Dana Bennis and Melia Dicker met at the 2003 International Democratic Education Conference (IDEC) in Troy, New York. Late at night and between sessions, they dreamt together about building a national organization that could catalyze meaningful educational change based on democratic values and human rights.
Soon Dana and several other young educators accepted an invitation from Israeli educator Yaacov Hecht to travel to Israel to learn about the work of the Institute for Democratic Education (IDE) based in Tel Aviv. Yaacov connected Dana to New York City educator Jonah Canner, and they began meeting with each other, and with Melia, to put the pieces together.
Their vision was of an organization that would redefine democratic education and direct its message outward, to the general public. A core belief was that the best way to effect widespread change was to collaborate with students, educators, and policymakers in a variety of settings. They also believed in the need to bridge conversations around social justice, student voice, and sustainability.
In March 2009, The Bay and Paul Foundations funded a four-day vision and planning session that led to the incorporation of IDEA and a developing strategy. Dana Bennis served as IDEA’s founding director and secured two-year funding commitments from The Bay and Paul Foundations and the New Visions Foundation for planning and launch years. IDEA launched publicly in May 2010.
Dana and the Board of Directors recruited Scott Nine to serve as the organization’s Executive Director starting in July 2010. Over the next 2 years, IDEA’s staff traveled to conferences and events to network and build relationships, and we piloted our Innovation Tours, organizing, and online resources. During that time the board grew significantly, including noted education author Kirsten Olson, Puerto Rican educator Justo Méndez Arámburu, and long-time international development expert Ramón Daubón, who have been central to the organization’s growth.
In the fall of 2012, IDEA has 4 staff, 15 Senior Fellows, and 50 additional organizers impacting more than 40 educational organizations, 27 states and Puerto Rico.