In March, we launched a campaign to shine a spotlight on leaders across America who are taking on some of today's toughest social challenges. We highlighted 20 breakthrough leaders from our network and the groundbreaking work they do every day. As part of the campaign, we also ran a nomination process where we asked people to share with us social impact leaders in their networks who inspire them.
We received almost 100 nominations, all of which were inspiring and telling of how much amazing work is being done in communities across the country to advance equity and opportunity. Over the last few weeks our team reviewed all of the nominations and based on the words of their friends, family, and colleagues we have chosen five amazing winners!
We are excited to introduce our community to this breakthrough leader, Michael Ellison. Michael is CEO of CodePath.org, an organization that is building the largest pipeline of high-performing underrepresented engineers in the industry. Keep reading to read the nomination that drove us to select Michael and to hear about his goals and vision for the future.
BREAKTHROUGH LEADER NOMINATION
"I would like to nominate Michael Ellison, CEO and founder of CodePath.org, for the Breakthrough Leader Award. Michael is a fascinating, young entrepreneur and social impact leader, who is among the most successful, black tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and has launched a groundbreaking nonprofit called CodePath.org that is bridging the gap between major tech employers, like Facebook, and college grads from underrepresented backgrounds who have the talent, but are often overlooked by Silicon Valley.
Michael knows the challenges of breaking into the tech field first hand. He overcame childhood poverty, and at one point homelessness, to found several technology businesses, including one now valued at over $1 billion while still in his twenties. Although race and gender inequities are endemic across many fields, equity gaps in emerging tech fields are among the most pernicious. Today, just 7.4 percent of tech industry employees are African-American, and 8 percent are Latinx--nearly half of their representation in the private sector as a whole.
But the challenges of solving for tech equity gaps are compounded by the systemic nature of the problem. African American and Hispanic students are still underrepresented among graduates of engineering programs and students of color continue to make up a disproportionately low percentage of candidates for high-paying tech jobs in growing fields.
Michael's organization is tackling the problem by collaborating directly with universities to launch programs that allow underrepresented students to earn a computer science degree, while also developing the industry-standard tech skills that employers want and need. It's not simply charity: his graduates are competing with and beating students from elite institutions like MIT and Carnegie Mellon.
Michael brings a personal and intense focus on pragmatic solutions to improving racial and gender diversity in the workplace, and the role of education and training in promoting a more just economy. Michael brings what we consider to be a refreshing candor to issues of equity and inclusion in the digital age. We hope you'll consider him as a strong candidate for this important award."
HEAR FROM MICHAEL ELLISON ON HIS VISION FOR THE FUTURE
What is your big audacious goal?
Our education system fails low income and underrepresented populations. CodePath is tackling the root causes of the lack of diverse representation in tech by improving curriculum and support structures for diverse and low-income populations at scale. Currently at 49 colleges and universities, in the next four years, we will create the largest pathway for underrepresented minorities into tech by reprogramming college CS education nationwide and doubling the number of high performing, underrepresented CS graduates.
How can we make progress towards achieving this goal?
We have expanded our programs by 3x in the last year while also increasing quality and job outcomes for underrepresented minorities. Most programs with similar outcomes are outrageously expensive. Ours are not. We are close to identifying the right relationship between industry, policymakers, philanthropists, and schools to ensure that our programs can reach every student without increasing the cost of education.
What is your call to action for our community?
Not everyone needs or should be a programmer but everyone needs to become comfortable with technology. Digital literacy and data literacy are not optional skills. Technology is transforming every industry and job. We need to make sure that everyone in our communities has the skills needed for the future of work. A deeper understanding of technology will also allow people to create new and better solutions to drive positive change in their communities.
Click here to check out the other breakthrough leaders who were selected.