Luis de la Fuente, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation

TITLE: Managing Director

FUNDING AREAS: K-12 public schools, charter schools, leadership training, and teaching innovation

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

IP TAKE: Two words: Personalized learning. Half of Broad's education grants go to 21st century learning programs.

PROFILE: Khan Academy. 4.0 Schools. The Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation (previously known as the Innosight Institute). There's a common thread here. Each of these education organizations is developing strategies to integrate technology into 21st-century classrooms, helping bridge digital learning and classroom instruction to personalize education for students. In the education universe, it's known as "personalized learning," and in recent years this philosophy has commanded an increasing number of grant dollars from The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

In fact, those three organizations were just a few of the key Broad grantees. The foundation announced that it had recently provided more than $20 million to personalized learning nonprofits. Khan Academy, which offers free online tutorials for students, nabbed a big portion—$4 million—and Broad is quickly becoming a funding leader on the issue.

In three years time, personalized learning funding has grown from one-tenth of all grant dollars to one-half for this foundation. "Although technology should never replace teachers, when used correctly, it can empower teachers and parents to personalize education in a scalable way that is not otherwise possible," Luis de la Fuente said when the foundation announced a round of 2013 education investments.

de la Fuente is managing director of Broad's education program, and he's definitely someone education fundraisers should know, especially nonprofits focused on providing or developing blended learning strategies. Luis grew up in Yreka, California, where he attended public school. He went on to earn a Bachelor's in biology from the University of California at Berkeley and a Ph.D. in developmental biology from the University of California at San Francisco. He became interested in improving the education system when he began working with second grade teachers, trying to help them get kids excited about science. About his own formative years as a young student and how it connects to his work now, de la Fuente has said:

"I grew up in Yreka, a rural town in northern California. I was lucky in that it was safe, I had decent schools, and I had wonderful parents. They helped me understand that school was a pathway to success, even if it didn’t always seem relevant or engaging. Most of the students in urban schools I visit are not so lucky. Many are dealing terrible family lives and crippling poverty. And for some, there’s not a single example of an adult in their lives who has achieved success through school so it’s hard for them to believe that they will either. For them, once school becomes boring or irrelevant, there’s not much reason to stay the course."

Though de la Fuente's childhood was rural, Broad's program focuses on the urban, including urban public school districts, which serve a quarter of all students in the United States.

But no matter where and what the school, the end product is always to improve outcome. To accomplish this, the program focuses on empowering teachers, school districts, and most importantly, students. "Every person and every dollar in school district central offices and schools must be focused—efficiently and effectively—on students, not adults, and must be held accountable for results," the program's goals state.

This attitude is certainly in line with de la Fuente's professional approach. Before joining Broad, de la Fuente worked for McKinsey & Company, the powerhouse consulting firm, where he developed and implemented business strategies for fortune 500 companies. And after leaving his small northern California town, he pursued very results-oriented education: a bachelor's degree in molecular and cell biology from the University of California, Berkeley and a Ph.D. in developmental biology from the University of California, San Francisco.

Efficiently and effectively; that's an important takeaway for fundraisers looking to partner with de la Fuente and The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. For instance, that $4 million grant to Khan Academy—probably the most well-known and fastest-growing blending learning organization—will help the organization analyze lessons to determine which are the most effective, as well as build out more workshops and resources for teachers and expand its reach. 

The recent grants also showed that Broad is willing to work with innovative newcomers. A $1.35 million grant went to education startup New Classrooms Innovation Partners. Currently in its first year, NCIP's founders developed Teach to One, a program that uses technology and collaborative learning to reach students. Prior to the grant, a pilot program saw promising results, but the grant does show a bit of risk on the part of Broad.

"These organization are among those demonstrating the most promising results," de la Fuente said. Boiled down: If your organization has data that can show effectiveness, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation may be willing to invest.


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