Remembering Julian Robertson

Publication date
Wendy Kopp, CEO & Co-founder, Teach For All

News of the recent passing of Julian Robertson at age 90 left me reflecting on the outsized impact he had on Teach For All. As some of you know, he was an American businessman who helped pioneer the hedge fund industry, and he was also a philanthropist and a big champion of global network. Many of you met him at our Global Conference in Puebla, Mexico, where we honored him for the role he played in catalyzing our network. 

Through his foundation, Julian had been a long-time and substantial supporter of Teach For America  and other efforts to improve the quality of public schools in urban and rural communities in the United States. His belief in Teach For America translated into the kind of financial support that was a rarity at the time for social sector organizations like ours, and it played a significant role in fueling Teach For America’s growth into the institution it has become. 

When I was first considering how to be responsive to the many people we were meeting around the world who were determined to adapt our approach in their countries, many Teach For America supporters cautioned me against turning my attention globally, concerned this would take away energy from addressing inequity in the United States. But Julian reacted very differently. I still remember his immediate response—”Of course you should do this.” He saw the importance of ensuring opportunity for all children—and he understood that taking a global approach could speed up progress everywhere, including in the United States. 

In the context of a philanthropic climate that did not prioritize global education, the Robertson Foundation became Teach For All’s first significant foundational donor, and Julian personally helped champion our cause with other prospective supporters. Without his encouragement and support, it’s hard to imagine how we would have progressed on the trajectory we did, now about to celebrate 15 years with a network of organizations in 60 countries developing thousands of teachers and leaders in marginalized communities around the world. 

Julian’s love for New Zealand also inspired him to support the launch of Ako Mātātupu: Teach First NZ a decade ago, and has had a deep impact on the country’s underserved communities. His Aotearoa Foundation continues to be one of Ako Mātātupu’s largest funders. 

In recognition of Julian’s extraordinary generosity and support, in 2014 Teach For All created an award that we give out each year to supporters whose championship is critical to the network’s progress. The Tiger Award—named in honor of Julian’s penchant for calling both people and his business ventures Tigers—is a testament to his unparalleled support for our work. I’m so happy we started this tradition as it will keep his memory and example alive and well within our global community. 

I’ve often reflected on the game-changing and often unacknowledged impact of the rare people who say ‘yes’ and get behind entrepreneurs and new ideas. I’m so grateful that Julian Robertson was one of those people and will always treasure his extraordinary encouragement and support. His belief and commitment set into motion the incredible growth of a network whose impact will be felt for generations in classrooms and communities all over the world.