It is with bittersweet emotions I have decided that I will step down as President and CEO of the Educational Alliance at the end of this calendar year.
Hired as a union social worker in 1987 and appointed as the CEO in the summer of 1999, for the past 25 years my life has been intertwined with this agency, and I have dedicated myself to the diverse communities served by the Educational Alliance.
As I embark on this transition process, I feel a profound sense of satisfaction from all that we have achieved together to better the lives of the hundreds and thousands of people who have been changed by their involvement with the Alliance. I choose these words very deliberately, because the distinctive gift of the Alliance is that in contributing to the well-being of those we serve, every staff member, every Board member and every funder likewise benefits from the experience of being part of the Educational Alliance family. Together we have worked to repair our world in real and meaningful ways. Together we have served, learned and led.
I feel that the time is right for the organization, and also for me, to forge ahead into new and exciting endeavors. I am confident that the Educational Alliance is poised for greatness. Our staff is engaged, experienced and dedicated, and nothing short of outstanding. Our Board is passionate about our mission and has a rich and diverse array of talents, skills, and connections.
We are nearing completion of the Manny Cantor Center next fall, a building financed in a recession and constructed in a recovery – a project built in so many ways through our own hands and efforts. As I look at the building taking shape, I note with pleasure the fact that in the last three months alone, we have secured additional commitments of $2.75 million toward the renovation. I take special pride in the fact that we have raised $59 million for this campaign without the involvement of the kinds of expensive consultants typically used for this kind of enterprise. This “can-do/do it yourself” approach has been a hallmark of our agency, and it has allowed us to take on ambitious challenges even in the most difficult times.
I also know that this is the right juncture for a leadership transition, because we have fully implemented the broad and complex strategic plan that we adopted seven years ago. We have begun and are continuing to introduce new and compelling initiatives that are well aligned with our mission, our vision, the needs of our community and our distinctive core competencies; and we have successfully and responsibly ended the services and programs that we were not suited to maintain.
Unlike many 125-year-old agencies which too often seem like dinosaurs lumbering on the landscape, the Alliance has been able to adapt and innovate. The powerful response to our work among thought leaders, funders, foundations, academic institutions, government agencies and think tanks has reached its pinnacle with the enthusiastic response to our groundbreaking pilot program of a dual generation approach to college education.
Collaborating with our Chairmen, Dick Cantor, Alan Jaffe, and now Russell Makowsky, and the entire Board, we have turned the agency around. Our senior staff and our Board are considered the best in the not-for-profit sector, and our funding is diversified, with 58% of our budget derived from non-governmental philanthropic support and client fees. When we face a financial challenge, as we did this year, we are able in just a few short months to navigate toward financial security. As a community-based agency, we are bound to face difficulties at various junctures, but we know now that we have the capacity to surmount any obstacle we encounter, just as we have in these past two and a half decades.
I must confess that I have been thinking for a while about the need to make a transition as CEO of this Agency. I know in my heart that once the Manny Cantor Center opens, this new structure needs new leadership. Certainly, after 25 years I feel that it is the right time for me to explore what I want to do next personally and professionally. In my travels over the past two years, including trips to Africa, Washington, and the Aspen Institute, I have begun to open my mind to my desire to find the next frontier. As those of you who know me well understand, when I work I give my all. My work at the Alliance is consuming, and that is why I need to be free of these responsibilities before I entertain ideas about my future.
There is never a perfect time to make this kind of transition but this feels as close to perfect for me and for the organization as I can imagine.
We have taken big risks as an organization in the past five years. Some of you may even feel that at times our audacious reach has exceeded our grasp. I truly believe that had we not acted to build our new flagship building and create a vision that could take this agency into the 21st century, we would have risked becoming weak physically, financially and programmatically. We saw the future emerging, and we were courageous enough to reach out to meet its challenges.
So now I will prepare myself and the organization for a leadership change. After almost 15 years as CEO and 25 at the agency I have recommended to the Board that they establish a transition committee which can lay the groundwork for a successful CEO search that will allow me to leave in a year. Around the time that the new Manny Cantor Center opens, my successor will be in place to lead the Alliance into its next stage. I intend to spend the rest of this year with all of my energy and passion to continue the exciting work that we are engaged in, situating us in our new flagship building and completing the capital campaign to fully finance the renovation.
I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all of you. You have made my journey here such a blessing. I am so grateful that I can prepare for this transition, certain that the Alliance stands on a strong foundation in every way, and that our communities are ably served and led by an exceptional team of staff and board. What a joy it is to build an organization that is destined to flourish and nourish the people who need us the most.
P.S. Please find a letter to the Educational Alliance community from the Chairman of our Board of Trustees, Russell Makowsky.