Honorary Doctor of Laws
Citation delivered by Professor Joe Chicharo, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Global Strategy) at the University of Wollongong on the occasion of the admission of Douglas Lee Becker as a Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) on 22 July 2015.
Deputy Chancellor, I present Douglas Becker.
In 1937, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that the ‘test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little’. Being denied education, a necessity of life, denies the opportunity for people ‘to better their lot and the lot of their children’. Doug Becker’s legacy, carved out of a strong sense of purpose to help others and through the transformative power of education, embodies FDR’s vision of a society that embraces social responsibility and works to achieve equity and fairness.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, the first signs of Doug’s budding ingenuity and determination emerged when, at a mere eight years old, and after first asking his Father to lend him a briefcase, he took his own invention to filter pollution emitted by smokestacks to an investment seminar.
In his youth, he planned to become a doctor, volunteering at the Union Memorial Hospital from 12 years of age. It was there he met one of the great mentors in his life, Dr Frederik Hansen, while developing a desire to help people and to make a positive impact on society: values that would shape the rest of his life.
Working part time at a computer store during high school, Doug began investigating the digitisation of medical records, partly to solve the age old problem of deciphering the chicken scrawl that is doctors’ writing, and largely to improve patient outcomes through accurate record keeping and minimising the chance for medication mistakes.
At 17 years old, he started a healthcare technology company, with a friend from high school, Chris Hoehn-Saric; Doug’s older brother, Eric; Eric’s friend, Steven Taslitz and Dr Hansen, developing LifeCard, an electronic health record. Proving you should not be judged for your age, but for your knowledge and your entrepreneurship, Doug and his collaborators would go on to sell the company two years later for a multi-million dollar sum. Doug then decided to invest his share in what he saw as the new frontier, education, driven by the belief that ‘technology could transform education like it had healthcare’.
This was the beginning of a lifelong focus on the education sector. By 1990, Becker and Hoehn-Saric acquired a fifty per cent share in Sylvan Learning Centers, renowned in America for its kindergarten to twelfth grade educational services. They acquired the other half in 1993 and Becker became Chairman and CEO, with the company flourishing and expanding internationally, particularly in adult education services.
In 2003, the company was split in two, Hoehn-Saric taking on the kindergarten to twelfth grade arm and Becker taking on the higher education arm, which was renamed Laureate Education in 2004. Under his leadership, as Chairman and CEO of Laureate Education Inc., the organisation has grown to encompass undergraduate, masters, and doctoral degree programs spanning engineering, education, commerce, medicine, law, health sciences, hospitality and IT. This global network of universities, including a partnership with the University of Wollongong in Malaysia, delivers education to more than a million students worldwide, with a goal of empowering the communities they operate in and creating social mobility.
Doug Becker is also the Board Chairman of the International Youth Foundation (IYF), which prepares young people to be productive and engaged citizens globally. Through a decade long partnership with Laureate, the Foundation’s YouthActionNet initiative has supported over 1300 young social entrepreneurs who are impacting millions of lives. The YouthActionNet institute model has been adapted in 21 locations around the world, including 14 institutes led by members of the Laureate network. YouthActionNet has great parallels with the University of Wollongong’s business incubator and accelerator program, iAccelerate, as both support and nurture budding agents of change.
Doug Becker has shown that, whatever your journey to achieving your career ambitions, be it conventional or unconventional, teamwork, passion and belief in what you do are key elements to success. Deputy Chancellor, for his commitment to broadening accesses to higher education, his outstanding contribution to youth leadership and his entrepreneurship, it is my privilege to present Doug Becker for a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.