In February 2009, I attended the National Association of Independent Schools’ annual conference in Chicago. Guy Kawasaki, author and entrepreneur, spoke to a packed house of innovative educators about ice. He told us of a time that if we wanted ice in our homes it had to be cold outside and we depended on ice harvesters with horse drawn wagons to cut it from lakes. He asked us to consider what innovation looked like for an ice harvester. Sharper saws? More horses? Better insulation for the shipment of ice? There’s an improvement curve in ice harvesting and Kawasaki explained that change along the curve could lead to a 10-15% improvement. But, he asserted, true innovation comes from jumping to or creating a new curve. Industrial refrigeration processes made ice harvesting obsolete and spawned a new era of icemen delivering ice to houses. This example illustrates a “jumping to the next curve” rather than simply improving upon an activity in the same curve.
I realized then that the organization I have been privileged to work for was just such an example. Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center (Eagle Rock) reflected a curve jump in philanthropy in 1993.
In 1989, Mr. Koichi Amemiya, president of American Honda Motor Co. , asked two Honda associates to conduct research and find out “what we can do to benefit America and Americans.” That research resulted in the founding of a new philanthropic subsidiary, American Honda Education Corporation and the founding of Eagle Rock in 1993. Unlike conventional corporate philanthropy where money is given to other organizations and good causes, AHM chose to take on an issue directly in this country: reengaging adolescents in high school education.
For almost twenty years we have been graduating students prepared to make a difference in the world and contributing to improving the high school educational experience across the country for all young people. We know high school students are languishing in great numbers in schoolhouses around the country – their minds are not being used well, they are bored to tears and their natural energies are being suppressed. Widespread disengagement results. Honda’s unique approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR) has launched an effort that has reached hundreds of schools and thousands of students over the years.
As the director of professional development my mission is to reengage students and re-energize schools. As a former urban high school principal, I know too well how rare it is to receive excellent support from outside organizations. Remembering my tenure as an urban educator, I have the privilege of offering such support nationwide with the support of Honda’s groundbreaking approach to tackling the cause of education.
This would not have been possible without Honda’s innovative jumping of the curve in philanthropy. More students and schools receive services today as a result of Honda’s example of thinking outside of the box and serving the schools and students most in need.