Kwame Owusu-Kesse has been the Chief Operating Officer of the Harlem Children’s Zone since 2014 and will become Chief Executive Officer in July 2020.
Since 2008, Mr. Owusu-Kesse has brought a singular combination of academic, corporate and life experiences to the organization. He grew up against a backdrop of poverty, single parenthood and family struggles, but was fortunate to get several opportunities as a young boy to get a high-quality education and reach his full academic potential. He then went on to get bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard University. Because of his firsthand experience with the differences education made in his life, he has dedicated himself to making sure other children from families in challenging circumstances can reach their potential without having to rely on being the beneficiary of a lucky break.
After graduating from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree in economics, Mr. Owusu-Kesse began to work at the investment bank Morgan Stanley as an analyst. During his third year with the bank, he was chosen for an externship at the Harlem Children’s Zone, where he worked on several strategic analyses and was mentored by the then-CEO Geoffrey Canada.
After his one-year externship with HCZ, Mr. Owusu-Kesse returned to Harvard to pursue a joint degree program, receiving a Master’s in Business Administration from the Harvard Business School and Master’s in Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government. After graduating, he returned to HCZ in 2012 as a Senior Manager/Special Assistant to the CEO, implementing initiatives to improve instruction, reduce costs and manage construction.
When Mr. Canada passed the leadership of HCZ to then-Chief Operating Officer Anne Williams-Isom in 2014, Mr. Owusu-Kesse was chosen to replace her as COO.
Since becoming COO, Mr. Owusu-Kesse has worked closely with Ms. Williams-Isom to oversee the 2,000 employees and its programming – from The Baby College to all its afterschool programs to its college support office – as well as implementing a multi-faceted strategic plan. The plan is leveraging HCZ’s program data to refine its strategies; pursuing innovative solutions to further improve participant outcomes; creating efficiencies to reduce costs without reducing effectiveness; and improve operations and procedures in several key areas.
As COO, Mr. Owusu-Kesse has been a key liaison between the programming, financial and administrative functions of the organization, making sure that all are aligned. While he is laser-focused on the organization’s data, he is keenly aware of the importance of the people those numbers represent, acting as a mentor and counsel to students and staff.
Throughout his life, Mr. Owusu-Kesse has been a leader and devoted his energies to giving back. As an undergraduate at Harvard, he was elected as the president of the Black Men’s Forum and as an officer for the Class of 2006. He was also the co-captain of the junior varsity basketball team and director of a college-based nonprofit providing enrichment to under-served local youth. He also received the Harvard Foundation Award, the Harvard Magazine Stellar Senior designation and the Adams House Arms Award, among others. While in graduate school, he was Chief Marketing Officer of the Social Enterprise Club and a Bert King Fellow, a George Leadership Fellow and a David M. Rubenstein Fellow.
Mr. Owusu-Kesse lives in Harlem with his wife, Erin, and their baby daughter. In addition to his HCZ duties, Mr. Owusu-Kesse does freelance work as a photographer and a deejay.