A lifelong learner, Khosla came to the United States for school after becoming disenchanted with India's educational system. As she learned more about the way the American educational system worked, she was shocked by the narrow focus and rigidity that she felt characterizes much of that system. Instead, she was drawn to the uncommon philosophy of her children's school, which emphasized individual learning. "What I love about the philosophy there is the treating the student as an individual: It's not about mass production; it's not about factory lines; it's not about this is where we want you to be, so be there," she says. "It's about...helping that student...to get to wherever their passion is." In response to her beliefs and passion, she established the CK-12 Foundation in 2007 with serial entrepreneur Murugan Pal. (Pal passed away last year.) CK-12 supports K-12 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and, to that end, generates and distributes educational content via web-based “Flexbooks” that can be either downloaded or printed.
It’s not surprising that the co-founder of an education nonprofit that offers free resources to help create educational equity for all believes in giving tools. "I think it's really criminal to give money and then say, 'Here's the money, go improve your life,' and walk away to the next thing, because what you're doing is you're creating dependency," says Khosla. "And once you create that dependency you're actually putting people in a bigger hole than they were before." Khosla's belief in the importance of real empowerment is one reason she admires the microfinance movement: "It [isn't] about just giving you the money; [it's] about saying 'Here's some money—go make your life, and we support it,'" she says. "'But we want you to be accountable for it, and tell us how you will grow this.'"
Giving this kind of support—the kind that can empower those in need to create a better future—is "the real meaning of philanthropy," she says.
Neeru Khosla’s Key Messages for Philanthropists
- Be hands-on in your philanthropy to make a difference. Watch: Beyond textbooks: Neeru Khosla aims to create free content with customizable materials for students.
- Involve the beneficiaries you want to serve to ensure good philanthropic outcomes. Watch: Neeru Khosla finds input from students to be so critical that she hired a team of them.
- Philanthropy should ensure people—and nonprofits—have the tools they need to be self-sustaining. Watch: Opportunity, not dependency: Neeru Khosla’s philanthropies provide ‘tools to grow.’