Thinking Hard About Schools
Behind every successful student is a dedicated teacher. Behind many of the best teachers are results-based support programs. And in Indianapolis, behind these programs there is The Mind Trust, a clearinghouse for educational innovation.
By training leaders, organizing local philanthropic initiatives, forging partnerships with organizations such as Teach for America and College Summit, and recruiting research talent, The Mind Trust has dramatically improved the quality of education in Indianapolis and beyond. Its “Charter-School Incubator” undergirds a network of leaders who are bringing charter-school opportunities to areas that lack good school options. Grants provided by its Education Entrepreneurship Fellowship support educational innovators seeking the best ways to meet community needs. The Mind Trust is also welcomed as a third party to guide city-wide policy. Its “Creating Opportunity Schools” report has defined the conversation on school reform in Indianapolis since its release in 2011. —Caitrin Nicol
Catering to the Home Team
James John Liautaud is famous for two things: building the 1,500-store sandwich-shop empire known as Jimmy John’s (after his father gave him a loan and a choice between starting a business or enlisting in the military after high school), and his outspoken criticism of business-stifling government policies.
What is less well known are his extensive contributions to the community that he and his family have long called home: Champaign, Illinois, also the headquarters of his company. All his profits from Champaign go back into the community, for the most part in anonymous gifts to local organizations. Some of the donations that have become public include $1 million toward the construction of a new YMCA, $300,000 to a local health center (half of whose patients are uninsured) plus $80,000 toward its low-income dental clinic. He has also supported various projects in area schools, from mentoring, to field trips, to interview preparation. And he and his parents gave $5 million to the University of Illinois to start a business school in nearby Chicago. The theme uniting these gifts? Removing obstacles to individual success, and unleashing opportunities for people who work hard. —Caitrin Nicol
Modern Music in MO
Rex Sinquefield steered himself from a Missouri orphanage to leadership of a major investment firm in only 30 years, in the process developing some of the first index funds and a large fortune that he is now active in giving away. Sinquefield remains intensely loyal to his home state, where he retired in 2005, and interested in improving its quality of life. His wife Jeanne’s passion for art and music (she is a string bass player) has helped shape the couple’s philanthropy. In 2005 they launched an ambitious statewide program of camps and competitions for a variety of ages to promote composition of new music. Their later gifts added funding for scholarships, a summer music festival, and more. Their New Music Initiative aims to build “a leading center in the areas of composition and new music” right in the bosom of Missouri. —Brian Brown
Training Brains for Business
Charles Koch has spent years studying and promulgating what he calls “principled entrepreneurship”—the combination of “judgment, responsibility, initiative, economic and critical thinking skills, and sense of urgency necessary to generate the greatest contribution.” To encourage those capacities in the next generation of Americans, he founded Youth Entrepreneurs in 1991, at Wichita High School North in his Kansas hometown. Initially an eight-week program, YE has since grown into a year-long entrepreneurship course, licensed by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, reaching more than 1,000 students each year at 30 high schools in Kansas and Missouri. All students are welcome, but at-risk students are YE’s target audience.
YE teaches entrepreneurship basics with hands-on immersion. Every student writes a business plan, and YE encourages them to use their plans to launch real-life companies. The plans are judged in contests, with the prizes including scholarships and venture capital funding. Students also visit businesses, learn from entrepreneur-mentors, and engage in sales competitions with their peers. Upon completion of the program they receive high-school credit and are eligible for community-college credit as well. “Instead of reading about being an entrepreneur, we got to do it, make it, present it,” says Crystal Lathrop, a 2000 YE alumna who currently owns her own small businesses in Wichita. “It made me feel like a real entrepreneur. YE is a class that can benefit you your whole life.” —Evan Sparks
Alice’s Integrity Loan Fund
Getting a loan from Alice’s Integrity depends equally on the moral character of the applicant and on the quality of the business plan.
When Alice Dittman was president and CEO of Cornhusker Bank, she often found herself wishing that she could give out more loans than she did. Sometimes the business idea looked good, but the credit history wasn’t there. So in 2011, soon after she retired, she decided to pick up where her previous job had left off. Dittman donated $1 million to start Alice’s Integrity Loan Fund, a microfinance program to help entrepreneurs get small businesses started. Unlike traditional loans, getting a loan from Alice’s Integrity depends equally on the moral character of the applicant and on the quality of the business plan. Loans for a maximum of $5,000 are given out at 6 percent fixed interest, for a maximum term of 36 months. The loans can be used either as start-up funding or to expand an existing business—perhaps to buy tools, a computer, or supplies. Recipients don’t just get money; they also receive mandatory training and mentoring from retired executives and the Nebraska Business Development Center. Dittman’s effort is entirely local—only residents of Lancaster County are eligible for the fund. —Brian Brown
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