Calling all Private Sector Pioneers: Make an Impact from Right Where You Are

This is an unapologetic call to action aimed squarely at the Education Pioneers Alumni who are currently working in the private sector.

I’m making the call because I am one of you, and we are needed.

I see the same mailings that you do. The ones that tout the fact that over 70% of Education Pioneers Alumni are employed full-time in the education sector. If you are anything like me, a member of the 30%, you might have an odd feeling when reading that stat. I get that feeling.

As a bit of background, I was first introduced to Education Pioneers as a Fellow in the 2009 Boston summer cohort. During my Fellowship I was placed directly with EP, where I helped think through and ultimately redesign the Fellowship recruiting process for summer Fellows.

Now, by day, I’m a Principal in Bain & Company’s Chicago office. But, also by day (on just a fewer numbers of days), I have the pleasure of serving on Education Pioneers’ Illinois Regional Executive Board.

If you are currently in the private sector, the fact that you are even reading this means that you, like me, are inspired and energized by EP’s mission to recruit, connect, and advance transformative leaders who will help solve the complex issues present in all facets of education, at all levels, today. It may also mean that you, like me, are not, nor are you likely be, engaged in the education sector as a full time employee. You might remain in the 30%.

Even for us in the 30%, there is much that we are called to do. Regardless of your specific views on any of the many and varied issues, I think we can agree that our collective failure or success in addressing the education sector’s challenges will have lifelong implications for the thousands of students who are sitting in classrooms somewhere out there at this very moment.

I view Education Pioneers as a critical player because I believe that thoughtful and engaged leadership is required. Having been a Fellow, I believe that EP truly does what they aspire to do. I also believe that it takes a village to raise a child and that we all bear the moral obligation to play a role – not just for our own children as parents but for all children as members of and the future of our communities.

For this reason, I’m proud to continue to serve Education Pioneers in the way that I do today. It’s the way that I can take what I’ve learned, the experiences that I’ve had, and contribute. At this stage in my life and my career, working full-time in the education sector is not right for me. But I still want to contribute my skills.

And I’m advocating for your involvement too, and for you to bring your skills to the table in the way and in the place that’s best for you. As a member of the IL Executive Board, my contributions focus on longer-term strategic issues, and on trying to be a voice of EP Alumni – especially those of us who are passionate about education and want to do something but have felt or still feel “blocked” because we are not full time educators or reformers.

If this describes you – if you are passionate and want to be involved, but are struggling to find the motivation or the mechanism to do it – I recommend three steps that helped me:

1. Spend a moment – or lots of moments – considering the full balance of your activities: professional, extra-curricular professional, and personal.

I try to do this regularly. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of my professional life and my personal life (I have three children, all four-years-old or under). But, I strongly believe that we are all also called to be good citizens, and to be active in our communities in ways that do not promote our immediate self-interest.

I took time to consider if I was fulfilling what I viewed all of my obligations to be. Was I getting anywhere near my full potential given the multitude of constraints on my time? What organizations and issues am I passionate about that would be a valuable use of my time? Honestly, I care a lot about education, but I care about other things, too, and that’s OK.

2. Construct a long list of opportunities to contribute. Put down on paper more than you could possibly do and then prioritize.

When I made my list, I identified a lot of issues I cared about and ways to contribute. Education was on the top of the list, and being on a board felt like a really good opportunity for me. I felt a bit stuck, though, because in my prior experience, boards were either a glorified fundraising mechanism with a large minimum check value, or an associate board primarily focused on organizing fundraising events and galas. Nothing against those opportunities, but they did not feel like the best way for me to engage.

A regional board was just the right fit for me. There is still a national board, and are often still associate boards. The regional board sits somewhat in the middle and focuses on playing a traditional board role for a specific city or region. This allows me to focus on local strategic issues in a way that is helpful for the organization, fits within my strengths (and means), and keeps me connected to the local education sector.

3. Start asking around about opportunities.

You need a long list because not everything will pan out. Also, new opportunities will come up, so be open to finding them. I hadn’t even considered Education Pioneers, but that opportunity came up when I was asking Sara Guderyahn (EP’s VP of Partner Strategy) about potential board opportunities in Chicago more broadly.

When you find a good opportunity, take it. If you take on too much, back off. If you have more capacity than you originally thought, take on more. The point is to get involved, now. Every journey, regardless of the distance, begins with one step.

Bottom line: the sector still needs you. There are ways for you to bring yourself, your passion, and your skills to make an impact in a way that aligns with the reality of all of your private sector and personal obligations.

If you need any ideas or even just a morale boost, please feel free to reach out to me directly. (I can be reached at If you don’t need any ideas and are already actively contributing, connect with the nearest EP Executive Director, and let them know what you are doing!

Alexander Duchnowski Alexander (Sasha) Duchnowski, currently a Principal at Bain & Company, was an Education Pioneers Fellow in 2009. As a Fellow, Sasha spent his summer working with Education Pioneers’ national recruitment team in Boston and updated processes and tools for Fellowship admissions. Prior to Education Pioneers, Sasha spent four years with Bain & Company in their Chicago and Sydney offices, working on a wide range of management and strategy projects in a variety of industries. As a member of a Bain & Company pro bono team partnered with the Northwestern University Settlement House, Sasha also contributed heavily to the application and planning for the Rowe Elementary School charter grammar school in Chicago. Sasha holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BBA from the University of Michigan – Stephen M. Ross School of Business