The Bridgespan Group

Enter your email address to receive updates:

Doris and John Fisher Scale Up Student Success

Bringing projects to scale is in the Fisher family’s DNA. Co-founders of the Gap retail chain, Don and Doris Fisher knew how to take a seed and make it grow. So, when it came to their philanthropy, they went looking for another great idea they could help cultivate and scale.

They found that idea in the form of KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), which in 2000 was made up of a couple of charter schools that were getting great results and looking to expand. At the time, it felt like a risky proposition—even for a family of risk-takers. Indeed, in their first meeting, KIPP co-founder Dave Levin admitted to Don that he had “no idea” if they could succeed with their proposed program. A dozen years and 107 more schools later, the risk has paid off many times over.

Though Don passed away in 2009, Doris and her son John, who now leads the KIPP Foundation board, have stayed heavily involved and committed to KIPP’s growth. And while its brand name is unparalleled and the expansion figures are impressive, John emphasizes that success is proven one school at a time. Both Doris and John look forward to the daily joys of working with KIPP, and both believe their involvement with this transformative organization has allowed them the opportunity to engage meaningfully in the broader education reform movement.

▼ Read More

Recent Videos

The KIPP culture is so awesome. It’s different and it’s hard to explain, but I always say this to people -- you fall in love with KIPP if you visit a KIPP school. It’s so rewarding to see these kids and see what they’re doing and see the affection they have for their teacher, the affection they have for each other. One of our slogans is “team and family” and they really are a family.

I think what has been rewarding and successful for us has been to develop a strong focus in what we do. We’re very focused on school reform, but we don’t do everything in school reform. We really focus, in this case, on charter schools, which we think offer the best example of what we think we can achieve with, at the end of the day, a limited amount of money. None of us can compete with the $600 billion dollars a year that the government spends on public education. So, we really need to take our money and do a few things and do them really well. And that has been the perspective that we’ve taken in our own foundation.

As far as a school is concerned, if that school leader isn’t doing the right job, you can’t just bring in another school leader. You don’t have the pipeline, for instance, in the education system as they do in retail system. It is, I would say, very, very different -- replenishment is tough.

One thing I have really enjoyed has been to work closely with my mom in this. Because I’m really not trying to fill my dad’s shoes, they’re way too big to possibly fill and I have my own strong opinions and entrepreneurial goals and if I just tried to do what I thought was expected of me I wouldn’t do it very well and I wouldn’t get any enjoyment out of it. So, what’s been really important for me is to stay true to myself and to focus on the things that are important to me. And I’ve gotten tremendous enjoyment out of being able to do that.