Pioneer Profile: Hassan Hassan

In this Pioneer Profile with Hassan Hassan (2012 Alum), he shares the hardest (and most surprising) challenge he's faced as a leader this year, and what he hopes the future holds. Hassan currently is the CEO of 4.0 Schools, an early stage education incubator. He was featured at the 2021 Agents of Change event as an Alum driving meaningful change during crisis. 

Tell us about yourself and how you came to education.

As a child, I immigrated from Sudan with my mother when she won the Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery – a chance to dramatically expand our opportunities. My mom was a teacher who showed me every day to care about education and to invest in my own learning and growth. But I never thought I’d end up in education myself. 

I decided to become an engineer, given that I was naturally good at math. After graduating from college, I worked as an engineer and management consultant. Then one day, a good friend sent me a job posting for what was then called the EP Analyst Fellowship. At first, I wasn’t sure if I should pursue it as a way to contribute to the education sector – after all, it wasn’t a teaching job -- but I ultimately felt that my skills as an analyst had the potential to make a difference. I finally applied, maybe even after the deadline. Joining EP changed my life trajectory.

My ten months as an Analyst Fellow gave me important exposure to the education sector. And it brought me to New Orleans for one of our convenings, where 4.0 Schools hosted one day of our learning. Without EP, I wouldn’t have met the organization that I lead now. 

In fact, so many the relationships I have within education are a result of EP. My ties to EP run deep, and I’m a proud Alum. 

What is your current role, and what impact are you making?

Today, I lead 4.0 Schools as CEO, after succeeding the founder about two years ago. 

4.0 Schools comes down to two things. First, we move money as early as possible to support what we know is a broad, talented pipeline of people who have a vision of what the future of schools looks like. There is no shortage of amazing people who have this kind of vision; the problem is often that they lack resources and the decision making to bring those visions to life. Secondly, we also build power within this community of entrepreneurs to spark and sustain change. 

Over the past ten years, 4.0 Schools has supported 1,200 entrepreneurs. 300 ventures are still active, serving 9 million students over the past decade.

I look a lot at that 1,200 number. 1,200 entrepreneurs. Whether or not their ventures still exist, these entrepreneurs are still there, applying their skills, innovating within their organizations, collaborating with each other, and supporting each other’s ventures. 4.0’s impact is creating a community of people who understand that systems are designed by people based on their values, and they’re taking actions to redesign what the entire education system can look like. 

What were the most surprising education equity and leadership challenges unearthed for you this past year? How are you addressing these challenges?

There are a lot of things that I’m proud of in terms of how 4.0 Schools tackled the last year. We were able to move a lot of money, completing four new rounds of grantmaking this year. We were still able to support people connecting with each other, albeit in a virtual environment. All of this turned out to be the easy part.

Instead, as a leader of an organization and especially one that works other adult entrepreneurs, the hardest and most surprising challenge has been helping people deal with trauma.

All of us have experienced an incredible amount of grief this year – dealing with the loss of routine, safety, death. People are stressed, sad, and burnt out. People are tired. And I’m experiencing those emotions too. 

We have more comfort talking about the social and emotional needs of our students – but this last year has been a reminder that we’re all going through unprecedented trauma and we don’t have as many tools to heal from that trauma. But I have hope.

In terms of addressing this challenge, this is what I’m focused on most with my coach and therapist. It’s important to acknowledge my own humanity and a person who’s going through this trauma as well.

My board chair also introduced me to the concept of three postures of leadership during a crisis. It’s not just about being a visionary, or even a politician. We underestimate how important it is for leaders to show up as healers during this time – acting with a pastor posture. I’m less comfortable with this, and have been investing in my own learning and development of skills to support my team. And then all of us will be able to support each other.

It will take a long time for us all to heal. I’m beginning to look at the next decade of 4.0 through that lens. During the first decade of 4.0, I saw our role as being an investor and a coach. In the next decade, I see us being a healer and organizer of relationships in service of our vision.  

What do you see as the most important challenges still ahead of the education sector or in your own work?

I will quote Octavia Butler, who once said, “All struggles are essentially power struggles.” 

For me, that continues to be the central challenge that I believe that we need to keep talking about. As 4.0 looks towards the future, the central questions we ask are who questions: Who is getting funded today? Who is writing the checks? Who is defining success? And who is managing the resources as gatekeepers? Our future is about reimagining who are in the seats of power, and reimagining how people in those seats of power relate to each other.

Data show that today, most of the money in education investment does not go to organizations led by people of color. Those relationships have been fractured for some time. We’re working with organizations like Moonshot edVentures and Camelback Ventures to right some of those relationships.

The question of who writes the check is equally important. Philanthropy doesn’t need to be institutional. Politics has shown us the power of small dollar donors, who can help field more local and diverse candidates. We see an opportunity to come up with new funding models to support investing in opportunities that traditional philanthropy is too risk-averse to support. Communities actually want those riskier opportunities. 

Finally, who defines success? Should it really be researchers? We reference research in terms of best practices all the time, but we have an opportunity to interrogate that structure. What would it look like to have families and students tell us what success looks like? 

It will be important for all of us to interrogate power dynamics in our different seats of work. 

What advice do you have for other EP Alums as they work to meet the current and future challenges in education?

It starts with a question: What can we do together? How can we actually join forces, organize, and do more together?

With a network of 4,500 Alumni, that’s a lot of power and spending capital. I can imagine a world where 500 Alums come together to fund a $5,000 or even $100,000 grant. But that starts with organizing and building trust with each other. And we can’t rely on EP staff to do this; we need to take up accountability and convene as Alumni.

EP Alumni are a powerful network and now we can decide how to wield our power. 

Originally, from Sudan, Hassan Hassan (2012 Alum) and his mother immigrated to the United States through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery. He was lucky to meet the age requirement that allowed him to access educational and career opportunities that his three older siblings couldn’t. This experience would later drive his deep commitment to dismantling barriers to social and financial capital. He went on to study electrical engineering and economics at Iowa State University. Prior to taking on the role of CEO, Hassan was 4.0's Chief Operating Officer where he applied his analytical training to streamline 4.0’s systems, growing into the role after working as a Portfolio Manager and Investment Director. Throughout his tenure at 4.0, the organization has grown rapidly to a community of over 1000 diverse leaders who serve over a million students and families across the country. Previously, Hassan worked as a management consultant at PwC and Education Resource Strategies. He is a Pahara NextGen alumnus, Education Pioneer alumnus, and an alumnus of both 4.0 fellowships.

If you're an EP Alum interested in writing a story for the EP blog, you're encouraged to email Jennifer Chin, Senior Director, External Relations.  

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