Edward Smith-Lewis graduated from Morehouse College with a B.A. in economics and then worked as a business analyst at Goldman Sachs and McKinsey & Co. and as a process improvement associate at Howard University. Ed brings a personal passion to the foundation’s goal of increasing the number of young people who earn a college degree.
I had two big learning curves here. First, I’m very much a doer. In past jobs, it was, “Go find Ed and he’ll fix it.” Here, it’s “Go find Ed, problem solve, work together, and work it out.”
The truth is, it’s easy to come here with grandiose ideas and even pragmatic solutions. You might think, “I have the answer. I was on the ground. I can solve this.” Then you actually set to work and see the problem from an entirely different level. The problems are way bigger than the solution set.
Pragmatic people with vision do really well here. You have to be realistic about looking at the problem today, five years from now, and—possibly, maybe—at its end. You won’t be successful if you want immediate success. Patience is important.
Every foundation employee has a personal or professional story that led them here. We all see our work here as more than a job. What I tell people who are interested in working here is, “Know yourself.” Think beyond the name and know why you want to come here. Don’t just jump on the bandwagon.
Sometimes, you put your ideas on the line only to have them crushed, so people who aren’t willing to be vulnerable won’t find it easy. Your role is to create change collaboratively. You have to have the confidence that your individual ideas and work, even if not specifically used, create the ultimate outcome.
The impact you can have can be tremendous, but the key is patience. In a world where so much is fast paced, it’s great that an organization like ours is willing to assume risk to innovate. The bottom line is, we want to solve a problem that hasn’t been solved. We’re not trying to fix a flat; we’re trying to find a new way to build a car.