A New Direction for the Greater Foundation (@greatermovement)

“So, Lee, what is the Greater Foundation, and what exactly do you do there?”

I love and hate to answer that question.

  • I love it because it’s an opportunity for me to refine my pitch and evangelize on behalf of an organization I truly love.
  • I hate it because it forces me to be repetitive on something that’s fixed. Aside from the name and logo, Greater has been constantly evolving.

Let’s take a step back for more context.

How did I (Lee) get here?

I was brought into the Greater Foundation (begreater.org) at first to come up with a solid response to this apparently simple question. Historically, the foundation has done a lot since its founding in 2015, including:

  1. Fellowships to scholar-athletes interested in careers in code
  2. Donations to other non-profits also in the STEM youth space
  3. Internships for youth seeking professional experiences
  4. Content for professional athletes, entertainers, and technology companies to demonstrate their charitable activities
  5. Programming for underserved youth communities in tech and business

While impressive, any one of these initiatives is more than enough for a non-profit to focus on and execute successfully. As COO of the organization, I was assigned to choose a “prime directive” for Greater and build the organization around it.

I chose #5. Why?

A renewed sense of responsibility.

We’ve been fortunate to have several big benefactors such as Russell Okung, Carol & Matt McIlwain, and the Amazon Community Engagement team support us as we grow and iterate the operations of the foundation.

Even though we’re a non-profit, I have an entrepreneur’s approach to fundraising. I think of our donors as investors with whom we hold a fiduciary responsibility, even though we technically do not.

How can we fulfill our promise to these generous people to the best of our ability?

Think big. Start small.

We currently operate in Seattle, but we know that the pain points of inaccessibility, exclusion, and inequality are felt in communities nationwide as well as throughout the globe.

Fellowships and internships, while life-changing for the select individuals, are quite resource-intensive, plateauing our ability to expand to other regions.

How can we impact as many lives as possible with frugality in mind?

A focused mission.

It’s been amazing so far the support we’ve received from organizations like LEGO, Apple, Amazon, the Seattle Seahawks, and Galvanize. That said, our priority is the underserved youth community.

We serve as a conduit for those organizations to make the right impact with schools and educational organizations that align with our mission see Greater as an added value to theirs.

How do we ensure that we are all doing right by the youth that we need to serve the most? What exactly is it that we are doing to ensure their future?

Passion in education.

I admit, there’s a selfish move on my part here. I used to tell myself that after I’m done with my “career,” I’d “semi-retire” and become a teacher.

I ended up “semi-retiring” for the majority of my adult life. Ha.

As a self-described “education technology community architect,” teaching is where my heart is, whether I do it myself or empower other instructors. The day we stop being an organization that teaches is my last day at Greater.

How do we continue to be the best teachers of youth tech entrepreneurship?

Thus, in a sentence, and with all of these italicized questions in mind, below is how I respond to that question at the very top:

“My name is Lee Ngo.

I am the Chief Operating Officer of the Greater Foundation.

We are a tech inclusion non-profit that engages with underserved youth communities with educational programs in leadership, technology, sportsmanship, and entrepreneurship.”

Now that we’ve got that cleared up…

Our upcoming programs for (fingers crossed) at least the academic year are the proposed solutions to the challenges that Russell and I continuously face as strategic leaders of the Foundation.

They are implied to be sequential by design and naturally evolved from our past programs and sports-based roots, focusing on whatever stage of the experience the young entrepreneur might be.

Phase 1: Startup Kickoff

A one-day program that engages the basics tech entrepreneurship for up to 100 youths per program. Technological partners can showcase a helpful tool to inspire innovation, and professionals from the community volunteers as mentors to help them along the way.

Those who want more can apply to…

Phase 2: Training Camp

Diving deeper in entrepreneurship, technology, and project management, this program is an eight-week, 40-hour experience that is designed to produce a young entrepreneur by the end.

We’re working with educational partners such as Seattle Urban Academy and Bellevue College to standardize this program so that students may earn course credit and focus on their future by working hard in the present.

Top students from each program are eligible to compete in…

Phase 3: Greater Bowl

After 4–5 Training Camps, the top competitors from each will compete in a finals competition, showcasing their work and progress at a potentially national level. Ambitiously, we’re aiming to bring together the cities of Seattle, Bellevue, and … Los Angeles (fingers crossed).

These last seven months have been challenging and often times emotionally, mentally, and even physically draining (such is the non-profit life), but I can’t help but feel excited about the journey ahead.

Still, I feel compelled to say a special thank you to all of those who contributed to this journey. You are all appreciated and missed.

To learn more, visit begreater.org.

— Lee

Write with intention. Think with compassion.