Rajiv Vinnakota is the executive vice president of Youth and Engagement Programs at the Aspen Institute, a new venture focusing on youth leadership development, civic engagement, and social justice.
Prior to the Aspen Institute, Raj was the co-founder and CEO of the SEED Foundation, the nation’s first network of public, college-preparatory boarding schools for underserved children. Raj remains on the board of the SEED Foundation.
Raj grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His parents, who had emigrated from India, were devoted to Raj receiving a quality education and instilled in him their belief that a good education was the way up and out of poverty. Raj attended Princeton University, from which he received a degree in Molecular Biology, as well as certificate of studies from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy. Raj’s first job after college was as a management consultant with Mercer Management Consulting. However, Raj’s training as a scientist continued to shape his world view. After a conversation with friends about the challenges of educating urban, at-risk students, Raj developed a scientific hypothesis: that underserved children, when provided with a 24-hour, supportive, academically-rigorous environment, could achieve scholastic success. Soon after, Raj met a management consultant from a competing company, Eric Adler, who also had visions of a college preparatory boarding school for urban youth. Together, they founded the SEED Foundation and opened the SEED School in Washington, DC in 1998, which now serves 330 students in grades 6-12.
Today, there are three SEED schools in the nation – the SEED school in D.C., now seventeen years old, the SEED School of Maryland, which opened in 2008 and graduated its first cohort of high school graduates going to college, and the SEED School of Miami, which opened in August 2014. To date, over 90 percent of SEED graduates have enrolled in college, and they earn bachelor’s degrees at 4.5 times the rate of our nation’s lowest income students. For their work at the SEED Foundation, Raj and Eric have been named Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian magazine, are recipients of the Manhattan Institute’s Social Entrepreneurship Award, and are recipients of Oprah Winfrey’s “Use Your Life” Award.
In addition to his role at the Aspen Institute, Raj is a board director for a public company, Colfax Corporation (NYSE: CFX) and was recently elected to be a director of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation. Raj is also a founding board member of Path Forward, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to get people back to work after they’ve taken time off to care for a loved one. Path Forward works with companies to create mid-career internship opportunities for people to re-enter the paid workforce.
Raj is a former trustee and executive committee member for Princeton University, former national chair of its annual giving committee, and former executive committee member for its Aspire capital campaign. In 2009, he received the Woodrow Wilson Award, the highest honor that Princeton bestows on an undergraduate alumnus. Raj is an Echoing Green fellow and an Ashoka fellow. Raj is married and has one daughter and two cats. He loves basketball, working out and learning from his daughter.