Matt Chanoff '82

San Francisco, Global Thinker

Matt Chanoff

Wherever he’s worked during his multifaceted career, Matt Chanoff '82 has heeded the lessons of Sarah Lawrence faculty member Michael Davis (philosophy).

“One of the things I learned from him that has really stuck with me for many years is an attitude of intellectual humility,” says Chanoff. It was Davis who taught him the importance of knowing what you don’t know. “That’s a thread in both the nonprofit stuff I’m involved with and my business career.” As a tribute to the impact of Davis’ teaching, Chanoff has provided generous faculty support in his name.

"There are human beings who are managing to survive in that poverty."

After earning a master’s degree in international economics and US foreign policy from Johns Hopkins, Chanoff started an Asia department for the National Endowment for Democracy, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to strengthening democratic institutions around the world. Later he 
worked as a consultant for (and investor in) new technology companies 
in San Francisco.

“The thing that animates a company is authentic demand—the world drawing the company in because it’s doing something that people can’t do for themselves and something they can’t do without,” says Chanoff, co-founder of Flashpoint, a startup accelerator that helps new companies discover their authentic demand.

These days, Chanoff devotes most of his volunteer hours to Shining Hope for Communities, a nonprofit founded in Kenya by Kennedy Odede, a college classmate of his daughter who built a community center in Nairobi, with the first $5,000 grant Chanoff gave him. “That was pretty amazing,” Chanoff says. “Money doesn’t usually go that far.”

He visited Kenya this summer to see a new complex built by Shining Hope, whose primary strategy for fighting poverty is to provide free schools for girls. “Yes, there’s unbelievable poverty, but there are human beings who are managing to survive in that poverty,” Chanoff says. “They’re active in their own lives, doing the things they can’t not do. Understanding that reality, being humble about it, and figuring it out. That’s the path to being effective.”