Anand Swaminathan, Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company in San Francisco, was a coach in buildOn’s Partnership Program at Coliseum College Prep Academy in Oakland during the 2017-18 school year. Inspired by his Partnership Program experience with his buildOn student partner Taheerah, Anand shared the following story at the 2018 buildOn Bay Area Dinner in San Francisco. Taheerah’s story can be read here.
When I first joined buildOn’s Partnership Program at Coliseum College Prep Academy in Oakland, I didn’t know what to expect. I was simply passionate about engaging with students and being helpful in anyway I could. Ten of my colleagues from McKinsey’s San Francisco office joined me as coaches in the Partnership Program, and for all of us, it turned out to be the most inspiring experience. I learned about the students. I learned about their community. I learned more about service. And I learned a lot about myself in the process.
During the Partnership Program, I had the distinct honor to serve as a coach for Taheerah, a remarkable buildOn student. Taheerah is already a leader, and she’s brilliant. I realized within a few minutes of meeting her that she would teach me far more than anything I could teach her.
Above: Anand and Taheerah work together during buildOn’s Partnership Program. Speaking on what she’s learned from Anand, Taheerah says, “He’s shown me that the road to success might not be an easy one, but that I can get there by using what I’ve learned and working hard, just like he did.”
Over the course of six months, Taheerah and I spent quite a lot of time together. I was given a tour of her school. I got to participate in a day of service with her. And I watched Taheerah shape her story and start ideating about the professional journey she wants to embark on. And frankly, this taught me how to think about my future, and what I want to do when I grow up…but I still have a long way to go on that front.
Taheerah taught me that there is simply no challenge that is too big to overcome.
Taheerah taught me that there is simply no challenge that is too big to overcome. During our service day together, we went to the East Oakland Boxing Association to help clean the gym, work in the garden, reorganize the food storage, and organize a bunch of donated books in their library. We were doing all of this so that children in the community had a better gym, community garden, and library. Taheerah decided that we’d do the heavy lifting with the food storage reorganization.
Now, this was not something that I had a lot of experience with. It involved moving a bunch of very large shelves around that I could barely move, and then organizing the heavy food items together on a set of shelves. During this process, I actually ended up getting stuck without a way to get out—I had helped rearrange the shelves in a way that I literally boxed myself into a corner!
Above: Anand helps organize food and donations with buildOn students at the East Oakland Boxing Association.
At first Taheerah laughed at me when she saw my panicked look…but then she decided she should rescue me. She gave me the idea to climb over the shelves—even though that proved a lot tricker than I expected, but I made it. You see, Taheerah’s mind worked much faster than mine, and I realized that instead of panicking when I get stuck in tricky situations, I need to get creative on how to get out. This is just one small example of a lesson I learned in buildOn’s Partnership Program, and it’s one of many.
…hope is something you always maintain, no matter the situation.
From all of our time spent together, buildOn and Taheerah taught me that hope is something you always maintain, no matter the situation. I learned that I’ve taken certain things for granted in my life and it’s important to have compassion for others and the challenges they face every day. I also learned a deep respect for hard work and was shown that it’s possible to always think about service and giving back to others as we go through life.
Above: Anand introduces Taheerah at the 2018 buildOn Bay Area Dinner in San Francisco.
buildOn’s Partnership Program was very meaningful to me. It allows you to truly get in touch with students and learn from them as you try to impart some of your knowledge. And it is truly a humbling experience.
Given how much the experience meant to us, McKinsey’s West Coast team has agreed to partner with buildOn in two different ways this fall—through a Trek to Nepal to build a school alongside local community members and through another Partnership Program with buildOn students.
Thank you, Taheerah, for everything that you taught me. You are a true leader in Oakland and you inspire others through service.