We have two-for-one this week, with this Q&A with Ken and Candy Deemer, who are a philanthropic power couple. They are founding members of Social Venture Partners here in LA as well as propelling their own philanthropic endeavors in education. I asked them both what drives them to make an impact:
Describe your philanthropic work in five words
Candy: Leadership coaching; Board service in education.
Ken: Increasing the impact of social entrepreneurs
If you could change one issue facing the Los Angeles community, what would it be and how would you start to approach solving the problem?
Maybe it’s strategic or maybe it’s the sign of a strong marriage, but both said the main issue in Los Angeles is education. According to Candy, “I believe Charter Schools offer the fastest (and most economical) way to improve education in LA. If we could expand the Charter School system (and focus that expansion on converting the worst-performing publics to public Charters), that would be a start. But to do this we need a School Board that is willing to champion change, and a teachers’ union (UTLA) that is willing to collaborate and “share the pain to get the gain.”
Ken agreed, noting, “We know from many examples of high performing charter schools and dedicated teachers that it doesn’t need to be this way. Unfortunately the system is designed to protect the interests of the adults, not the students. My approach is to support those dedicated to reform and the organizations that are producing results today.”
Candy added that public outrage and awareness over LA’s education system is low and that people need to see how it really is, “I’d love to send 100 kids in different poor performing schools into their classrooms with Go-Pro cameras … and have them film their day. Then cut that film into a representative sample, to the public, the Board, and the teachers can see just how poor the education is.”
What is your greatest achievement to date as a philanthropist?
Both mentioned being proudest of being part of the founding 5 partners of Social Venture Partners (SVP) in Los Angeles. The now 85-member group seeks to increase the impact and effectiveness of local organization. Candy points to one event in particular, “through the annual Social Innovation Fast Pitch competition, we are expanding the awareness (and effectiveness) of innovative nonprofits in Los Angeles, as well as growing the base community members who get involved in helping nonprofits grow and increase their impact.”
What do you still hope to accomplish as a philanthropist in your community?
The focus for the Deemers is on investing in the future leaders of Los Angeles. According to Ken, the goal is to achieve “greater educational opportunities for more underserved kids” and that “real impact will only be gained by changing the system. Although I’m not directly involved there are many fine organizations that are using political and legal recourse to press for change and a greater voice for parents and children.”
Candy adds, “The DREAM that I hope I live to see (and contribute to) is the day that every child in Los Angeles County gets a quality K-12 education, and every child that graduates from high school with a goal of attending college is academically ready to succeed there, gets accepted to a 4-year college or university, and is financially able to attend.”
What organizations and individuals do you believe are making the greatest social impact and why?
When it comes to picking favorites, the Deemers turn to the charter school movement. Candy says, “I’d point to every founder/leader of an academically successful Charter School in Los Angeles. Marco Petruzzi, CEO of Green Dot Schools; Meg and Randy Palisoc, founders of Synergy Academies, Alison Diaz, founder of Environmental Charter Schools, and many more like them. Also some amazing after-school programs, and academic support programs: A Place Called Home; Posse Foundation; South Central Scholars; Bright Prospect; Harmony Project, and so many more).” Ken points out that there are “numerous small organizations making great impact,” but points to one in particular, for which he is a board member: Environmental Charter Schools.
What is the best way for non-profits to approach you with projects?
Candy, who provides leadership coaching to many organizations, considers matchmaking one of her key talents, always offering to connect “nonprofits with people and resources who can help them. So if they reach out to me, chances are I’ll refer then to someone else, or to another organization. But I’m happy to see what connections I can make. So email me.”
Sign up here to receive the highlights from the Starfish Impact blog in your inbox.