Before 1997, Eric Adler and Rajiv Vinnakota did not know one another. However, they each had the same dream—to open a public boarding school for underserved children. By chance of fate, Eric and Raj had a mutual friend with whom they shared this dream. The friend introduced them to each other, and shortly after meeting each other to discuss the possibility of opening such a school, Raj and Eric quit their jobs and started The SEED Foundation. Their stories, as well as the story of SEED’s success, are ones of taking risks, defying the odds, and giving their lives to serve others.
Eric grew up in Washington, D.C., and his passion for the city and its community started at a young age. While in D.C., Eric attended the Sidwell Friends School in northwest Washington. He then went on to study engineering and economics at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. After graduating from Swarthmore, Eric taught high school physics at St. Paul’s School in Baltimore, Maryland. It was during his time at St. Paul’s that Eric began to focus his attention on urban students. A few bright, lucky students from inner-city Baltimore were brought to St. Paul’s on academic scholarships, but Eric noticed that even with the same teachers, books, and classrooms as all the other students, the scholarship students seemed to struggle. It was this observation that caused Eric to ask himself “What would it take for these students to be able to succeed?” The idea of an urban, public boarding school planted itself in Eric’s mind. Eric went on to earn an MBA in finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He worked as a management consultant to Fortune 500 clients, the principal of an investment advisory firm, and an adjunct faculty member of the Johns Hopkins University Graduate Division of Business and Management. He then was introduced to Raj Vinnakota, who had a similar idea about building a boarding school for at-risk children. They teamed up to found The SEED Foundation and, in 1998, opened the first-ever SEED School in Washington, D.C. Today, Eric is co-founder and managing director of The SEED Foundation.
Eric serves on the boards of Swarthmore College, The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, and the Baltimore Educational Scholarship Trust, and is the current chapter chair of the Young President’s Organization (YPO). He is an Echoing Green fellow for his work at The SEED Foundation, a past recipient of the Manhattan Institute’s Social Entrepreneurship Award, and received Oprah’s Angel Network’s Use Your Life Award on the Oprah Winfrey Show. He was named a 2002 Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian Magazine. Eric is married with two children.
Raj grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His parents, who had immigrated from India, were devoted to Raj receiving a quality education, and instilled in him their belief that a good education was the way up and out of poverty. Raj attended Princeton University, from which he received a B.S. in Molecular Biology, as well as certificate of studies from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy. Raj’s first job after college was as a management consultant with Mercer Management Consulting. However, Raj’s training as a scientist continued to shape his world view. After a conversation with friends about the challenges of educating urban, at-risk students, Raj developed a scientific hypothesis: that underserved children, when provided with a 24-hour, supportive, academically-rigorous environment, could achieve scholastic success. Soon after, Raj met a management consultant from a competing company, Eric Adler, who also had visions of a college preparatory boarding school for urban youth. Together, they founded The SEED Foundation and opened the first-ever SEED School in Washington, D.C. in 1998.
In addition to his role at The SEED Foundation, Raj is a board director for a public company, Colfax Corporation (NYSE: CFX) and serves on the national advisory committee for the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center. He is also a former trustee and executive committee member for Princeton University. Raj is the former national chair for Annual Giving at Princeton and served on the executive committee of the Aspire capital campaign for Princeton. Raj is an Echoing Green fellow and an Ashoka fellow. For his work at The SEED Foundation, Raj has been named a Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian magazine, has received the Manhattan Institute’s Social Entrepreneurship Award and has received an Oprah Winfrey “Use Your Life” Award. Raj was named the 2009 winner of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson Award, the highest honor that Princeton bestows on an undergraduate alumnus. He is married and has one daughter and two cats. He loves basketball, pro football, working out and learning from his daughter.