About Joe Ricketts

Watch Opportunity Education founder, benefactor, and CEO Joe Ricketts describe his perspective on the challenges of education today, and his vision for the future of learning.


Self-Made Entrepreneur, Visionary Philanthropist

When Joe Ricketts started First Omaha Securities in 1975, he couldn’t imagine that decades years later, the company — now known as TD Ameritrade — would be one of the largest financial services companies globally, with over $1 trillion in customer assets. That success was fueled by Mr. Ricketts’ vision to give people the tools to take control of their own destiny, and to manage their own affairs. With Ameritrade, he enabled millions of customers to manage their financial assets and investments. 

Ameritrade invested heavily in its customers to help themselves, and was the first company to offer stock trading via touch-tone phone, and then full web-based investment management. Using technology lowered cost, expanded access, and made the service more affordable.

AccuTrade ad featuring Joe Ricketts, who revolutionized the industry by empowering individuals.

“Education is the Great Equalizer”

In 2005, Joe Ricketts applied the same thinking that had fueled Ameritrade’s success to education. He decided to use part of his fortune to improve access to — and improve the quality of — education for children in poverty worldwide. The vision was the same: enable people to improve their lives by giving them better tools — in this case, a better education.

From the beginning of this charitable effort, Mr. Ricketts envisioned technology making a crucial difference. He supplied each primary school with TVs, DVD players, and a custom-developed, video-based curriculum for all grades and a wide variety of subjects, including Math, Language Arts, Biology, Chemistry, Social Science, and more.

Having grown up without wealth himself, Joe Ricketts saw — and continues to see — education as a powerful “equalizer,” enabling young people to pursue their dreams.

Better Education with Technology

When Apple introduced the iPad in in 2010, Mr. Ricketts saw an example of technology that could transform education. Mr. Ricketts launched an initiative to supply secondary schools in Tanzania — one of the countries he had supported since 2005 through his foundation, Opportunity Education — with a tablet-based curriculum, the needed charging infrastructure, and teacher training and support. Working with 10 schools and 2,000 students, he found that students took to the approach immediately, and were able to pursue their education with greater drive and independence without needing to wait for teacher presentations from the blackboard. 

This effort evolved into Opportunity Education’s Quest Forward Learning, a high school program offered in the United States and Tanzania, providing a project-based, digital high school curriculum to schools for use on tablets and Chromebooks. The program enables students to work at their own pace, use academically rigorous materials, and practice essential skills they will need to succeed in their careers. 

Joe Ricketts’s vision for Ameritrade’s customers, and for students and teachers working with Opportunity Education’s Quest Forward Learning, remains the same: empowering people with the tools they need to manage their own affairs, and achieve their own goals and dreams.

Reimagining Education

Opportunity Education’s Quest Forward Learning uses technology to empower students and teachers. It also provides a template for high school learning in the future. Today, millions of students work through abstract topics without relevance to their lives, complete countless worksheets and spend weeks each year taking tests to demonstrate their memorization skills. 

Opportunity Education’s Quest Forward Learning helps students achieve the academics they need, but does so by helping them become curious, resilient, collaborative critical thinkers, and problem solvers. These students focus on developing skills that enable them to become leaders who are able to take smart risks, persist through setbacks, and achieve their dreams. 

Opportunity Education’s Quest Forward Learning is now active in over 30 schools worldwide, including two US high schools fully funded by Mr. Ricketts to ensure that students from low-income backgrounds also have access to the high-quality education made possible by these programs.

To learn more about Mr. Ricketts’ work, his other philanthropic efforts and his businesses, visit www.joericketts.com.