Almost 100% of the same activities at Princeton, same first job after college at Mercer Management Consulting, lots of friends in common, similar family backgrounds. The only thing we have in common from the last 5 years, though, is that we’ve raised the same amount of money as leaders of our respective organizations — me for the for-profit Return Path, Raj for SEED.
Attending the SEED graduation gave me a twinge of guilt that I’m not doing something quite as overtly good for society, but it has an inspirational effect on me in two ways. First, it gave me hope for mankind’s future that people as talented as Raj are doing overt good for the less fortunate every single day. Second, it gave me lots of encouragement to build a successful company so that both the company, and I personally, can give back to society over time in other ways, both with money and with time.
Raj tells me that, now that he’s proven the model, he’s going to have a second school up and running by 2006, with more to come after that. All I can say is, good luck, and let me know how I can help!