GOOD & IBM present
Welcome to Figures of Progress

Big Data is empowering and driving 21st Century leaders, whether in business, city government, or even sports. This year, we’re expanding Figures of Progress and inviting you to take part in learning and doing. Join us as we continue the dialogue and explore how big data is being harnessed to change our world.

GOOD & IBM present

Oliver Hurst-Hiller

Chief Technology Officer and Head of Product

Hurst-Hiller is responsible for the technology and user experience that power DonorsChoose.org's unique philanthropic marketplace. Public school teachers from every corner of America post classroom project requests on our site. Then, "citizen philanthropists" can find and support the projects that most inspire them. During his tenure, the organization has delivered $110 million in resources to 6 million students. The Microsoft Alumni Foundation recently honored him with the Integral Fellows Award.

Prior to joining the team in 2006, Hurst-Hiller managed product engineering projects for Microsoft's new search engine, now called Bing. He also helped start Microsoft Live Labs, an applied research laboratory for Internet technologies, and he is the co-inventor of 11 issued U.S. patents related to Internet search technologies.

DonorsChoose.org
As an industry leader, what most influenced you on the road to your current position?

Having personally benefited from some amazing New York City public school teachers during my formative years, and with my brother having spent his career teaching at public schools in high-need communities in Massachusetts, I’ve always felt strongly about the importance of empowering great teachers in our highest-need communities. So I was immediately intrigued when a friend introduced me to DonorsChoose.org in 2006, right after I’d left the Bing product engineering team at Microsoft and moved back to my hometown of New York City.

I was naturally interested in the core idea of connecting regular folks directly to classrooms in need. But given my passion for technology, I was especially excited about DonorsChoose.org not being a traditional charity that just needed help with its website, but rather a new model for charity that’s wholly enabled by technology. After better getting to know the organization’s unique blend of micro-giving, personal choice, financial transparency, and vivid donor feedback, I was convinced that this model was the future of giving. I was convinced that I could use my Microsoft experience and passion for technology to grow the organization in order to help a far greater number of teachers and students.

What type of data and technology is the most valuable to your company?

We’re excited about using open data to crowd-source creative improvements to education in America. Last summer, we ran a contest in which we invited developers and data crunchers to Hack Education with us. We challenged them to create apps and analyses to engage the public and impact education.

We opened up 10 years of DonorsChoose.org’s data for the contest: more than 300,000 classroom project requests from more than 165,000 teachers at 43,000 public schools, and more than a million donations from 400,000 donors.

The response from the tech community was simply amazing: 25 submissions were so awesome that we featured them in a special showcase, 8 winners were selected by our esteemed judges as contest finalists, and 1 big winner was chosen by Arianna Huffington, Fred Wilson, and Wendy Kopp…and crowned by Stephen Colbert!

All this inspired us to add a Data Scientist to our team to focus on mining our data and inspiring others to mine our data. We believe that our data has the potential to substantively improve education in America.

How has data changed and informed the way you can interact with customers and improve your customer service?

We’ve found that the more data, transparency, and choice we offer at DonorsChoose.org, the more citizens and corporations give. So in addition to using data to indirectly inform how we can improve our customer experience, we’re putting it directly into the hands of donors so they can make better decisions. Not only does this help ensure that the best ideas rise to the top in our “philanthropic marketplace,” but it also gives donors more confidence and power.

What are the qualities and/or skill sets that you believe future successful leaders will need to have?

DonorsChoose.org has worked with many name-brands like Starbucks, Chevron, Crate & Barrel, and SONIC Drive-In on successful cause marketing campaigns. These experiences prove there’s great opportunity for nonprofits that can expertly collaborate with corporate partners and drive results to their bottom line. Similarly, these campaigns demonstrate that there’s significant upside for business leaders that are able to align their organizations with great causes that involve customers and employees directly.

What is your greatest hope for how your work can influence positive change in our world?

Public school teachers use DonorsChoose.org to go straight to the public with their best ideas for helping their students learn, without any gatekeepers standing in the way. These front-line educators have incredible ideas that burst with personality, originality, and imagination for helping their students learn, and for the resources their kids most need. Citizen donors recognize a great idea when they see it and open their wallets to support the classrooms that inspire them.

What’s one surprising fact that people should know about the government agency you work with?
Stephen Colbert is on our national board and he’s a big softie for helping teachers and students in need. He ran a strawpoll for good during the 2008 presidential primaries, he supported our troops by supporting their children's education, he punked Jimmy Fallon to raise more than $100,000 for classrooms in need, and helped raise $600,000 from the reddit community..

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Response Box

The DonorsChoose.org model has changed philanthropy in education by sharing information from classroom teachers in need directly with the donor. What other industries would be able to successfully replicate this giving model?

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