Doerr Institute for New Leaders

Building Real-world Leadership In Every Student

  • Education
  • 2015

Experts say that most of the capacity to lead people is learned, not innate. And, typically, about 70 percent of what helps people become effective leaders is learned through experience rather than classrooms. This presents a challenge for educators.

Two veteran philanthropists have just taken up that challenge. John Doerr is a prominent venture capitalist in Silicon Valley whose philanthropy includes co-founding the NewSchools Venture Fund. His wife, Ann, is an electrical engineer and chair of the Khan Academy, a leading nonprofit in online education. Both are graduates of Rice University in Houston—where they have just established an institute that will help every student become a more effective leader.

Upon arrival as a freshman, each Rice student will be assessed for leadership skills, then given a custom plan combining classroom instruction, personal coaching, and hands-on experience in real-life roles that will hone his or her skills during each year on campus. The program will be directed by a former brigadier general in the U.S. Army who also taught leadership at West Point and the Yale School of Management, and it is funded by a $50 million gift from the Doerrs.

“Our nation and world need great teams and great leaders,” said John Doerr in announcing the pledge. In almost all work today, the skills needed to put good ideas into action are “paramount,” he insisted. Rice president David Leebron suggested that students would be attracted to this unconventional addition to the college-training process. “We expect students to say, ‘yes, that’s what I want from an education.’”

The Doerrs previously donated $15 million to build the leadership skills of engineers, a successful effort they are now expanding. Data will be collected on how Rice students change in leadership competence as a result of this unique collegewide program. The results will be used to identify the most effective practices, with an ultimate goal of expanding useful leader training to young people at other institutions as well.