An Education Philanthropist Looking to Dismantle the Bureaucracy

Dr. Gisèle Huff wants an innovation mindset to take hold in philanthropy

Part One of a Two-Part Interview

Everyone in education would be well served to listen to Dr. Gisèle Huff. In fact, you will find few people with more insight into the history of education. Gisèle not only has a strong knowledge of philanthropy but realizes how improvements have the ability to better shape the future of education.

In this two-part interview, we talk about the history of our education system, the rise of charter schools and the problems bureaucracies can impose on otherwise good ideas. We discuss how the battle over money often takes the focus completely away from the original goal of educating kids the best way can.

happy childrenI mention the role of celebrity and its impact on the world of educational philanthropy over the last 20 years. Gisèle elaborates how celebrity money did exactly what was necessary at the beginning —proving disadvantaged kids were just as eager and able to learn as other more privileged students. “Gates changed the world. So did Mark Zuckerberg. They changed the world.”

But, she says, times are different now, and we need to take a fresher approach than the model of creating a traditionally bureaucratic, old-fashioned, non-risk-taking philanthropic foundation. She wants people to think more like venture capitalists inside education philanthropy.

“Within education ─ throw spaghetti on the wall and take chances,” she says. "Then invest and see whether it works or not. Don’t spend three years doing research because research is often meaningless in this day and age when rapid change occurs as it does.”

Gisèle sees a tough road ahead to get changes to take place. “The problem is that people fall in love with their investments and foundations. They think they know how to do things. But they're not practitioners. They may hire practitioners, but they put them into a bureaucratic environment where they're not allowed to do what they were hired to do. So, then, what have you accomplished?”

About Gisèle Huff

Gisèle HuffDr. Gisèle Huff is the executive director of the Jaquelin Hume Foundation in San Francisco. After a decade in the business world, she earned a Ph.D. in political science, with a concentration in political philosophy, at Columbia University. She has taught at Golden Gate University, San Francisco University High School and Dominican College.

While at University High School, she served as the director of development for twelve years. She currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors of iNACOL and as a member of the Board of Directors of The Learning Accelerator. She was a founding member and served as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Center for Education Reform, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the State Policy Network.

She is a member of the Advisory Board for Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and served as a member of the advisory committee for the National Charter School Research Project at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, and of the Executive Committee of the Digital Learning Council.

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