Focusing on the ball allowed Andre Agassi to become the No. 1 tennis player in the world. He’s applied that same focus to childhood education, the cause that’s driven the tennis star in his philanthropy and impact investing since he was in his early twenties.
“I made a commitment to myself that anything I do or engage with has to be tied to what drives me and motivates me,” he told Forbes. “I don’t deviate from impacting children’s futures in the most impactful way possible.”
Agassi, 47, was a keynote speaker at UBS’ second annual Philanthropy Forum in the United States in San Francisco on October 24, where the theme was turning passion into impact. On stage and in conversation with Forbes, he discussed the importance of having focus and building sustainable philanthropy.
“The first thing I learned in philanthropy is that you have to recognize who you can’t help and that’s going to be tough. I immediately said, ‘What is my story?’” said Agassi. In his autobiography, Open, Agassi wrote about how he dropped out of school after eighth grade to focus on his tennis career because of intense pressure from his father. “My story is this lack of choice in life and a lack of education. I saw a direct correlation between a lack of education and a lack of choice, and that was the impetus for me focusing on education.”
Agassi started his foundation in 1994 and hosted his first annual “Grand Slam for Children” the next year, raising $1.8 million. In 2001, he started a KIPP-style charter school in Las Vegas called the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, which originally served students in third through fifth grade.
Agassi said not starting with kindergarten was one of his early mistakes. “I wasted time, dollars and resources,” Agassi said, noting that many third graders came into his classroom not knowing how to read. “You quickly start to learn that you need to start earlier and grow slower.” By 2005, the school had expanded to K-12.