Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report
Tech entrepreneur Harvey Najim has not exactly been idle since retiring in November as executive chairman of Sirius, the integrated IT solutions company he founded in 1980 and helped build into a firm that employs 1,700 people nationally and generates $1.5 billion in annual revenues.
If you think you just read a story about Najim and his latest act of philanthropy in San Antonio, you are probably right. He last appeared on the Rivard Report on Monday. Read more: “Children of Haven for Hope Celebrate New Playground.” The $100,000 playscape his foundation donated brought his total giving to the Haven to $2.4 million since 2007.
Najim will be back in the news later this same week. Thursday he is set to appear at the headquarters of Alamo Colleges with Chancellor Bruce Leslie for a major announcement about a multi-year, multi-million dollar scholarship program that will be fueled by a personal gift from Najim to the Alamo Colleges Foundation. Officials have not disclosed the size of the gift, but it’s expected to be significant and enable 200 students to fund their higher education at local community colleges and then local four-year institutions.
“I am very excited about the announcement on Thursday at Alamo Colleges,” Najim said. “I really feel that it will be a game changer for post K-12 education in San Antonio. Plus, in seven years, the 200 students will contribute $10-12 million each year into the San Antonio economy.”
Najim said the City and County will contribute to the program and that he hopes its innovative approach to fund scholarships for attendance in local schools will attract other significant philanthropic gifts.
“I am going to make the $10,000 college degree happen, but its’ not going to be online, it’s going to be in the classroom, in San Antonio,” Najim said. “We need to do something in this city and I am hoping other people who have the kind of net worth to make a difference will step up with me.”
His gift will be used to establish the Harvey Najim Pathways Scholarship for local public school students from districts where the majority of students face challenges in pursuing a college education. The scholarships will benefit 50 students a year for four years, with each recipient attending one of the Alamo Colleges for the first two years, and then transferring to one of the local universities to complete an undergraduate degree in information technology, cybersecurity, or nursing and health professions.
Eligible students can start applying as soon as Monday, Feb. 22, but not everyone will be eligible. To be eligible, students must have a 3.0 GPA or higher and be enrolled in dual credit or advanced placement math, accounting, science and computer technology courses. All high schools in in Edgewood, Harlandale, Somerset, South San, Southside, Southwest and San Antonio Independent School Districts are eligible.
“Too many jobs in technology and the medical field are not being filled with local San Antonio graduates – especially those from low-income families,” Najim said. “This low-cost, four-year Pathways Scholarship plan that begins at the Alamo Colleges and concludes at either Texas A&M University-San Antonio, The University of Texas at San Antonio or The University of Texas Health Science Center will create jobs for San Antonio students here at home – which can contribute $10M to $12M each year to our local economy. Plus it will enrich the partnerships between the Alamo Colleges and these universities.”
Najim said he did not know Leslie or much about his workforce development efforts at the Alamo Colleges until a mutual fiend shared one of the chancellor’s weekly video blogs.
“I had no idea what an incredible job the Alamo Colleges are doing in San Antonio, and a lot of people do not know what they are accomplishing,” Najim said. “They are going to assign a mentor/counselor to every one of these kids who are in our new program to make sure they succeed.”
“We applaud Mr. Najim for having the foresight to create a scholarship program that not only ensures that students will be able to complete their education at the Alamo Colleges, but that they will build on that foundation by completing a four-year degree as well,” said Alamo Colleges Chancellor Dr. Bruce Leslie. ”This aligns perfectly with our goal of increasing the number of our students who complete a bachelor’s or higher degree after transferring from the Alamo Colleges and our commitment to empowering our diverse communities for success. We will assign an advisor to every student in this program to ensure they stay on track for success!”
Bexar County Judge Wolff, who will attend the Thursday announcement, praised the strategic partnership, and said he is exploring opportunities to help these underserved students get summer internships and jobs upon graduation.
Najim also will announced a second gift Thursday that will help fund the 200 students’ continuing studies as they progress form the Alamo Colleges to one of the three public universities in the program: University of Texas at San Antonio, University of Texas Health Science Center, and Texas A&M-San Antonio.
The transfer guidelines are still in development, but these are the specific degree programs at each university:
* Texas A&M University-San Antonio: Computer Science B.S.; Computer Information Systems B.B.A. (emphasis areas: Information Assurance and Security; Project Management; or Computer Resource Planning) and Information Technology B.A.A.S. (emphasis areas: Information Assurance and Security; Project Management; or Computer Resource Planning).
