Julie Clugage




Princeton University – MPA

UC Berkeley – MBA

Dartmouth College – AB

At I Want Her Job, the description “dynamic self-starter” is often shared as a key trait for success. Today, we serve up the picture of a dynamic self-starter in Julie Clugage, the co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Team4Tech. Their goal: to improve access to 21st century education in developing countries by connecting technology professionals with nonprofit and non-governmental organizations already working to improve education in these geographies.

With a background in economic development and experience living abroad in a Guatemala village for more than two years, educational access has always been a passion for Julie. While living in the country, she taught school and set up a computer lab, igniting the spark for Team4Tech (but the nonprofit wasn’t created quite yet). After Julie’s experience, she completed her graduate studies and went on to work at a handful of development institutions and, after listening to that little inner voice again, returned to the tech sector at Intel.

While at the company, she started the Intel Education Service Corps in 2009, a corporate social responsibility program for education. “I saw that we had more than 100 thousand talented, amazing employees around the world who wanted to get involved in projects, but just didn’t know how,” Julie says. It was that thought — along with her role of supporting nonprofit customers using Intel’s education platform — that sparked the initiative.

“There were all of these doubters who said, ‘Is anyone going to want to do this? Will their managers let them go for two weeks?’ We had 500 people apply for the first 20 spots and it’s been like that ever since,” Julie says. Now more than 400 Intel employees have completed more than 80 projects. The program made Julie think: What about applying this formula for all tech companies? So, two years ago, Julie and her former boss at Intel, Lila Ibrahim, left Intel and co-founded Team4Tech (Ibrahim, who was leading the education group at Intel at the time, has since left to become a venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers). “I feel like I’m really living the startup life right now,” Julie says. “We have five people working on Team4Tech and this year, we’ll have done seven projects with tech employees from eight different companies.” Even more proof that the little things matter, because they’re often catalysts for much bigger things. 

The top ingredient for success is flexibility and adaptability; the ability to stay solutions-oriented when things are changing 100 times a day.

How does Team4Tech deliver on its mission to improve access to 21st century education in developing countries?

We do this through three layers. In one layer, we can expand access to digital literacy, which would be installing a computer lab or placing computers in schools. Another layer is to help a partner leverage digital content or software to improve context expertise in STEM or English literacy, for example. Sometimes we even work with preschools on early reading and math tools. The third layer is what I think is most exciting: role-modeling 21st century teaching and learning.

For kids to get a really good job today, they’re going to need current skills, including critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration, which goes against the typical way they’ve been taught. Usually, there are 80 kids in a classroom with one chalkboard in the corner. And if students have a piece of paper and a pencil, they’ll try to write down and memorize what’s on the board. We’re trying to help with access to technology and software, but also trying to introduce this idea of collaborative problem solving.

To do this, we work primarily with companies, but also with individuals from the tech-sector. We put together teams, then work with them on the sidelines of their day job via phone for two months to get them trained for a project. Then our actual trips require two weeks of travel. After that, as an organization, we follow up with the non-governmental organization (NGO) and send another team to continue the work. We like to have long-term relationships with these nonprofits, so for anywhere from three to five years, we’ll send one to two teams per year to make sure each project is fully integrated.

Is there a particular story or situation that stands out in your mind that you’ve been particularly proud to be a part of?

In 2009, one of the first projects we did was with a small nonprofit that was working in Kenya. They started a preschool for kids from the local, under-served slum area about 45 minutes outside of Nairobi. You have to pass an exam to get into first grade in Kenya; even to get into the public schools. None of these kids were passing the exam. They had no development at all. From our work at Intel, we knew about an adaptive learning software program that would be customized to each child and focused on building early English literacy and numeracy.

When we started in 2009, it took a couple of years to really integrate. The school had all kids spending 30 minutes a day on the adaptive software. Then, this year 100% of the kids from that preschool passed the exam. Now that nonprofit organization is expanding the program in the local primary schools, because they didn’t just want to graduate their kids and then have them go back to nothing. We went back and set up computer labs in two of the local primary schools so the first and second graders also get 30 minutes a day using the software. At the time, we helped with baseline measurement, and six months later, the reading scores of the first-graders had doubled. That’s what we want to see!

With so much on your plate, how are you organizing your day?

