“I would stack the Senior Team at BUILD against any start-up or company I am involved and invested in.”
—Ajay Agarwal, National Board Member
and Managing Director, Bain Capital Ventures
National Executive Team
Ayele Shakur brings almost three decades of experience as an innovator in urban education. Prior to coming to BUILD, she served as the President and CEO of the Boston Learning Center for 15 years. Under her leadership, the Center expanded from serving 100 students annually in Boston to 700 students across the state. Ayele joined BUILD in 2011 as Boston’s Founding Regional Executive Director.
A veteran classroom teacher, Ayele taught for eleven years in the Los Angeles area and in the Boston Public Schools, and co-authored the book Boost School Performance – A Parent’s Guide to Better Grades Fast. Ayele is the recipient of the 2012 Boston Celtics Heroes Among Us Award, and the 2007 Nan Bennett Kay Great Friend to Kids Award presented by the Boston Children’s Museum. In 2014, she was appointed as Chair of the Education Committee for the Boston NAACP, and held this post for three years. In 2015, she was appointed by the Boston School Committee to co-chair the Opportunity and Achievement Gaps Task Force for the Boston Public Schools. She was honored with the 2017 Barr Fellowship, which recognizes outstanding nonprofit leaders in Boston, and in 2018 became part of the GK100 Most Influential Black Bostonians. She is a motivational speaker and a blogger for the Huffington Post.
A native of Boston, she holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Boston University and a Master’s degree from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.
Suzanne McKechnie Klahr
Suzanne was born in London, England and raised in New York City. Her mother, a public high school teacher in Harlem, helped expose Suzanne to the value of education. Her parents divorced and remarried when Suzanne was young, and both sets of parents instilled in her the value of the competitive drive with a compassionate spirit, an equally entrepreneurial and service-oriented mindset.
As an undergraduate at Brown University, Suzanne spent a summer interning at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. While earning her JD at Stanford Law School, Suzanne completed her clinical work at the East Palo Alto Community Law Project.
Suzanne’s experience in East Palo Alto sparked her big idea. The residents of East Palo Alto, then dubbed the ‘murder capital of the US,” were looking for resources to launch their own businesses. Just down the street, Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs and investors were navigating the dot.com bubble and burst. Suzanne saw that both communities sought to employ the same skill set to build a better future: the entrepreneurial skill set.
When Suzanne graduated from Stanford, she had an offer from Skadden Arps and was awarded the prestigious Skadden Fellowship to pursue public interest law. With the Fellowship, she started an organization to help low income adult entrepreneurs gain access to capital and networks to start businesses. It was not until four high school students came into Suzanne’s office, looking for capital to start their own business, did Suzanne find the right market for her program.
Suzanne hypothesized that more than just these four students wanted to be successful in business, and that most of these students did not see a high school or college education as the most efficient or relevant means of doing so. She struck a deal with these four students: if they stayed in school and improved their grades, she would help them get their business off the ground. Both parties kept their word, demand for Suzanne’s help grew, and BUILD was born.
Suzanne has earned numerous awards and recognition for her unique work bringing an invaluable skill set to a disadvantaged population, including: Ashoka Fellowship (2006), CBS’s Jefferson Award (2007), San Mateo County’s Women’s Hall of Fame (2008), San Jose Business Times’ Silicon Valley’s Most Influential Women (2008), the Manhattan Institute’s Social Entrepreneurship Award (2012), the Forty Over 40 Award (2015) and the Elfenworks In Harmony with Hope award (2016). Suzanne was also inducted in to the Young President’s Organization in 2014 and serves as a Trustee of the Skadden Fellowship Foundation and on the Advisory Board of One Degree, Daylight Justice, Open Road Learning and Until There is A Cure.
In addition to her role as CEO and Founder of BUILD, Suzanne has served as a Lecturer of Law at Stanford Law School where she pioneered the first ever Law School course on “Social Entrepreneurship” in the United States. She currently teaches Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship at Harvard Law School during winter quarter and frequently lectures at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Suzanne is married to a fellow entrepreneur. Together, they have two children (seven and 12 years old) who may have even more entrepreneurial energy than their parents.
