Lila Ibrahim, Chair, Team4Tech; Partner, KPCB
Life has its pivotal moments, which inspire us in ways we didn’t think possible. For me, Team4Tech is a collection of life-changing moments from the past decade. It’s based on the desire, the need and the passion to give students an opportunity for a better life, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, or socioeconomic status. As a trained engineer who discovered the world through Silicon Valley, I believe that technology is an essential tool for 21st century education, especially if students are to have an opportunity for better jobs, and therefore better lives. This belief is in my roots.
Let's go back to those life-changing moments. One of mine came as a Facebook group invite: “My Friends Reunion.” I was confused, but upon closer inspection I realized these were my students from a decade ago. In 2000, I took a two-month sabbatical from my job at Intel to build a computer lab at the orphanage where my father was raised, located about an hour outside Beirut, Lebanon. At the time, I was a 30-year-old, first-generation American woman with an engineering degree, a great career, and a clear appreciation for my family background. After all, I was raised by a father who talked about how critical this orphanage had been to his education and his path to opportunity growing up. I had the urge to give back and say thanks. Little did I know the path it would set me on.
With financial backing from friends, colleagues, and Intel, I set out to build a computer lab and give these students the same opportunity that students had in the best U.S. schools. But back in 2000, stable electrical power was a scarcity at the orphanage, let alone computers, cultural acceptance, and trained teachers! With dad at my side, we built a lab in a mere two months. By the time we were done, it had turned into a community effort — from the drapes sewn by Lebanese women to the battery storage room built by a local metal worker. I taught teachers, and we hired a computer lab teacher. Over the next decade, we built two more labs at the orphanage school. I occasionally heard from students who went on to study engineering in France or journalism in Dubai, students who developed families, had their own children. Now, here they were gathering again. This time, on Facebook! I could still see their young, eager faces learning to turn on computers, explore digital pictures, and use a mouse and keyboard.
Along the way, my career shifted from a technical role to management roles. The collaborative leadership and problem-solving skills that I developed while building those labs in Lebanon were put to great use in the workplace. Eventually, I was building technology for K-12 education as part of Intel’s business efforts. My experience had become a competitive advantage in the workplace — expanding technology into underserved areas.
The next pivotal moment happened when I recruited Julie Clugage into my organization. We teamed well, and I was constantly impressed by her networking skills, her passion for education, and her ability to get things done. In 2009, she came to me with an idea for Intel’s Education Service Corps, a program that would match Intel volunteers with NGOs who wanted to do technology projects in developing countries. After all, Julie and I had both had amazing, life-transforming volunteer experiences. Why shouldn’t others have the chance to do something similar? Our small side project was wildly successful, beyond our expectations. The grassroots effort linked 200 volunteers with 40 projects in the program’s first three years. It renewed employees’ enthusiasm, built loyalty, strengthened teams — and had a significant impact on thousands of students and teachers worldwide.
As part of my Henry Crown Fellowship at the Aspen Institute — a two-year program that aims to foster community-spirited leadership — I was challenged to develop a project that could make an impact on the world. I’ll never forget the exact table at Starbucks where Julie and I caught up — both of us new moms, lacking sleep, juggling careers and families, and still passionate about education in developing countries. I had left Intel by then to join Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), a venture capital firm. That career transition had opened my eyes to the opportunity to catalyze Silicon Valley and give other up–and-coming members of our tech community a chance to have an impact on the world while making a difference. Perhaps we were too caffeinated, but the idea clicked to scale the Education Service Corps beyond the walls of Intel so that more students and more employees could make a difference. Julie’s idea also resonated with me because it meshed so well with my day job.
Now, here we are — headquartered in KPCB's incubation center, about to officially launch Team4Tech with an amazing first project planned for March 2013 in Kenya. We have a few open spots left on our volunteer delegation for this initial project, and a super-strong pipeline of NGOs who want help implementing other education technology projects worldwide.
This vision started more than a decade ago for me. My hope is that a decade from now, we will have helped create opportunities for hundreds of thousands of students and catalyzed a vibrant community of tech professionals whose lives have also been changed by seeing the direct benefits of their volunteer work. Join us in this journey — for the benefit of your career, your life, your company ... and the next generation.