Member Spotlight:  Karen Kalish



Karen Kalish, MPA KSG 2000

Karen Kalish is a serial social entrepreneur focused on education transformation (not reform!), literacy, closing the academic, opportunity, and achievement gaps in the nation’s low-performing schools, and ending all forms of discrimination. She is the founder of three nonprofits and one program: 

  • Operation Understanding DC (OUDC), founded in 1993, is a year-long leadership program for high school students that teaches them about their own and each other’s races, religions, cultures, and histories.
  • HOME WORKS! The Teacher Home Visit Program is about parent and family engagement in low-performing schools. It trains, supports, and pays teachers to go to the homes of their struggling students to get their families engaged in their children’s education to improve academic achievement, attendance and classroom behavior.
  • Books and Badges partners St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department recruits and other reading partners with St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) elementary school students to improve reading and language skills and relations with law enforcement.
  • Cultural Leadership is a teen leadership program dedicated to civil rights, social justice, and democracy, and how to be activists, advocates, and change agents to rid America of racism and all forms of discrimination.  

Karen lived in Washington, D.C. for 27 years, Chicago for five, and Cambridge, Massachusetts for two. She taught school, was a TV reporter for CBS in DC and ABC in Chicago, and had a business teaching clients how to talk to the media without putting their feet in their mouth and how to write and give dynamic, interesting speeches and presentations. She has served on the boards of directors of many nonprofits from the NAACP to the DC Jewish Community Center and has won many awards for her community service, including the HCSL's Community Service Award in 2011.


Karen received an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School in 2000 (at the age of 54!) concentrating on African American issues, leadership, and nonprofits. (She was so proud of her degree from Harvard that she enlarged it into wallpaper which papers her office bathroom wall!)

Karen is the author of How to Give a Terrific Presentation, Dealing Effectively with the Media, and I’ll See You On The Radio