Organization: Silicon Valley Urban Debate League

Location: Palo Alto, CA

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About the Silicon Valley Urban Debate League:

The Silicon Valley Urban Debate League (“SVUDL”) helps low-income youth tap the power of their voices to compete, excel and change the world. A coalition of local educators and community leaders founded the group in June 2014 to fill a startling gap in opportunities in the high-poverty schools of San Jose and the Peninsula. San Jose alone is home to 75,000 low-income students – more than San Francisco and Oakland combined. Only 1 in 4 students in East San Jose schools who graduate are eligible to attend CSU and UC colleges. Nearly 50% of high school students from East Palo Alto drop out; less than 10% of those who graduate attend a four-year college.

SVUDL has quickly grown to reach over 200 students in five schools in San Jose and East Palo Alto, with three more schools joining in Fall 2016. SVUDL’s success has spurred a huge demand: six more schools ride the SVUDL waitlist hoping to launch programs in the near future and an additional 22 schools in the region have been identified as potentials.

SVUDL’s strategy is to go deep, creating strong partnerships with high schools that leverage teacher trainings and full-campus events to grow large programs that reach and inspire students who are disengaged in traditional classrooms. In a short time, SVUDL programs have proven themselves uniquely capable of engaging a diverse base of students in a very rigorous academic activity, using three program components:

  • Competitive Debate taps the joy of expression and the excitement of competition in debate tournaments, inspiring youth to practice hard and make previously unimaginable progress;
  • Leadership Development provides youth with skills and opportunities to lead teams, schools and communities – and supports each debater all the way through college graduation; and
  • Curriculum Innovation refines and spreads the strategies and tools of debate, helping adults create classrooms and schools that channel the power of student voice to make smart cool.

SVUDL’s programs leverage the success of 20 Urban Debate Leagues across the country to build an innovative model grounded in peer-reviewed research. More than 95% of urban debaters graduate high school; 90% of graduates go on to college and are 74% more likely to test as college ready in reading. Urban debaters are 103% more likely to graduate college than their peers. The proven rigor and impact of debate has equipped SVUDL to make a uniquely compelling case to funders and program partners and to rise quickly as a local leader in youth development and education reform.

For more information on SVUDL, please visit

The Opportunity:

The Executive Director is the primary leader of SVUDL, reporting to the Board of Directors and leading a team of staff including: two Regional Program Directors, each building strong programs to serve the students and schools in their region; a Program Manager keeping the program impeccably organized and spreading best practices across the SVUDL network; and a Development & Communications Manager supporting the Executive Director in developing funding proposals, communicating the SVUDL message and managing administrative needs.

Key responsibilities of the Executive Director include:

Strategic leadership: Engaging the Board of Directors along with students, teachers, school administrators, supporters and a diverse range of stakeholders, building coalitions to develop and refine SVUDL’s multi-year strategy; writing and executing an operating plan that details a path and delegating to achieve that strategy; spearheading a communications plan that puts SVUDL at the center of regional conversations about education reform and youth development and further building its reputation as an innovative and vital force for youth;

Fundraising: Cultivating and securing funds from major individual and foundation donors and supporting Board members and other champions in successfully raising funds in their networks; leading development campaigns including SVUDL’s successful corporate campaigns; developing and executing a system of donor engagement that fosters strong long-term commitments of support;

Staff leadership: Fostering an inclusive, inspiring work environment that maximizes the potential of SVUDL staff; supporting growth of the senior staff through regular guidance meetings, annual appraisals and professional development plans; promoting systems of communication and collaboration that help staff and volunteers meet their potential;

Program: Overseeing the continued growth and refinement of the SVUDL program; working with the Program Manager and Directors to identify and promote best practices in SVUDL and the national network of Urban Debate Leagues; building strong coalitions, partnerships and connections with school boards and administrators, teachers and coaches, modeling SVUDL values during events and site visits; and

Administration: Developing the organization’s quarterly, annual and medium-term budgets and communicating budget progress to the board; overseeing financial reporting and bookkeeping; ensuring SVUDL’s compliance with all legal requirements; ensuring a welcoming and productive office space.

Candidate Profile:

The ideal candidate will have the following qualities and characteristics:

Passion for the Mission

The Executive Director will have knowledge of youth development, urban schools and the needs of low-income and first-generation students. S/he will have a passion for SVUDL’s mission and providing career and life opportunities to kids in under-resourced schools. Prior experience with debate is not required but the Executive Director must understand the advantages of using debate as a tool for lifelong success. The Executive Director will have experience in education in high poverty schools, coalition-building, personnel hiring and management, program development and management and fundraising and will be able effectively to represent SVUDL to its various stakeholders.

Strategic Leadership and Management

The Executive Director will be a strategic leader who, with the Board, sets and articulates a vision for SVUDL. S/he will thrive in a start-up environment and will be able to leverage best practices from other organizations and craft novel solutions to address the needs of the communities SVUDL serves. The Executive Director will have the capacity to translate mission, strategies and goals into day-to-day operational objectives, prioritize tasks and empower the staff to make great achievements on a clear timeline. S/he will have superior organizational and oral and written communications abilities, have a demonstrated understanding of how to run a financially sound organization and will be skilled at partnering with a strong Board of Directors to advance the mission of the organization. The Executive Director will be a strong internal manager and will encourage, support and mentor staff.


The Executive Director will work in close strategic collaboration with the Board and staff to achieve SVUDL’s desired outcomes and to build and maintain relationships on behalf of the organization. The Executive Director will have a clear understanding that fundraising is a fundamental piece of the role and will be enthusiastic to engage in this work. S/he will be an excellent verbal and written communicator to donors, volunteers, teachers, administrators and students and will have the capacity to inspire SVUDL’s diverse range of stakeholders.

Collaboration and Ambassador for SVUDL

The Executive Director will be a natural collaborator, building relationships and promoting SVUDL throughout the community. S/he will actively and strategically seek partnerships and build coalitions with other organizations, educational institutions and leaders on behalf of the strategic vision of the organization. S/he will have experience fostering a culture of continuous improvement and accountability among stakeholders and will be an individual of unquestioned integrity, ethics and values, someone who can be trusted without reservation.

A Bachelor’s degree is required; an advanced degree in a related field is preferred.


Alexandra Corvin, Anne B. McCarthy and Allison Dunne of Koya Leadership Partners have been exclusively retained for this search. To express your interest in this role please email Alex, Anne and Allison directly at All inquiries and discussions will be considered strictly confidential.

About Koya Leadership Partners:

Koya Leadership Partners is a national retained executive search and human capital consulting firm that works exclusively with nonprofits and social enterprises. We deliver measurable results, finding exceptionally talented people who truly fit the unique culture of our client organizations and ensuring that organizations have the resources and strategies to support them. For more information about Koya Leadership Partners, visit