* The University of Texas at San Antonio: Cybersecurity B.B.A. and Information Systems B.B.A.
* The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio: Respiratory Care B.S., Clinical Lab Sciences B.S., Emergency Health Sciences B.S. and Nursing B.S.N.
“Texas A&M-San Antonio is delighted to continue our outstanding partnerships with the Alamo Colleges, said Dr. Cynthia Teniente-Matson, president A&M-SA. “This program is an avenue for an affordable four-year degree in a broad range of information technology initiatives that are critical to serving first-generation students and those who may be concerned about affordable options in a high quality program. I am personally inspired by the audacious vision that Mr. Harvey Najim has established to help students earn a four-year degree that will lead them on a pathway to prosperity to an in-demand career.”
“We are excited to partner with Harvey Najim to establish the Najim Pathways Scholarship program in The University of Texas at San Antonio College of Business,” said Wm. Gerard Sanders, dean and Bodenstedt Chair of the UTSA College of Business. “Through this innovative program, first-generation students will be able to pursue a bachelor’s degree in cyber security—an area of high demand not only nationally, but particularly in San Antonio. As the No. 1 ranked cybersecurity program in the nation, we welcome this opportunity to educate San Antonio students and transform them into confident and career-ready professionals.”
“The UT Health Science Center San Antonio is committed to educating the next generation of healthcare professionals for our community,” said William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP, president of the Health Science Center. “Harvey Najim is leading the way in strengthening the pathway for students through this innovative collaboration with the Alamo Community College District to pursue their educational goals which will qualify them to be competitive in the health industry. We applaud his leadership.”
Najim is clearly on a mission.
His “other job” since 2006 has been to serve as president of the Harvey E. Najim Family Foundation, which he founded with $75 million from the proceeds of an equity infusion into his company that accelerated the company’s growth and set the stage for its eventual sale last year. By 2013, the foundation had grown to $84 million, and in December, Najim quietly added another $41 million to bring the foundation to its present $125 million size. He has pledged additional contributions in the coming years.
That makes Najim one of the city’s top philanthropists, a game changer for San Antonio area charities and nonprofits. The Najim Foundation’s focuses on providing children with food, shelter and clothing; funding children’s education programs; and funding medical treatment for children. Najim himself also funds personal gifts, such as the coming contribution to the Alamo Colleges.
If the community need involves children, it seems, Najim funds it. His 2015 gifts included a $1.5 million gift to the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio to help fund a new pediatric blood and bone marrow transplant center. That happened after Najim made a $1 million gift to the 2015 United Way campaign, which helped the local chapter set a new annual fundraising record of $53.5 million, surpassing the 2014 record by more than $2 million that was set by, you guessed it, Najim serving as United Way chairman.
The San Antonio Food Bank, Bibliotech, Morgan’s Wonderland, the Children’s Shelter the Boys and Girls Club of San Antonio, among many others, have been recent recipients of significant gifts from the Najim Foundation, which has now handed out more than $70 million in contributions to 175 local organizations since it was formed 10 years ago.
Najim cites Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, as an inspiration when you ask him how a tech entrepreneur became a serial philanthropist. Edelman is a graduate of Yale Law School and the first black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar.
“There are several things that have touched my heart, and one comes from Marian Wright Edelman, an African-American women,” Najim told me in a Christmas Eve conversation when I asked him to share more personal background. “She said service is the rent we pay for being here. It is the very purpose of our lives and not something we do in our spare time.”
Najim readily quotes Edelman and others he admires and has studied, and now emulates, including Monsignor James Habiger, a prominent Catholic voice for social justice and former head of the Minnesota Catholic Conference who died in 2012.
One such quote Najim shared with me was said to have come from the final speech of former Minnesota Sen. and Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, who served under Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson and died in 1978:
“…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
I’ve seen Mahatma Gandhi credited with saying the since oft-repeated, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” What is clear is that Najim’s mission is caring for children and students who do not have the care and support they need to thrive and grow to become productive adults.
Correction: The original version of this story said the 200 Alamo College scholarships will be funded by the Harvey E. Najim Family Foundation. In fact, they will be funded by personal gifts from Najim.
*Top image: Philanthropist Harvey Najim, of the Najim Family Foundation, recently donated $100,000 for a playground at Haven for Hope. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone