Nancy Kail '84
This interview is dated 6/28/2015.
Nancy Kail is the recent past president of Saving the Next Generation Foundation, an international organization that helps at risk young people in the Middle East through education programs. She previously helped to start and served as the Founding Chair of the Greenwich Alliance for Education, a local education foundation that enables private sector support for public school education. She was also publicly elected to serve a four-year term on her town's Board of Education. Nancy has headed several K-12 and higher ed-related efforts and was also a vice president in the Corporate Finance Department of Wertheim Schroder & Co Inc. Nancy currently serves on the Board of Saving the Next Generation and recently joined the Board of her graduate school, The Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. She earned an MBA from Wharton and an MA in International Studies at UPenn through Lauder in 1989. Nancy is fluent in Spanish.
Why did you choose to work at a non-profit?
I grew up in a family that has always been involved in our community and not-for-profit work. But in making work decisions, I have simply pursued opportunities that intrigued me in the for-profit, not-for-profit, and public-sector areas. When I was a sophomore at Brown, a guest speaker in Dean [Barrett] Hazeltine's Engineering 9 class painted such an intriguing picture of careers in his field, I interviewed for a summer job at his firm and worked in the corporate finance department of his investment bank. After graduating as an IR [international relations] major, I looked for positions that would keep me involved in international work and wound up at an international economic development organization. After earning an MBA and MA in international studies, I returned to corporate finance and then went on to education-related and international not-for-profit work.
What is your greatest success or failure? And what did you learn from that experience?
I consider starting the Greenwich Alliance for Education, an organization that drives education innovation and helps economically disadvantaged public school students, a big personal success. I loved leading the team that took an idea for solving a nagging problem and turned it into a model organization that addresses important education needs. Ten years after founding the Alliance, I'm so pleased that its work and impact are still growing and that it continues to attract participation from the area's finest minds and leaders. I feel like I am the organization's proud grandparent!
What are the pluses or minuses of working for a non-profit?
My non profit work allows me to tackle head-on issues or problems I most care about. I also like start-ups and the challenge of creating something using limited resources. Recently, as president of Saving the Next Generation (SNG), I established the U.S. presence of a Lebanon-based organization that eliminates extremism by providing economically disadvantaged students in the Middle East with education opportunities. Big challenge! I loved it! I developed a board, oversaw U.S. based programs, established strategic partnerships, found funding, networked, created a marketing and communications program, and installed a technology infrastructure. The downside of working in the not-for-profit sector is that compensation levels are often lower than they are for equivalent private-sector work. Another difficulty in some not-for-profit work is the challenge of demonstrating results and measuring impact. For example, in the education arena it's tricky to determine good measures of teacher effectiveness or curriculum impact.
Why are you passionate about education?
Education is the most efficient way to support everything that makes the world go around. Take the WLC's Women's Launch Pad program for example, I have had the privilege of mentoring several students. All are remarkable women and happily, I am still in touch with several of them. I see them as our future leaders in government, science, medicine, the environment, social services, teaching, urban planning, international affairs and technology. In addition, in my work in K-12 and higher education, I have grappled with issues that really grab me: How do we successfully educate economically disadvantaged students? What's the best curriculum and pedagogy for a global economy? How should we integrate technology? How do you best train, evaluate and compensate excellent teachers and education leaders? What's the role of independent schools? How do we adequately finance public school education?
What impact has Brown had on your life?
Since freshman year 1980-81 to today, Brown has played a huge role in my life. I loved my college years. Brown inspired creativity, curiosity, confidence and an entrepreneurial spirit. Some of my closest friends and key mentors in my life are from my undergraduate experiences. I relish the fact that Brown encourages a lifelong relationship with the University. In addition to serving on the WLC and as a WLP mentor, I've been active with the class of '84, served as treasurer of the Brown Alumni Association and on the Brown Annual Fund Leadership Council, interviewed prospective students and worked with the Cuba study abroad program. These activities have connected me with a diversity of students, faculty, administrators, and alumni. It doesn't get any better than that!!
What have you gained from your WLP mentoring experience?
Through my mentees I have gained: knowledge of current-day Brown; a glimpse into the minds of today's twenty-somethings — their hopes, interests, concerns and problems; respect for how young people deal with adversity — socioeconomic, social-emotional, family-related and other; inspiration from my mentees' ingenuity, grit and determination; practice in good listening, patience, understanding, diplomacy, empathy, and flexibility. I always enjoy being in the company of my mentees and hope they feel I give to them as much as I receive back when I work with them.
Why do you think it's important to give back to Brown?
As my parents and other role models have always done, it's my responsibility — and my pleasure — to give back to Brown. Great universities such as Brown can best inspire great ideas, thinkers, and doers if they continuously engage all parts of their community — students, faculty and alumni alike.
What female leaders do you look up to and why?
There are several female leaders who I consider role models, including the founders and leaders of the WLC. These women don't just talk, they do. They analyze and identify needs, thoughtfully develop and implement practical solutions, and then evaluate their work and make continuous improvements. The WLP itself and the BrownConnect internship program are perfect examples of this work. These leaders are good team players and neither seek nor require praise or accolades in return for their contributions. And of course, they are sharp as whips!