Learn how Teach For America Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana board member Emily Kos is rethinking the role of a donor, and creating a brighter future for teachers and students.
January 22, 2020
When people imagine the role of a philanthropist, they typically think of someone who donates money. Emily Kos, a board member of Teach For America Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana, is working to expand that. “I started out with a very simplistic view of giving back,” Emily says. “Either go work full time in a nonprofit or write a check. A lot of people think too much in that binary.” As a managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Emily is using her professional time and resources to offer Teach For America the sort of guidance the firm provides to corporate clients.
Emily first became involved with Teach For America in 2013, shortly after moving to Chicago. “Chicago wasn’t going to feel like home to me until I found a way to give back to the community,” Emily says. Through BCG, Emily was connected to an existing board member at the organization, and was deeply impressed by Teach For America’s model. “There are a lot of organizations that focus on educational equity,” she says. “But TFA is unique; they are playing the long game by creating the leadership capital to do this work.”
Emily deeply understands the importance of being given access to opportunity. She was born in Korea and adopted by an American family. Growing up, she went to a public high school in Virginia, and went on to study at Duke and Harvard Business School. During her time at Harvard, she reconnected with her Korean family. “I learned what my life would have been like if I hadn’t been adopted by a family with access to a great public education, and it stood in stark contrast to the path I’ve taken,” she says. “The life I have now was so impacted by the couple of times I won the lottery. And I began to think about how many more children are out there, with all the same potential, but not the same opportunities.”
“By helping to build the internal strategic and operational effectiveness of TFA, we help make every dollar donated work harder for the students we serve.”
BCG has been Emily’s professional home for the last 13 years. Since she became involved with Teach For America, she’s wanted to make a real investment of BCG’s resources in the organization. Before joining the board, Emily facilitated BCG's involvement in several small projects. When the time came to develop Teach For America’s next strategic plan, Emily jumped at the opportunity to partner more deeply. It was a perfect fit for BCG Chicago’s Center for Illinois’ Future, an initiative working to improve well-being in Illinois by investing BCG teams and resources in collaboration with organizations to drive breakthrough social change in the community.
As part of this partnership, Emily led a team of consultants, including several Teach For America alumni, to provide additional support to Teach For America’s staff and guide them through the strategy development process. The team interviewed dozens of parents, students, and teachers, and deeply analyzed qualitative and quantitative data to form the strategy for TFA Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana as a whole. “This project allowed me to use the differentiated skills I have to give back in a unique way,” she says. “At BCG, we want to support and partner with organizations like TFA who value our data-driven approach, analytical rigor and strategic thinking, and ability to bring diverse coalitions of people together to get things done.”
Looking ahead, she hopes more donors will supplement their financial support with this type of investment. “By helping to build the internal strategic and operational effectiveness of TFA, we help make every dollar donated work harder for the students we serve,” Emily says. She knows that a strong education system is the responsibility of every citizen, and hopes more individuals in the private sector begin to feel empowered by the role they can play. “Education has had a really profound impact on my life,” she says. “We as a country have underinvested in education and the profession of teaching, and I want us all to play a part in changing that.”