Former NAACP President Benjamin Jealous has been hired by a venture capitalist firm in Silicon Valley that specializes in the “disruptive democratization of a sector.”
Jealous will take up the position of venture partner at Kapor Capital, the investment division of the Kapor Center for Social Impact in Oakland, California. Kapor — which is owned by Mitchell Kapor and his wife Freda Kapor Klein — describes its mission as, “invest[ing] in seed stage tech startups that generate both economic returns and positive social impact. We believe diversity in tech is a strategic priority to the industry.”
Under the heading “How we invest in companies,” Kapor explains, “[w]e invest in gap-closing info tech startups that revolutionize people’s lives across a vast set of industries. We look for companies that are addressing lack of access and opportunity for underserved communities or are bringing about the disruptive democratization of a sector.”
Speaking about his new role, Jealous told the Associated Press, “My life’s mission has been leveling the playing field and closing gaps in opportunity and success, I’m excited about trying a different approach.”
Jealous announced his departure from the NAACP in September 2013 and left in December. At the time, he intended to transition into becoming a university educator and spending more time with his family. However, his time at the NAACP attracted the attention of Kapor Capital. Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, Kapor Klein said “the turnaround he did at the NAACP rivals anything that’s been done in the corporate world.”
While boasting a notable history, when Jealous took over as president the NAACP was losing ground politically and “financially shaky.” But during his tenure, revenue grew to $46 million and the donor base totaled nearly 132,000 names — something that would earn him the accolade of being one of Fortune magazines “40 Under 40” in 2012.
Jealous has not commented specifically on the salary for his new job, other than to say that it is about the same as what he was receiving at the NAACP – $285,000. Jealous will not be moving to California though, he will instead commute once a month to the West Coast.
For some, the appointment of Jealous has been a significant development in the Bay area. President and CEO of the The California Endowment Robert Ross described it as a “wow” announcement.
“To have a renowned, noted civil rights warrior advocating for the future of young people in a visible Silicon Valley role is really extraordinary. You could have asked me 100 possible job possibilities for Ben Jealous when he left the NAACP and that wouldn’t have been on the list,” Ross said.
For Kapor and Kapor Klein, the hiring of Jealous is the ideal step in advancing their social activism. They recently backed President Obama’s new “My Brother’s Keeper” program which seeks to assist young men of color’s advance in education and employment, and they see the hiring of Jealous as integral to a new strategy of social change.
“In the era of gridlock some of the old methodologies of how you get social change accomplished are at best stalled — at worst dead,” Kapor Klein said. “So we are using the best of startup culture and applying it to intractable social problems.”
Kapor Klein has also spoken about how she nurtured Jealous into the world of business after holding NAACP fundraisers at her home in Martha’s Vineyard. The Kapors and Jealous would discuss “how there should be more connection between the business world of innovation and the civil rights world.”
Speaking about his new role Jealous said, “The greatest possibility to diversify the valley and in solving the problems in our communities is in the startups. If you get the seed right from the very beginning, then you can reap the benefits easier.”