Ann Paisley Chandler: You have broken barriers in business and philanthropy, and you have been and continue to be a catalyst for change and justice. When and how did you decide to take action to improve education in South Carolina?
Darla Moore: When Richard and I gave our initial contribution to USC for the business school, I was asked to address the South Carolina Senate. In preparing my remarks, I researched both the quality of education in South Carolina as well as the strength of the state's economy. To my horror, the results were just unacceptable. We simply had entirely too many students not performing at even basic levels, especially in poor and rural areas of the state.
These concerns, which I learned were shared by many other business and community leaders in South Carolina, led to the creation of the Palmetto Institute. Unfortunately, simply providing the political leaders with the results of world class, thoughtful research with recommended solutions did not lead to the transformational action that we wanted for the citizens of South Carolina.
It was at that moment, I realized that for real metric-moving changes to occur, the private sector in local communities had to become the change agents for a better education in their schools. Which meant, rather than just providing research and offering solutions to our policymakers, the Palmetto Institute had to find willing partners with "boots on the ground" to assist local communities to actually implement and grow programs that worked. Our first major effort with this new approach was getting Teach For America into South Carolina, which has turned out to be very successful.
Chandler: How do you see the private sector's response to the government's problems in education? How have you seen the public and private collaboration landscape change?
Moore: As more and more people come to the realization that the changes and innovation needed to improve student achievement will not be coming from the federal or state governments, the private sector's participation in working with educators is increasing. Society abhors a vacuum in leadership and that is exactly what we have today in educating our children. But, the private sector's intervention must be accelerated beginning at the community levels. That is where real public-private collaboration is happening and where I am putting my energy and resources. Innovative changes will only come from the bottom up and not the top down. Which means, public-private collaboration at the local level must be the catalyst for change.
Chandler: What are the benefits of taking a grassroots approach to education?
Moore: Things get done. Real changes are made. And, if such changes do not occur, you only have yourself to blame. Everybody wants a quality education for their children and the grassroots approach allows the artificial political and parochial barriers to be torn down. And, it provides a mechanism for educators, parents, businesses, and the community itself to have ownership in the education system, thereby eliminating the blame game now so often used in Washington and Columbia.
Chandler: You were instrumental in bringing Teach For America to South Carolina. Tell us about this process and the communities' responses.
Moore: Richard and I have always supported the Teach For America effort. We believe getting the best and brightest graduates of our country's universities to give a two year "Peace-Corp-type" commitment to teach in the poorest, lowest-achieving schools in America is remarkable. Even better is that, in most instances, student achievement in the TFA classes is exceeding student achievement in classes with other first and second year teachers coming from conventional schools of education.
As part of one of our contributions, we asked Teach For America to come to South Carolina since we were the only state in our region that did not have a Teach For America Corp. That request turned out to be the easy part. Getting approval for alternative certification for Teach For America from South Carolina's Department of Education and State Board of Education was much more difficult.
Both the bureaucracy of the Department and the subtle opposition of teacher organizations and higher education schools of education presented us with surprising opposition. In addition, once the alternative certification was approved, the superintendents of the school districts where we wanted to start the TFA program were extremely reluctant. However, I am proud to report once the schools began to see the results of the TFA teachers, they began to request more TFA teachers than we could supply. In three short years, we have gone from the initial 30 teachers to over 200.
Chandler: In regard to philanthropic trends for institutions of higher learning, what is your approach?
Moore: I view major contributions as an investment. And, as such, I want to see a meaningful return on my investment. That means, I require accountability. I want my contribution targeted so it can make a difference in an area I believe is important to its constituents. I want a set of metrics established so one can measure the benefits of the contribution. And, I want to be involved. I simply do not believe you can make a major contribution and then leave it to the institution to interpret the purpose of such investment.
A good example may be our gift to the Clemson School of Education in honor of my father. Our investment was not just to produce new teachers for South Carolina but to produce the best, most innovative teachers for our state. We wanted teachers who could relate to, motivate, and convey the needed content to students, especially in high poverty, low-achieving schools.
