Andrew Rasiej, chief executive of a dotcom start-up called Digital Club Network, was visiting a public high school in Silicon Alley in downtown Manhattan and was amazed that it had no computers. He dashed off an e-mail to a handful of fellow CEOs suggesting that they get together over a weekend and put the school online. More than 150 volunteers showed up for what turned into the digital equivalent of a barn raising. Rasiej, 41, was standing on a ladder, pulling computer cable through the high school's ceiling with Gene DeRose, CEO of Jupiter Communications, when he suddenly had an epiphany. "I realized that these people had incredible skills," Rasiej recalls. "I thought, why don't we build a database and match the skills to the need?"
Thus was born a philanthropy called Mouse--short for Making Opportunities for Upgrading Schools and Education. Two years later, Mouse has about 1,500 volunteers in its database and a budget of nearly $2 million a year. It has fully wired 38 inner-city schools, connecting some 75,000 kids to the Internet. Sarah Holloway, Mouse's executive director, says a worker who sweats alongside his boss, pulling cable in a public school, knows that they are after more than a fast buck. Says Holloway: "It is a bonding experience." Rasiej says that "a lot of CEOs approach me and take out their checkbooks. I tell them that's not what I am looking for." He wants brainpower and imagination.
Rasiej recalls an Internet server going down just before a high school was scheduled to go online in a critical demonstration for the board of education. "No one knew how to fix it," he says, "so we went back to our database and sent out a message for help." An hour and a half later, there was a knock on the door. A computer engineer walked in and said, "I got your e-mail. Where do I start?"
Joanne Wilson, who chairs Mouse's board, says, "If we don't give something back, history will say that we created as much money as the Industrial Revolution, and we didn't do anything intelligent."
--By William Dowell