Why MacKenzie Scott Reminds Me of Football

By: Steve Lee, CEO, SkillUp Coalition

Indulge me, if you will. I'm 5 years old. Just arrived in the States after spending the first few years of my life on a farm in South Korea. Walk into our apartment in Flushing, NY. The first thing I see is a TV. I grew up on a farm. I had never seen a TV. Didn't know a lick of English. I walk up to the TV, turn it on (an old black and white, if you can believe it). And the first thing I see is a football game.

The next few minutes are etched forever into my memory. A few moments in, I see a long pass. The receiver catches it, runs into the endzone. As he does so, the referee raises his arms, and the announcer yells “Touchdown”. At the exact same time, I jump off the couch, arms raised, and yell “Touchdown”! My first words in English, ever. Not Mom. Or Dad. Or Hello. Or Mr. T (?). But Touchdown. I remember this moment as if it was yesterday; the arc of the pass, the gait of the receiver, the tone of the announcer, the sponginess of the sofa. It's seared into my consciousness, enduring and indelible. The rest, as they say, is history (Sidebar - but a very sad, lamentable history. You see, that game featured the New York Jets. They became my team. Let's just say that the journey of Jets fandom can only be categorized as tortuous, bewildering, and comical, epitomized so cruelly, yet aptly, by the immortal Butt Fumble, so iconic that it has its own Wikipedia page. That, right there, is the Jets [And after last night, let's just add injury to insult]).

So why am I boring you with this walk down memory lane? Well, it's because I felt that same palpitating drumbeat of excitement and wonder when we learned that philanthropist and author MacKenzie Scott, through her charitable organization Yield Giving, has gifted SkillUp with a catalytic, unrestricted $5 million in support of our work. What do you say to such news? I don't even know. We're honored and humbled, of course. SkillUp's just three years old. We've accomplished quite a bit in a short period of time, but also made our fair share of mistakes. Perhaps the gift is the recognition that, as in life, the journey of an organization has its ups and downs, but never fails to elicit learnings, whether through successes or failures. Of all things, it's this learning mindset that's at the core of who SkillUp is.

But as I've reflected, what I believe the gift brings - as we hope SkillUp brings to its users - is the “art of the possible.” In three years, SkillUp has served over 1.6 million users. We've forged partnerships with over 100 organizations. We've helped an estimated 15,000 users secure high-opportunity employment. You can see these achievements, and the challenges we've confronted (along with a whole bunch of other cool information!), in our just released Three Year Impact Report.

But this doesn't even scratch the surface of need. MacKenzie Scott's investment paves the way for us to build on past accomplishments and learnings, to strive for the possible, or perhaps even the impossible. That's why the timing is so propitious. The gift aligns to our new North Star, one that we've already been driving the past few months—to help 100,000 individuals secure high-opportunity employment by 2025. The art of the possible. It's ambitious, we know. We've got a long way to go, many users to serve, many partnerships to forge, many barriers to confront to measure outcomes with high fidelity. To have a gift of this size - and without restriction - for a young organization, signals a message of trust, of belief in the possible, and of the transformative power of partnerships to transform lives.

There are so many people to thank, it's impossible to name them all.

To the SkillUp board, whose leadership, guidance, and support are inestimable.

To the SkillUp team, who I have the privilege and honor of working with on a day-to-day basis.

And last, but certainly not least, to SkillUp's partners, without whom, literally, SkillUp wouldn't exist. After all, our official name is SkillUp Coalition. This gift is a collective one, and as such, a resounding THANK YOU to all of our partners for making the last three years such a joy ride. Your partnership and collaboration mean everything to us, and we are humbled and honored to work alongside such an amazing group!

And on this, an offer. Rather than just talk, we'd like to walk the walk. Specifically, we'd like to pay it forward, and take 10 percent of this gift - $500,000 - and support mutually beneficial efforts that propel individuals and families into greater economic security. We've got some details to work out, so more to follow in the coming months. But we hope that it's a small token of appreciation for the amazing generosity SkillUp has received over the past three years.

I've never had the good fortune of meeting Ms. Scott, and almost certainly never will. But if I did, I'd say this; thank you, not as much for us, but - and I'd bet this would resonate with Ms. Scott - for the many lives SkillUp and its partners will transform for the better, and the future generations of lives. That's how you make lasting change (now if we can only do this for the Jets!).

Steve Lee, CEO, SkillUp
Steve Lee, CEO, SkillUp