For Kalen, the roles of educator, innovator, and leader push him to seek different avenues to create impact. In May 2012 he announced his candidacy for Campbell Union High School District Board of Trustees. An elected position, he would be running against an incumbent and vying for a four-year term. In a close race fueled by grass roots campaigning, social media pushes, and plenty of precinct walks—Kalen won a seat on the Board on election day in November 2012.
I have had a chance to get to know Kalen, through one of his passions–New Leaders Council. Kalen and Reeta Sharma, co-founded and co-direct the Silicon Valley chapter of this progressive fellowship program to build skills in leadership and social entrepreneurship…which I participated in as a Fellow in 2012 and continue to be involved in as an member of the Advisory Board.
Innov8Social caught up with Kalen to find out about his commitment to social entrepreneurship, and his path in the field.
Read the Interview
Interview with Kalen Gallagher, Social Entrepreneur and Elected Leader
Q1 | Innov8Social: How do you define “social entrepreneurship”
A1 | Kalen Gallagher, Social Entrepreneur and Campbell Union High School District Board Trustee: To me “social entrepreneurship” means using the principles of entrepreneurship to create sustainable, long-term solutions to our society’s biggest problems. While traditional entrepreneurs are primarily focused on earning money, social entrepreneurs seek societal change.
Q2 | Innov8Social: What inspired you to run for office?
A2 | Kalen: I decided to run for the school board of my old high school district because it has been plagued by numerous issues for years with little discussion at the board level on how we can turn things around. Since well before I walked through the gates in 9th grade our dropout rate has been incredibly high, we’ve had low test scores, the number of our students going to and through college has been small, we’ve had the lowest paid teachers in the Bay Area, and even today we have a disturbing lack of technology available to teachers and students. While the districts around us are thriving, we’ve been held back, which is negatively impacting thousands of our community members every year. I think there’s a lot that bringing my teaching experience, the “startup mentality,” and higher expectations to the board can accomplish.
Q3 | Innov8Social: What have you learned about the intersection of start-up entrepreneurship and education technology through ClassDojo?
A3 | Kalen: We’re in the middle of a dramatic shift in public education, powered in large part by young teachers. Any teacher 30 or younger (about 30% of all teachers) grew up in a post-AOL world, which means the internet has been ingrained in their daily lives since childhood. These teachers, along with older tech-savvy teachers, are helping change the expectations, and delivery, of public education.
This has been coupled with a revolutionary change in purchasing power. Traditionally if education companies wanted to reach teachers, they had to sell to districts, which was a slow, frustrating process. Today the internet and spread of cheap internet connected devices allow education companies to go straight to teachers and skip the middle man. Teachers are also much more in tune with the tools they want and need than a school board or administrator could ever be. Now, hundreds of teachers can be using a tool within a district without the school board having even heard about it. This new distribution strategy is allowing the shift we’re experiencing today.
A4 | Kalen: It might seem ridiculous, but I actually knew I would never practice law when I applied to law school. To me law school represented something very attractive: a 3 year, socially-acceptable vacation that would give me amble time to explore my passions and learn the legal structure of California.
I spent the summer after my 1L year in deep-reflection, trying to figure out how I could make the biggest impact possible on the issues I’m passionate about. After all the soul-searching, research, and informational interviews, it was clear to me that if I should devote my life to improving public education. The lack of a quality of public education for all is at the core of most issues that plague the United States today. Four days after taking (and somehow passing) the California Bar, I was in my new classroom at KIPP Heartwood in East San Jose.
Q5 | Innov8Social: Do you have any tips for those who want to create a career that creates social impact and profit?
A5 | Kalen: Genuinely care about the issue you’re trying to solve. Listen to your users. Focus. If you don’t do all three, you will go nowhere.