Dakarai Aarons, director of policy, partnerships and movement for CZI, has focused his career on education and improving the system for teachers and students. (Photo courtesy of Dakarai Aarons)
The people closest to our society’s most pressing issues should be the ones to inform solutions and drive change. So when we say to “stay close to the work” at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, we mean it. Our teams partner with diverse educators, families, community leaders and organizations, scientists and more to ensure the voices of those most impacted are always heard.
In this edition of Stay Close to the Work, get to know Dakarai Aarons, director of policy, partnerships and movement for CZI’s education work. Learn how Dakarai has dedicated his career to education and about his passion for changing the education system to better serve teachers, students and families.
My role at CZI allows me to spend every day focused on work that’s close to my heart — supporting communities and educators to improve outcomes for young people.
Tell us a little bit about what you do at CZI.
I lead CZI’s education policy and advocacy work, which focuses on supporting a diverse and bipartisan group of grantee partners creating momentum for systems change. We work with our partners to ensure the education system meets all students’ well-being and academic needs and that all children feel fully seen, heard, and understood. In service of that, my team partners with families, educators, researchers, advocates, and policymakers who are reimagining education.
How did you come to be a part of the CZI team? Tell us about your journey.
I’ve had a few different careers: journalist, public relations executive, advocate, and now, grantmaker. Each of my roles has focused on education in some way. I love being part of launching new approaches, new organizations, and new teams — and the opportunity to join CZI represented each of those things.
In my previous job, I’d been increasingly working at the intersection of technology and education. Joining a team that’s thinking about both the product’s and program’s roles in changing education systems seemed like the perfect fit for me.
We know balancing the demands of work and life can be challenging. What are some of your favorite ways to prioritize your self-care?
The pandemic forced all of us to slow down. I’ve learned a lot about the importance of self-care and taking advantage of those quiet moments. Anyone who knows me knows I have a deep passion for all things automotive. So taking long drives is one way I like to unwind on the weekends. California is also home to some of the best wines in the world, meaning trips to Napa and Sonoma with friends and family are also a must throughout the year.
How does your work at CZI relate to who you are and your values in life?
I’m an educator’s son, and a significant part of my family has always worked on educational quality — inside or outside the classroom. My role at CZI allows me to spend every day focused on work that’s close to my heart — supporting communities and educators to improve outcomes for young people.
What’s a project that you enjoyed and why?
One of the most rewarding projects has been working with our grantee partners during the heart of the pandemic to expand broadband access for students and their families. We quickly learned that more than 10 million students didn’t have this crucial lifeline for online learning. It was amazing to support the research, advocacy and community engagement work that turned the tide. As a result of our partners’ work, we saw billions of dollars allocated to make these connections happen, changing reality for millions of students and families.
What do you enjoy about the education team and CZI as a whole?
Our education team is full of passionate and committed people who care deeply about students and their families. We all want to be sure the work we do as a philanthropy contributes to the success of those young people in school and life.
I appreciate that CZI is made up of people from a wide array of professional disciplines and backgrounds. It’s exciting to see how all of that comes together in our work. And I have the incredible privilege of supporting grantees working to open doors of opportunity for children.