Salesforce.org, the philanthropic arm of the San Francisco-based cloud computing company, is expanding its education funding from its home city to Oakland.
The foundation will invest $2.5 million into Oakland public schools this year and pour $6 million into San Francisco’s schools, bringing its total contribution to Bay Area education to $22.5 million. The funding will go toward enhancing STEM curriculum, creating a fund for principals to promote innovation in their schools, and improving higher education awareness. In addition to the $2.5 million investment, Salesforce employees will volunteer 20,000 hours at Oakland and San Francisco schools.
Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff has been a driving force behind the education investments, which come with strings attached — school districts that receive the funding are adding STEM curriculum and undergo annual analysis to prove the benefits of the investment.
Salesforce.org started donating to San Francisco schools in 2013 in what executives referred to as a pilot program, with the aim of improving the technology workforce pipeline. Four years and tens of millions of dollars later, the foundation is expanding its program across the Bay to Oakland.
“We like to go beyond writing the check,” Ebony Frelix, senior vice president of philanthropy and engagement at Salesforce.org, told TechCrunch. “It’s really about wrapping all our services — grants, people, and technology — around the schools. Since our partnership with San Francisco Unified, we are able to take that playbook to other districts.”
That playbook includes developing STEM career pathways for African-American and Latino students and increasing support for STEM teachers, Frelix explained. But the plan also includes a program called the Principal’s Innovation Fund (PIF), which gives principals $100,000 to spend any way they like, as long as it benefits their school. The PIF program is already underway in San Francisco and will roll out to six middle schools in Oakland this fall.
San Francisco schools operate on a budget of $558.5 million, and Oakland’s budget is around $633.6 million, so the Salesforce grants won’t drastically increase the amount of cash cities have to spend on education. But the investment does give Salesforce unique leverage over curriculum in the Bay Area’s public schools — and the company is using its influence to make a longterm bet on the local workforce.
In San Francisco, the influence of Salesforce on education is already showing. The city school board passed a resolution in 2015 to require computer science curriculum for students from kindergarten through high school. Although the resolution is still on its way to becoming reality, the new computer science classes that have been established so far are being funded through the Salesforce partnership.
The Salesforce.org grants have also allowed San Francisco to hire 19 full-time tutors and teachers for math and science instruction, and 10 more are slated to be hired this year. Math class sizes for San Francisco eighth graders have been reduced from 33 to 24 students and grade point averages have risen from 2.85 to 3.05.
“Salesforce and Marc Benioff tapped us to move at a time when we were coming out of a recession in California,” San Francisco Unified School District spokesperson Gentle Blythe explained. “We had a sense of where we wanted to go, but it was really hard to imagine actually getting there. With Salesforce’s investment, we’ve been able to imagine actually getting there.”
The benefits for schools are clear. But it’s still uncertain what impact on the tech workforce could be. It will be several years before middle schoolers who enrolled in the first Salesforce-funded classes enter the workforce, and it will be even longer before enough students have graduated from the city’s new STEM classes that the impact on employment can be measured.
Salesforce is trying to solidify that pipeline by introducing a new part of its education program, called Future Centers. The Future Centers will connect students to college tours, career and higher education fairs, and on-the-job shadowing opportunities that will give them a glimpse of what it’s like to work in tech.
But the tech pipeline in San Francisco schools suffers from the same diversity problems as the industry writ large — in the most recent school year, 31 percent of the participants in high school computer science classes were female and only 11 percent were African-American or Latino, according to Blythe. Salesforce wants to remedy that by increasing STEM programming in schools, but for now, the diversity statistics match Salesforce’s own numbers — the company’s workforce is 70 percent male and 67 percent white.
“We are seeing that underrepresented minority students going to school in underrepresented areas aren’t getting access and exposure to these types of classes,” Salesforce.org’s Frelix said. “If they are not getting it early on, their chances to go to college are slim. If they don’t have those basic building blocks, they likely won’t take a computer science class. The likelihood of them graduating with a related degree is very low. We want to give them access and exposure so they can compete for these jobs and we will have a more diverse and talented workforce.”
Expanding the donations to Oakland schools makes sense for Benioff. He and his wife Lynne Benioff have been active charitable givers in Oakland, funding a children’s hospital and gifting $3.4 million earlier this year to Oakland Promise, an initiative that aims to raise high school graduation rates in the city.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf made meeting with Benioff one of her first priorities upon taking office in 2014. “Since I’ve become the mayor he’s been a great thought partner to me and a great inspiration as someone who thinks big, thinks longterm and invests in ways to lift up the innovation that is already there,” Schaaf told TechCrunch. “There’s recognition that there is tremendous hunger and capacity for bringing a robust STEM education to the children of Oakland that is equitable.”