Harvard first stop on path to applying technology to education
Lisa Braden-Harder knocks the socks off many people. She’s won multiple awards for her work while at IBM, and has four patents in Natural Language Processing to her credit, one of which arose out of her collaboration with Microsoft Research. In 1993, she founded Butler Hill Group, a leading language technology consulting and services firm that helped clients develop technology offerings for international markets. Butler Hill's services included search, speech recognition and text analytics.
When Butler Hill merged with Appen, Inc., a linguistic technology business based in Sydney, Australia and backed by Anacacia Capital, an Australia-based private equity firm, the transaction created a new global leader in linguistic solutions. Lisa went on to become co-president and then CEO of Appen, where she led the firm’s IPO on the Australian Securities Exchange. But Lisa’s heart was in technology, and not in the management of a large multinational company. She decided to fulfill her passions, not in her town of Ridgefield, CT or in Sydney, Australia, but in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Start of a Legacy
“While I was in the midst of running the company, I really couldn’t think about the next step, but I knew there would be an aspect of philanthropy to it,” recalls Lisa. In January 2016, Lisa and her college-age son started to have a lot more in common when Lisa enrolled in Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative. She joined approximately 40 Fellows, all former executives, who were looking to put their expertise to work within the social impact sector “where they can potentially make an even greater societal impact than they did in their careers,” according to the program. Lisa says she was looking at philanthropic opportunities and that “as soon as I came across the Advanced Leadership Initiative, I immediately knew this is what I wanted to do. What’s exciting are the amazing professors and cohort group, and the chance to clarify my thinking about next steps.”
Lisa ultimately plans to combine her expertise with linguistic technology and her interest in education, perhaps creating unique educational software affecting schools and teachers, an area where organizations like the Gates Foundation are focusing. “People ask me about ringing the bell at the Australian Stock Exchange and the celebratory lunch in front of the Sydney Opera House, but what really excites me is what I can do with this new opportunity. Lisa practically bubbles over thinking about a new company that is more about a mission than another paycheck.
“I was in a niche area and never thought it would attract this kind of attention. We were up against billion dollar competitors, and were small relative to them. I never envisioned that an Ivy League program and this opportunity would be possible.”