To determine if Clemson was responding to our investment requirements, we asked for student achievement data from classes which Clemson graduates taught versus graduates from other schools of education. We requested data on new innovative programs being offered by Clemson and measurements of their success. And, if we failed to receive such data, we responded accordingly.
While each investment has its own set of metrics, there always must be in place a measurable, independent system to provide the data necessary to judge the progress of the entity receiving the investment. That is why there must always be a clear understanding between the parties relating to the purpose of the contribution and how its success will be measured.
Chandler: The Moore School of Business is repeatedly at the top of the rankings of b-schools, known for its expertise and experience in international business. What do you see as the interplay between the business school and the South Carolina economy?
Moore: In today's competitive global economy, it is critical that a world-class school of business play a much broader role than just producing the brightest and best graduates to be our next business leaders. That means, we must be the hub for innovation and development of new technology. We must be aligned with the needs of our major businesses in workforce development. And, we must provide the support and cutting-edge research necessary to give our state's businesses a competitive edge. Failing to do so means we are not relevant to our state's economy and our major businesses, which is unacceptable.
Chandler: In 2002, you founded the Palmetto Institute, an independent non-profit organization focused on increasing the wealth of every person in South Carolina. Where do you see your role in investment and execution? What are the metrics implemented to measure impact? Are you seeing encouraging data?
Moore: The Palmetto Institute has served as both a lightning rod for change in South Carolina and, through trial and error, as a means of finding the best approach to investing one's time and resources in efforts to improve the economic wellbeing of its citizens.
As earlier described, the Institute has transformed from an institution based on a platform of producing the best research available on issues pertinent to improving the state's economy and then seeking support from our state's policymakers to simply seeking willing partners at the regional and local levels to implement positive changes for their communities.
With the gridlock and ideological fights now protruding into every segment of policymaking, we believe it is the only way we can make a difference. Our metrics depend on the issue but every project is measured. One example is a program we have implemented entitled the "Benefit Bank." The program puts a computer with a trained counselor in locations where people in need frequent to offer help applying for eligible benefits and work supports. It is just three years old but it has already helped people in need receive over $100 million in funds and services and uses only nonprofit funds to operate.
Chandler: What have been your greatest challenges, and how have they informed your decision-making process in subsequent initiatives? What were the lessons learned?
Moore: The greatest challenges are persuading communities, first, that they can do better; second, that in order to do better there has to be a collaborative effort involving all the citizens; and last, that help is not coming from Washington or state government. And, this has to be taught in a new environment of urgency where, as Tyler Cowen said in his latest book Average Is Over, to succeed, the bar must be raised from the beginning of a child's life through post high school education and beyond. Without such effort, the opportunities for a quality life will be severely limited.
Chandler: What inspires you and excites you most about the impact of your goals?
Moore: When the light comes on! When a community realizes they can improve the quality of their lives without having to beg for outside help just by coming together and building on their own assets. When parents become involved and see their children making progress. When a child succeeds against all odds. Those things are what excite me and inspire me to do more. Nothing, and I mean nothing, means more to me than to prove naysayers wrong about the ability of poor children to succeed if only given the right tools.
Chandler: What does the future look like, in regard to education and economic equity, and what advice do you have for the next generation of thought-leaders and agents of change?
Moore: We face a difficult, evolving future where prosperity as we know it will be much harder to achieve; where just being average will not be enough to ensure a comfortable life; and where technology will drive productivity and only those who have the appropriate training will have an opportunity to prosper. That means a greater divide between the haves and have-nots. It means the bar must be raised at every level just to remain competitive. And, to succeed, it means that communities must take a much greater role in the economic wellbeing of its citizens.
Chandler: What do you want your legacy to be?
Moore: If you live a life of purpose, do the best you can with the blessings you've been given and ultimately target your talent and resources toward making others' lives better, the legacy bit will take care of itself.
Philanthropy NYU, where this post first appeared.
Darla Moore is the first woman to be profiled on the cover of Fortune Magazine and named to the List of the Top 50 Most Powerful Women in American Business. She currently serves on the National Teach for America Board of Directors and The Culture Shed.