Apr 2024

A Farewell from EdFunders' Chief Program Officer

April 18, 2024

Ulcca Joshi Hansen

Dear EdFunders members,

As we enter a beautiful spring, I am writing to share the news that I will be stepping down from my role at Grantmakers for Education, with my final day being this Friday, April 19.

I joined the organization just over three years ago as chief program officer at a moment when our country was being confronted with the question of who we want to be. The global pandemic was showing how interdependent we are as individuals and as nations. It was exposing, in heartbreaking ways, how inequitable our economic, healthcare and education systems are, and the huge disparities in how communities and young people were impacted during this time. All of this felt even more urgent in the context of the Black Lives Matter Movement and its call to name and address the role that race plays in our society. At the same time, I had many conversations with members who were disapppointed that their investments over the prior two decades had not led to significant improvements in student outcomes. Many were questioning whether the education system is capable of changing, and whether philanthropic efforts would be better focused on areas such as economic mobility, housing and healthcare.

In that context, I felt it was important for our programming to invite exploration of critical questions. What are the connections between how we have been educating young people and social challenges like racism, climate change and polarization? How are we reducing our collective vulnerability to well-organized campaigns that question science, foster division and undo advances in civil and human rights? What does this mean for the narratives we create about what it will take to improve education in this nation? How does a different narrative influence our theories of change and approaches to grantmaking? And what does all of this mean for how we show up to the work of grantmaking; how can we approach equity not as a set of things we do, but rather as a way we show up with one another and in our work?

It has been an honor to work with the EdFunders team and you, our members, to co-create programs and spaces to explore the contours of these questions. I have appreciated the opportunity to learn with and from so many of you. I’ve been excited by your interest in conversations about what it takes for people to thrive and learn deeply; for each of us to understand our responsibility for the well-being of the collective and not only our individual advancement; to honor and nurture the many ways in which individuals and communities define and achieve success; and to reconsider the very purpose of education at a moment when advances in technology and AI mean that human beings must understand and grow into their uniquely human capabilities.

I sincerely believe that education philanthropy has a unique and vital role to play at this moment of change and disruption. I do not believe we can take for granted our nation’s collective commitment to supporting robust and high-quality public education systems and postsecondary pathways accessible to all young people. We need a renewal of this shared commitment, and we need to explore and lean into grantmaking approaches that empower communities to build new systems designed to support a future-facing approach to education. This must be an approach aligned with what young people need to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

I am confident in and excited about the blossoming leadership of Stephanie Waller, who will take the helm of the programs team upon my departure. And I look forward to remaining connected as we each take on this critical work.

With gratitude and appreciation for all you do to make this world a better place.