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Juan Diego Sanchez, Program Officer

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Born and raised in San Francisco’s Mission District and the Bay Area, Juan Sanchez attended UC Berkeley for undergraduate studies, and earned a teaching credential and master’s in education at San Francisco State University.  After receiving a Gates Millennium Scholarship (the inaugural class), Juan completed an additional master’s and his PhD  at UC Berkeley both focused on measurement, evaluation, and providing quantitative evidence on why and how certain educational programs work, work he continues for the foundation. Juan talks about giving back to the foundation that gave him his start, “catalytic philanthropy,” and his desire to share his skill in his home state of California.

Helping kids get into college is so important to me, and the Gates Foundation scholarship let me do that. When I applied here, it was really about giving them back what they gave me. I wanted to work for them. I wanted to say thank you. It was a no-brainer.

In my first month, I learned a lot about how the foundation “does” philanthropy. We don’t fund everything. We fund only after we develop a hypothesis based on research and expertise, on how we’re going to make change. We decide on a strategy and do not fund outside of that strategy. People think “Oh, you have tons of money, so you can do whatever you want.” Um, no.

Catalytic philanthropy” is the term they use here; essentially, how we can use a relatively small investment in a community to change it on a large scale. Catalytic philanthropy has impact, it has meaning. It will make a difference, and it’s sustainable.

The foundation is a great place to learn how to make changes on a large scale. And honestly, sometimes we don’t always get everything right, but that can be OK; that’s exactly how we learn.

The foundation provides you with what you need to do your job well, and you get to concentrate solely on your work. In addition to providing you the opportunity to work with intensely smart people, the foundation takes away the little things that eat up one’s time. They don’t sweat the small stuff. You don’t have to play fetch. This is by far the best job I’ve ever had and I’m humbled to work here. They’ve given me more than I ever thought possible. That’s why I love the foundation so much.

Many people here are overqualified for their positions, and it can be very difficult to move up with all of the smart people above you. They have a plethora of candidates from the world and get the best people for the job. They don’t hire people who would struggle. They only hire experts in each field. You really have to love and deeply understand your work.

I do want to eventually go back to California and apply there what I’ve learned here. The problem is, I love the people here. I love the work. It’s kind of like having been to the moon. All I know is that when I leave here, it’s going to be for something bigger and greater in the sense of making a much larger impact in the state and community of California. A true impact. We do such good work here. It’s what you learn to do and want to share.

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