Men on Missions

Michael Feinberg, C'91, founder of KIPP Schools (right), with Bobby Turner, W'84, in the background

Michael Feinberg, C’91, founder of KIPP Schools (right), on stage with Bobby Turner, W’84

Bobby Turner, W’84, asked the audience if anyone knew what the Dow Jones Industrial Average was trading at currently? A number of attendees raised their hands. What were Facebook shares trading at? A few more hands. How many high school students drop out every year? No hands.

In fact, Turner informed them that 1.2 million American kids drop out of high school each year.

Out of those three indicators, he then asked, which is the best barometer for how well our society is doing?

Yet as perhaps one of the most visible proponents of social impact in the Wharton community, Turner rarely dwells on the negative—and  in this installment of the latest Lauren & Bobby Turner Social Impact Executive Speaker Series—he launched into a soliloquy about his affection for Generation Y (aka, the millennials).

“You’re all budding philanthropists,” he told the audience, which consisted mainly of students.

He cited a recent survey of Gen Y, revealing that roughly two out of three respondents:

• have donated time or money in the past year

• say that their purpose in life is to make meaningful change

• believe they can make a bigger difference in the world by starting their own business rather than running for office.

Turner, who is married to Lauren Golub Turner, W’85, is the perfect role model for this generation. He often quips that he learned how to make a fortune at Wharton. After he did as chairman, CEO and co-founding partner of Canyon Capital Realty Advisors, he has turned toward giving it back. Turner is a pioneer in socially responsible investing and the “triple bottom line,” which, as the Canyon Capital website defines it, involves “an investment philosophy of providing sound financial returns for investors, fostering opportunities for residents of the communities in which it invests and embracing environmental responsibility.”

At Penn, Turner’s social impact efforts include the Turner Social Impact Executive Speaker Series, for which he’s brought to campus such bold-faced names as Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Andre Agassi, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Eva Longoria and Ashton Kutcher. (See below for video highlights of the Ashton Kutcher interview.)

On Oct. 24, Turner hosted the first non-celebrity speaker, Michael Feinberg, C’91, founder of KIPP Schools—who is “truly a rock star,” Turner said.

Feinberg saw the need for a sustainable solution for the U.S. school system nearly two decades ago, as a volunteer in Houston for Volunteer for America. There he met Yale graduate Dave Levin. The two co-founded the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) in 1994, and then KIPP Academy and its two middle schools in Houston and the South Bronx the following year. By 2013, KIPP had grown to oversee 50,000 students in 141 schools in 20 states. Its success can be linked to its “five pillars” approach, which includes: a belief in all students, setting college graduation as the goal, building character, visionary leadership, balance between individuals and a solid system of support, a culture of continuous learning and excellent teachers.

Feinberg said the formula for successful schools really comes down to two key factors.

“Two ingredients—great teaching, and more of it,” Feinberg said.

Watch the whole Feinberg-Turner interview below:

Editor’s note: Also view photos from the Turner Social Impact Speaker Series event with Michael Feinberg at the Wharton Flickr stream.

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