It seems more and more that my day starts at 6 a.m. A lot of our calls are with Asia or Africa and 6 a.m. is the magic hour when you can get everybody on a call, so every day this week, I had a 6 a.m. call. I try to wrap up my calls by 8 a.m. so I can make sure my girls get off to school. Then I go into our office. A lot of what we do is training to prepare the tech employees to go on these projects, so we’re constantly having team meetings to check in on the status of the preparation. Then there are all of the startup things I do, too; from the overhead to the admin responsibilities. And before I know it, it’s 6 p.m. and I go home.

As an executive director of a nonprofit and a mom, how do you manage your time?

For me, it’s interesting. Why I love what I’m doing right now so much is that I find it really liberating to have the freedom to focus on a singular objective I have in mind: how do we improve education by connecting technology volunteers with these projects? And then I have the complete freedom to figure out how to do that. I don’t go to work and sit in a cube. I’m constantly out meeting people. I travel and participate in about two projects per year, and for each, I’m gone two weeks at a time. This year I went to Vietnam and I’m about to go on a project in Cambodia. But I do it with a lot of help. My mom helps a lot and my nanny helps me with my kids.

I think for me, work/life balance means: how do you recharge and feel re-engergized every day? The way I do that is by meeting with different people and having an blank canvas for how I can put the pieces together to come up with that solution. That’s why I love what I do right now. I feel it gives me the freedom to do that in a very entrepreneurial, startup way.

What are some of the challenges you face in your business?

Our biggest objective is getting companies signed on and working with us on multiple projects per year. Our pitch to companies is that this is not only good for education and corporate social responsibility, but it’s good for your employees as leadership development and good for your product. We have great successes so far and project volunteers learn about emerging markets and how consumers use technology in these markets.

We’re currently working with VMware, which has developed a leadership curriculum around their program. Intuit is also working with us on multiple projects per year. Now that we’re two years in, we’re constantly pitching bigger companies. We’re to the point where some companies are calling us and we love that! That’s what we want.

By the end of next year, we hope to get to the point where we have a run rate of 20 projects per year. That means getting at least five companies fully on board and doing three to four projects a year each.

What’s the peak — and pit –—of a job in the nonprofit world?

The nonprofit startup world is also my world. We’re just trying to create as we go. The peak for me is something I experienced just the other day — when I get the framework set up so all the pieces come together just right. We had kicked off one of the volunteer teams from VMware who will travel to Cambodia and we also had the nonprofit on the phone calling in from Cambodia. The volunteers with amazing backgrounds and talents were there, VMware’s Corporate Responsibility team was there, and it was just this moment of, “Ahhh, this works! Everything fits together.” For me, that’s the magic.

As for the pit, at a startup we’re constantly pitching companies and sometimes the companies say, “Not now,” or “This isn’t for us,” and that’s always disappointing. We have such grand visions for what they can each bring to the table, so we just have to go back again and keep trying in six months or a year. Having to generate all that momentum yourself can sometimes be tough.

You have a lot of experience building teams. What qualities do you look for when you’re assembling groups of ambassadors for the Team4Tech mission?

This context is very unique. When we interview those who apply, we tell them, “It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love.” We work in very remote, rural and averse conditions in developing countries. The top ingredient for success is flexibility and adaptability; the ability to stay solutions-oriented when things are changing 100 times a day. Although we spend a lot of time preparing for these projects and everyone readies their lesson plans and technology, you can arrive on the ground and find out something is broken or something you thought was going to be there for you is not there.

It’s also important to stay positive, pivot and do your best. Our volunteers are there to support the nonprofit client, so the reality is the reality. You can’t go in with the mindset that, “I’m going to achieve X,” because it’s not about you. It’s about empowering somebody else. This is why a big part of our training beforehand is focused on human-centered design. This methodology is a constant iterative cycle that is in a constant loop: plan, act, reflect, revise. That’s such a relevant skill for someone in technology to take back to a day job after their experience.

Is there anything else would like to add?

I think a lot of times in the tech sector, people want to do something like this, but might doubt if their skills are relevant or if they can make it work. We have people from every function — from legal and HR to sales and marketing — who volunteer with us. We can use your skills and we can set you up with a life-changing experience; for you and those you are helping.

Editor’s Note: Team4Tech is looking for people with a passion for expanding access to educational opportunities. If you or your company is interested in volunteering or partnering, email info@team4tech.org.