Friday, March 21, 2014.
Benjamin Todd Jealous (main picture), the former NAACP
president, who has weaved a career through politics, the Black press and civil
rights, has now announced his next course of action in pursuit of racial
equality and economic justice in America.
Jealous and the Oakland,
Calif.-based Kapor Center for Social Impact, located in the billionaire-
Silicon Valley announced this week that he has joined the Center as its first
venture partner. The center's co-founders and co-chairs Mitchell Kapor and
Freada Kapor Klein are bringing Jealous on to find tech-savvy entrepreneurs and
inventors with ideas for using technology for social impact, mainly to fill
racial and economic gaps in America.
Jealous will help find
the entrepreneurs, help them shape their tech visions; plus establish the
selection criteria for possible seed money. He will also help lead the center's
effort to make investments in non-profit organizations that are about closing
social gaps and will join the board of the Kapor Center-funded Level Playing
Field Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending racial barriers
in science, technology, engineering and math.
"I've always been
interested in technology. I've always been interested in [deepening] the social
impact. And I've always been very curious about ways to use technology to
advance the social impact," Jealous said in an interview this week.
"When Mitch and Frieda came forth and offered me the opportunity to join
the Kapor Center for Social Impact and start trying new things every
day...while still staying focused on achieving my life's mission of and
leveling the playing field and closing gaps to access and opportunity in our
community and the country as a whole, I leapt at it because it had been a long
time since I'd tried something new that had the potential to level the playing
field for hundreds of thousands and millions of people."
Jealous says one of his
first stops will be a learning tour of Silicon Valley, the South Bay portion of
San Francisco, which leads the nation in cutting edge technology. The Kapor
Center has a program for underrepresented college students to get paid
internships in Silicon Valley companies.
Jealous, who dates his
keen interest in technology back to a fourth and fifth grade computer science
program, served as president/CEO of the NAACP for five years until his
resignation late last year. There, his leadership in technology grew NAACP's
mobile messaging base from 5,000 activists to 423,000 and from 175,000 email
activists to 1.3 million.
skills also harken back to when he started as executive director of the
200-member National Newspaper Publishers Association in 2000 with a vision of
bringing the Black Press on line with websites and a full-service news service
for its members. Before his departure almost half of NNPA's newspapers were on
line and the wire service continues to thrive.
Jealous' record of using
technology to fight for racial justice is what established the mutual
attraction between him and the Kapor Center.
"Ben has spent his
career working to end racial and economic gaps in society, from the criminal
justice system to education to health care," said co-founder Freada Kapor
Klein in a statement. "We are tremendously pleased that he will bring his
vast experience, strategy and energy to the tech sector as the next frontier in
his life's work for justice and inclusion."
Jealous' civil rights
career is just as important as his tech interest said co-founder Mitchell
Kapor, one of the first Silicon Valley billionaires. "As an entrepreneur
and an investor, I've built my career on seeing the possibilities of good ideas
and the right team, and then bringing that vision to life. By bringing Ben to
the Kapor team, we are making a bet that someone who has succeeded in changing
the broader world in so many ways will do the same in our world."
When Jealous left the
NAACP last year, he said he would spend more time with his growing family and
would also work to start a political action committee (PAC) for transformative
Democratic and Republican candidates. He said this week that he will continue
to do it all.
"I will reserve a
portion of my time continuing my work in politics. This will be 80 percent of
my time and 20 percent will be continuing to build the PAC," he said.
"It'll be separate and ongoing work."
As for his family,
Jealous says he will remain bi-coastal, primarily living in Maryland with his
family even as he travels for the Kapor Center.
The Center has already
made major strides in its quest for social justice. Jealous ticked off a list
of ideas, aps and inventions as examples that have already received funding.
They include technology that lowers the astronomical cost of telephone calls
from inmates to their families; a blue tooth hearing aid that costs only $75
instead of the normal $3,000-$5,000; technology that helps parents and children
with bi-lingual education; a way to send money home to another country without
paying a 30 percent remittance fee; and a way to make college education
available for the cost of a Pell grant.
"So, that's what
we're talking about here...Very similar to my work at the NAACP. We're working
on multiple gaps simultaneously," Jealous said. "It's impossible not
to be excited."