Sophie Fanelli

President

Sophie leads the Stuart Foundation and stepped into her role in 2019 after serving as its Chief of Programs. As President she sets the vision and supports strategies to achieve the Foundation’s aspiration for education systems that improve life outcomes for young people. She was drawn to the Foundation for its clear commitment to changing the odds for equity, and for its conviction that systems can change to far better serve students who have been farthest from opportunity. She is both leader and steward of a long Stuart tradition of listening and learning in pursuit of change. 

Sophie has spent her entire career working for social justice as an advocate, a coalition builder, and now in philanthropy. Trained as a lawyer in France, Italy and at the University of Texas, Austin, Sophie came to the Foundation following work on criminal justice issues, which inspired an understanding that well resourced public schools constitute society’s best platform for setting upward youth trajectories at scale and for strengthening an inclusive multiracial democracy. She has served as Director of Research & Policy at the Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access (IDEA) at UCLA, where she oversaw public policy and legislative efforts focused on education equity and access, student and parent engagement, school transformation, and the democratic purpose of education. She also worked at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, where she concentrated on advancing education equity, LGBTQ and immigrant rights, and advocacy for housing and homelessness issues. 

She believes the Foundation’s work is most effective when it is closely guided by community needs and voice, and when it is multidisciplinary in nature – employing a range of interconnected approaches including practice, research, advocacy, policy development, storytelling, litigation and organizing.

Daughter of a music critic and social justice activists, Sophie has moved to a lifetime soundtrack of jazz, blues and politics. When not working or arguing about ideas, she can be found playing with her dogs, hiking, cooking, playing tennis, reading, and negotiating what to stream with her partner Deb, a high school teacher, and 16-year-old stepson, Sevan. Sophie serves on the boards of Grantmakers for Education and the National Center for Youth Law. In addition to English, she is fluent in French and Italian.