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Wendy Kopp

Founder, Teach for America

Wendy Kopp: I was so excited, honestly, to live in New York. I'd always wanted to live in New York. So I literally moved in, roomed with a bunch of other women who I did not know. We were just renting a brownstone. And I had this tiny little room and two or three trash bags full of my clothes. One of these executives who I'd met after I turned in the thesis -- I sent it out to randomly selected corporate executives who were quoted in magazine articles saying they wanted to improve education -- and a few of them actually agreed to meet with me. One gave me a seed grant and another said I could use their spare office in Manhattan. So I would go. It was a lonely existence. I would just go every day into this office in Manhattan, and I would send out letters and try to get people to meet with me, just trying to build support for this idea.
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Wendy Kopp

Founder, Teach for America

Wendy Kopp: There have been many moments where it's felt like the whole thing was going to come crashing down. Definitely. Our first decade was extraordinarily challenging. I think there was a lot of positive energy around the initial idea, and that carried us through the first two or three years. We built a lot of funding support. The timing really was so perfect, but then, in year four, many things collided to make the path far more difficult. We started losing our funding sources in half-a-million and million-dollar chunks. My complete lack of management ability started conspiring, because sort of the internal organization was in a bit of chaos. And we started realizing that education is a very politicized sphere, and we started really encountering many challenges as we worked to gain the policy approvals we would need even to get our teachers in classrooms. So there were many, many challenges, and probably the most central of all was we were on such a steep learning curve around, "How do you actually do this well?" How do you recruit and select and train and support teachers who do excel, instead of just survive, and who do take the right lessons and not the lessons of disillusionment? So we had a lot on our plate, and it was not clear that we were going to make it, at many points.
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Henry Kravis

Financier and Investor

I started at Columbia and, after my first semester, I said, "I don't know if this is really for me." I remember being in a class, a marketing class, my first year, first semester. And the professor said, "How many of you want to work for Procter and Gamble?" And everybody's hands went up. And I said, "Oh, my gosh, this is not for me. I've got to get out of here. I'm in the wrong place." I called my dad, and I said, "I'm going to drop out, and I'm going to go back to work for the Madison Fund." He said, "No, you're making a mistake, son." He says, "I think you've gotten the worst over. The first semester is always the hardest at business school. Stick with it. It will always be good to have your Master's." And long story short, I did stick with it.
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Nicholas Kristof

Journalist, Author & Columnist

Nicholas Kristof: There was one trip I made to Congo in 1997 to cover the civil war there. The UN had agreed to fly in a bunch of reporters. They didn't want to use one of their own planes, because it was a war zone, but they found a private plane and a Texan pilot, a wild and crazy Texan who had been flying drugs in from Colombia into the U.S. at a hundred feet above sea level. And finally that got too hot for him, so he relocated to Africa to fly into war zones for anybody who would pay him. And we ended up crashing. We ended up being in a plane crash flying into the Congo and that was scary, because we knew, we had about 20 minutes when we were losing control of the plane, lost hydraulics. You couldn't dump fuel, because you dump fuel with the hydraulics. Finally we crash landed. I was okay. But then I thought, well, maybe when I leave the Congo, I'm not sure I want to fly with some crazy pilot again. I looked at the map and there was a road going out that had recently been repaired by one of the rebel armies to go in. So I went, I know, I'll drive out. So I hired a vehicle. We tried to drive out that way. This road was just in the middle of nowhere. No nothing. Three wars going on. Three different rebel armies fighting their way along this at various times.
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