Simon-DeVos Prize Winner Discusses Importance of School Choice at Philanthropy Roundtable’s Annual Meeting

Philanthropy Roundtable’s 2021 Simon-DeVos Prize for Philanthropic Leadership winner, William E. “Bill” Oberndorf, issued a call to action on education reform at the organization’s Annual Meeting last month in Colorado Springs, Colo.  Following the prize presentation, Oberndorf, an investor and philanthropist, participated in a moderated discussion with American Federation for Children board member Kathy Hubbard. The conversation focused on Oberndorf’s work as a philanthropist, particularly his efforts in education reform, mental health and poverty alleviation, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area. While the discussion was wide-ranging, Oberndorf told meeting attendees that expanding education opportunities for children should be top of mind. 

“I hope, if there’s one thing you leave this conference with, it’s a sense of great urgency around this issue,” he said.

Oberndorf, who serves as chairman of the American Federation for Children and the American Federation for Children Growth Fund, the nation’s largest school choice and advocacy organizations, has made education reform a centerpiece of his work. He stressed that now is the time for supporters to spread the word about the movement, particularly in light of “devastating consequences” for children resulting from public school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Just think, if every medical worker in this country doesn’t show up for a year, or every delivery person in this country says, ‘We aren’t going to show up,’” he said. “That is essentially what happened in K-12. And that is outrageous.” 

By contrast, he cited successful attempts by private and charter school administrators to keep kids learning. 

“Modest tuition, private schools, inner city schools, they made sure those kids were getting an education,” Oberndorf said.  He added, “They made sure it was either online or in classroom, and they got up and operating, because they felt a responsibility to do it. And also it was their charge.”

Oberndorf said the work of these administrators and others in school choice will help set disadvantaged children up for success down the road. 

“It is only through education that you have upward mobility,” he told the audience.

Watch the full prize presentation and moderated conversation at the top of this post, which includes more about Oberndorf’s philanthropic efforts, his advice for philanthropists and his “secret sauce” to persuade other donors to join in the causes he has championed. 

To learn more about the Simon-DeVos Prize for Philanthropic Leadership, click here.