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Khan Academy Founder Sal Khan Talks About What Motivates Him

by Jurvetson via Flickr under Creative Commons

What drives Sal Khan?

He appreciates the power of technology to effect change and knows how to use it. Many readers of this site already know the story of Khan, founder of Khan Academy, and how he moved from working in hedge funds to pioneering free education via YouTube. (In 2006, he used the platform to launch educational videos in science and math to help his little cousins who were struggling in those subjects. Khan currently has more than 2,600 lessons posted on YouTube.)

VentureBeatReporter Jolie O’Dell spoke with Khan (Khan Academy founder: “Helping people is more important than making money”) before he addressed attendees at the Future of State Universities Conference in Dallas. She discovered more of the personal philosophy that drives the social entrepreneur, who is a darling of the education technology and philanthropic worlds right now.

“I can’t claim to be a Mother Teresa, but the fact that helping people is more important than making money is just reality,” he told us.

The interview indicates that Khan´s motivation in life has changed since he started the video project.

When he started the Khan Academy, he said, “Helping people felt good. Not good enough to quit my job, but all of the sudden, the idea that I could reach millions on a regular basis and transform their lives, it made a lasting impact. That mental model, being able to do that rather than racking up points on a scoreboard, it’s a no-brainer.”

Back in his hedge fund days, Khan said he saw financial gain as “a way for me to prove myself, a scoring mechanism.”

These days, thanks to the guidance of mentors who had plenty of money but placed a greater emphasis on morality and family, Khan said he sees wealth in a new light.

“If you have enough money to buy a house and a couple Hondas, you have everything you need. Beyond that, you should be optimizing for your happiness.”

Khan emphasizes social ROI. The importance of making money was replaced by a desire to help people, hence optimizing happiness:

Currently, the Khan Academy operates on funding from donations and support from various foundations, but Khan says, “The social ROI is pretty huge… We hope that it’s sustainable so we can stay 100 percent focused on the mission.”

He also notes that the Khan Academy is becoming a powerful brand name in education. “We’re delivering value. And there are models we can leverage while still keeping our core content free.”

Khan believes, with technology, he has created a clean slate in the education industry, rebuilding from the ground up just like democracy-builders in the Middle East:

“I think democracy itself is undergoing a transformation,” he said. “Look at what’s going on in the Middle East. Because of cross-border communication, it’s changing what it means to be a nation.”

via Khan Academy founder: “Helping people is more important than making money” – VentureBeat

See earlier essay on VentureBeat that makes, a “case against Khan Academy and for 3.5 million Sal Khans instead.”

So Silicon Valley, I challenge you to help make teaching an even prouder and more empowering profession. Find innovative ways to pay teachers extravagantly, give them autonomy within a set of objectives (also called standards) and let them choose which technology to tap and when to tap it. Support and train continuously. This is where your innovative power should be directed! Help us to create and unleash 3,500,000 Sal Khans.



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