Head of School Vinny Dotoli recently sat down with Eric Eckholdt, executive director of the Credit Suisse Americas Foundation, to talk about Credit Suisse’s partnership with Harlem Academy, its long-standing commitment to education, and the importance of providing opportunities for promising children from underserved communities.
What is Credit Suisse Americas Foundation’s overall focus and what is your role?
Credit Suisse and its employees have a long-standing commitment to strengthen our communities and increase the capacity of nonprofit organizations, and the Foundation serves to fulfill those commitments. I oversee our philanthropic work throughout the Americas. Most of our employees are in New York, so naturally a lot of our philanthropy relates to New York.
Why is education so important to Credit Suisse?
Among the causes we support, education is by far the largest because we think it’s the best intervention for a life of upward mobility. Education opens doors. It creates opportunity. Credit Suisse’s desire to see more people from underserved communities thrive in society is what fuels our investment in education.
When we added a new strategic investment in education in 2009, we spent a great deal of time assessing opportunities. For us the answer was largely to invest in schools serving low-income children, especially those that had the potential to grow and serve more kids. We ensured that we had exposure to schools serving a range of children, including high-potential ones.
Why are you invested in high-potential children?
The education reform movement has been amazing in bringing change and opportunity for low-income children. Much of its focus has been on helping the lower performers reach proficiency. While that is critical work — and we’re proud that we’ve made substantial investments in schools serving these kids — high-potential children have been left out of the conversation. There’s an assumption that high-potential kids will find their own way. Nothing could be further from the truth. That’s one of the reasons we’re grateful for the opportunity to support Harlem Academy.
Think about it this way: If your child is a promising athlete, do you just assume he’s going to excel? Or do you give him extra coaching and extra opportunities to develop and grow? He might get to a certain point without it, but he’s unlikely to become a great player. It’s important to place focus and attention on children with promise. That’s what it’s all about – helping each child find his unique gifts and talents and maximizing them, not to mention how important serving high-potential kids is to our future leadership pipelines.
How does Harlem Academy fit in, and what more needs to be done?
First and foremost, Harlem Academy is about access and serving high-potential, low-income students well. It demonstrates excellence day in and day out, which is profoundly difficult. Harlem Academy is a light to others. Serving more kids is the next step, as well as joining with others to be a loud and unified voice for them.
What do you think is the most important message in the citywide – and national – conversation on this issue?
There needs to be a change in understanding around the issue of high-potential children. One of the fundamental challenges, as I mentioned before, is the assumption that these kids will find their own way simply because they are so talented. We need to shift the narrative. Society isn’t focused on high-potential children and why it’s important to help them maximize their gifts. Many of these kids aren’t even being identified, much less served. We have to work with others who care about this issue to amplify the conversation and turn a lens on the problem, We also need to persuade new supporters and develop more solutions.
Credit Suisse employees invest their time with our students one-on-one. They read books together and play chess together. Why is volunteering with us important?
It’s important because of the meaningful relationships that develop, and it makes us a better donor. Harlem Academy has been exceptional in providing volunteer opportunities for our employees that are genuinely meaningful to the children and to us. I get feedback from our people all the time about the chess program, in particular. They love it, and they keep going back. That shows me that this volunteer program is really working. Who wouldn’t want to spend time with young people like your students who are smart, energetic, and eager to meet others? It’s a thrill to meet a child that you can have a great conversation with and play a challenging game of chess with. There is something very powerful about the one-on-one connection between an adult and a child.
How would you like to see your partnership with Harlem Academy evolve and grow over the coming years?
We would love to be a part of the school’s continued growth and success in whatever way you need us. And hopefully we can continue to build on the connectivity between our employees and Harlem Academy students. Bottom line: We want to grow what is already a great relationship.
Thank you to the Credit Suisse Americas Foundation for supporting scholarships for our students.