Why I'm Thrilled to Lose These Board Members


By Christopher Edley, Jr., president and co-founder of the Opportunity Institute

In the past couple of weeks, I've lost three board members. And I couldn't be happier.

Nadine Burke Harris, Lenny Mendonca, and Opportunity Institute co-founder and former board chair Ann O'Leary have all been appointed by California Governor Gavin Newsom to positions in his administration.

I know how deeply committed each of these individuals are to building ladders of success for the young people in our state ... and beyond.

Ann partnered with me to found the Opportunity Institute three years ago to address poverty and racial inequality. We've worked together to build bridges between and among social justice and civil rights groups, grassroots organizations, and advocates with policymakers at the local, state, and national level. We understand no one organization, issue, or strategy will achieve real, substantive, and long-lasting change.

Everyone on our board is truly dedicated to social and economic mobility with a singular focus on equity and has a heart for helping the most vulnerable children and families in our country.

“For too long, we’ve addressed interconnected challenges from early childhood to early career in silos, and I’m eager to help the Opportunity Institute knock these silos down," said Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician, mom, and the founder and CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness. "This new effort understands we must take an ecological approach to address the inequitable health, education, and opportunities of children, youth and families affected by issues such as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).”

Nadine's work on ACEs has focused attention on the impact of adversity on developing young minds but also their resiliency. Now Governor Newsom has tapped Nadine to be the state's first-ever Surgeon General.

When he joined the board, Lenny Mendonca, director emeritus of McKinsey & Company, said:

“Addressing inequality and building stronger ladders to success will only happen with solutions that address the complex, connected factors that play into a person’s life and development. This is just the approach that the Opportunity Institute is taking. The breadth of knowledge and experience in the leadership team is truly impressive, and rarely if ever have I seen a nonprofit board with as much relevant background and stature. Much good will come of this.”  

Lenny's appointment as the Governor's chief business and economic advisor and head of the Office of Business and Economic Development means that the issues of vulnerable families and inequality will be part of the economic discussion from the beginning.

As for Ann, she was an ideal partner in founding the Opportunity Institute because she is a consummate coalition builder and her passion for children and families was evident when I first met her in Washington, D.C. when she was part of the Clinton Administration.  

When she moved to California and went to Berkeley Law School she continued that focus by, among other things, working to have California pass the country's first paid family leave. The list of her accomplishments goes on and on. So it's no surprise to me that Governor Newsom chose her to be his chief of staff recognizing what I and our board also recognized — she can make things happen.

I know much good will come of the leadership that's on Newsom's team. I know because I've seen firsthand what these magnificent people are capable of contributing for the common good.

In some ways, Newsom's "raid" on our board only confirms that our organization is working on the right issues with the right people whether on the board or on staff.

We're glad that the state has such great people now in positions of impact who share our values. We will continue our work with our remaining board members and our wonderful staff —  whether it's breaking down math barriers which stop too many low-income and students of color from entering and completing college, increasing college access for those incarcerated thereby reducing recidivism, or supporting equity advocates and decision-makers with evidence for sound K-12 policymaking and our whole child equity project, which focuses on integrating services and supports so that children and their families can thrive and succeed from the classroom to the workplace.

California has a long way to go to address the basic needs of at-risk students. And even further to go before we're a leader in this area. But I have hope that the folx Newsom has recruited to his team will help make real change in the lives of those trying to break out of the cycle of poverty and break free from the systems of racism and oppression.