Letter from the Chairman: Reflecting on 10 Years of the Susan Crown Exchange
“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance.” - Albert Einstein
When the Susan Crown Exchange was founded ten years ago, the world was a dramatically different place. We used maps, we read books, and we called people from land lines. No one used the phrase “fake news.” We had no option but to be present in special moments, rather than scrambling to photograph those moments for our feeds.
In 2009, a remarkable new invention called the smartphone became commonplace. This device enabled anyone to carry a powerful computer in their pocket, with access to search engines, communication platforms, and countless other applications. Facebook, founded in 2004 for students, had been claimed by a new demographic: parents and grandparents who wanted to stay in touch with family and friends. Blogs and social media became low-cost distribution channels for anyone with something to say.
Technology is here, and here to stay. It has changed everything. But it has not altered our basic, human needs for connection, meaning, and achievement. As we enter the twentieth year of the twenty-first century, we’re just beginning to understand how the rise of powerful new technologies affects our ability to fulfill those needs. Ideally, tech connects us, offers democratic access to quality information, and helps us live more productive and efficient lives. In the worst cases, it sows division and isolation.
As technologies emerge, evolve, and disappear in the blink of an eye, we’ve had to adjust the questions we ask and the solutions we support. In a world that seems to be shifting beneath our feet, we have remained grounded by seeking the answer to a single question: How can we prepare the rising generation to thrive in a rapidly changing, highly connected world?
For the past ten years, our core values have guided this pursuit. We intend to stay the course with these values; they have served us and our community well.
We thrive in the white space. We explore the questions that our society is just beginning to ask, and partner with the people who are best equipped to answer them. We’re inspired by ambitious thinkers and big, bold ideas.
We approach every problem with a learning mindset. We ask questions that don’t have answers. We rigorously research issues before we decide to take them on. We take calculated risks, make mistakes, and learn from the process. We’d rather do things correctly than quickly; real change takes time.
We are candid with our collaborators about our approach, our thought process, and what we’ve learned. We strive to foster open dialogue. We share the results of our partnerships with the field, so others can learn from our experience and build upon our progress.
We strive to upend traditional power dynamics by treating the organizations we support as genuine partners in our shared aspirations. We forge unlikely partnerships and value the unique expertise that each actor brings to the table.
We are privileged to work with keen minds, daring dreamers, and the most passionate problem-solvers. We are grateful to the visionaries who came before us, for the colleagues who share our passion, and for the opportunity to do this work.
Inspired by these values and informed by our team’s wealth of experience in the “three sectors” of business, government, and social impact, we’ve developed a new foundation model. We call this model The Exchange. Through this paradigm, we strive to embody our values by upending traditional power dynamics and forging authentic partnerships. This is the best way to achieve our mission.
The Digital Age offers unprecedented, promising opportunities, as well as challenges we cannot yet define or fully grasp. We raise questions and seek solutions to the issues we find most relevant and pressing at this moment in history. We work with best-in-class organizations who are asking similar questions, and are able to offer on-the-ground experience to move us closer to answers.
Together with dozens of high-impact organizations—and no small number of exceptional leaders—we’ve helped parents sift through a sea of digital media products to find the ones most educational and fitting for their children. We’ve articulated a set of best practices to cultivate social and emotional skills in kids, who now text as much as they talk face to face. We’ve helped teens build the digital skills that will enable them to pursue futures in coding, creativity, and commerce. And we’ve spotlighted many Catalyst grantees who’ve crafted innovative solutions to chronic social problems.
What will the world look like a decade from now? I have no idea. I do know that the pace of change will accelerate—and that we will work tirelessly to prepare the next generation for the challenges we can’t yet envision.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Trustees and staff members who have co-created SCE, investing great care, intellect, humanity, hard work, and commitment. Last, I express gratitude to my grandfather Henry Crown, whose brilliant mind and generous spirit taught me what it means to be a lifelong learner and true citizen in a broken world.