Regional Executive Directors
Director of Programs
Alex Ramirez, Bay Area
Alexandrea Ramirez is a Bay Area native who has spent the last 11 years supporting Oakland schools. She began her career with Aspire Public Schools as a founding educator teaching English and History to middle school students. Throughout her 6 years with Aspire she led two schools in completing their WASC Accreditation and served as Dean of Students focusing on school culture and teacher coaching. Alex joined BUILD in 2011 and since then has worked in several roles including Program Manager, College Counselor, and Program Director. She received her BA in Communications and Masters in Education from the University of San Francisco.
Interim Regional Executive Director
David Wheeler, Greater Boston
Regional Executive Director
Bryce Jacobs, Metro D.C.
Bryce Jacobs is an educational reformer and educator with a particular interest in family engagement and college access/equity. Prior to joining BUILD Metro DC, Dr. Jacobs was Director of National Programs at College Summit, an organization with a mission to help more low income students get to and through college, and previously was a program specialist at the National Parent Teacher Association. In her role at College Summit, Dr. Jacobs wrote training materials, designed curriculum, and innovated new programs that supported 11 regions across the country. She is a founding board chair and current board member of Sela Public Charter School, a diverse Hebrew language immersion school in Washington DC. Dr. Jacobs has a B.A. in International Development from Clark University, an M.A. from George Washington University in Education, and a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in Education Policy and Leadership.
Regional Executive Director
Chymeka Olfonse, NYC
Chymeka Olfonse has dedicated her entire professional career to empowering individuals through education. She currently serves as the Regional Executive Director for BUILD NYC. Prior to BUILD, Chymeka served as the National Executive Director of Minds Matter National Inc., an academic mentoring nonprofit headquartered in New York City. She set the organization’s strategic direction in collaboration with the leadership of 12 chapters. During her tenure, Minds Matter doubled the number of students served and successfully launched four of its 12 chapters. She developed a comprehensive fundraising strategy and formed partnerships to achieve scale and impact to benefit the national network. In addition, Chymeka has worked in programming, development and management capacities at the New York City Department of Education and at The After-School Corporation (TASC). As a Program Manager in the Office of Strategic Partnerships at the New York City Department of Education, she oversaw a number of large efforts to bring private-sector philanthropy into the public schools. Prior to that, Chymeka was Deputy Director for the Mid-Atlantic region of Jumpstart for Young Children
Chymeka is a graduate of Yale University where she earned a dual Bachelor’s degree in Sociology with Economic Policy and African and African-American History. She completed her MPA with a focus in Public and Nonprofit Management at The Wagner School of Public Service at New York University. In the summer of 2012, Chymeka earned a Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management certificate offered through Harvard Business School’s Executive Education Program.
Chief of Staff
Larisa spent her entire career in the for-profit world until she had an epiphany in 2008 and decided to be part of an organization that was being innovative in the world of education and she has been with BUILD ever since. Larisa serves as a member of BUILD’s National Leadership Team working closely with BUILD’s Board of Directors and largest investors. Larisa represents the Office of the CEO both internally and externally on programmatic, strategic and development initiatives.
Larisa was born in Chicago, grew up in the Bay Area, attended DeAnza and West Valley colleges, and honed her marketing, sales and recruiting skills with long term positions at companies such as Bell Sports and Robert Half International. Larisa lives in the moment and cherishes each day she gets to be at the beach (preferably on the Big Island of Hawaii), at a Zumba class, or simply barbequing with her fiancé, friends and family.
Board of Directors
PwC Partner Silicon Valley, PwC
Managing Director, Bain Capital Ventures
Co-Founder, The Pramana Collective
Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Mynd
Anchor, Bloomberg West
Head of Relationship Banking, SVB
Chairman, New York Angels
Founder & CEO, Twitter
Founder & CEO, Square
Managing Director, Seven Post Investment Office LP
Chief HR Officer, Uber
Director of Diversity and Belonging, Airbnb
Founder and CEO, BUILD
Co-Founder, Cultivated Wit and About Race podcast
Chairman, CEO, and Co-Founder, EVA Automation