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A Paid Sabbatical [All Questions, Narrative 27 February 2017]

Every 7 years anyone can take a paid Sabbatical with free opportunities to study and/or intern.

Photo of Chris Eberhardt

Written by

For almost a decade companies such as Polaroid and 3M and more recently Google have been offering the paid 15-20%, where employees get paid to explore their own interests. A paid sabbatical for everyone is an opportunity to inject into higher education, in its broadest sense as education beyond high school, with that same sense of a freedom to learn, to play and to explore new things at a time when lifelong learning is becoming mandatory. Life happens, and everyone, not just elites, should be given the opportunity to learn again without having to worry about how they are going to pay their daily bills.


Everyone will have the right to a sabbatical every 7 years beginning at the age of 18. A 6 month grace period will be offered. If the sabbatical is not started within that grace period, the sabbatical goes into a bank. Banked sabbaticals will be randomly assigned to petitioners to the extent it is fiscally sustainable (ie. for every four unclaimed sabbaticals, one is given to a petitioner). A person can petition for a hardship sabbatical, if it has been at least three years since the last paid sabbatical. Hardship sabbaticals will be for those that have experienced recent job losses and/or were deemed to have attended failing public schools ie. “dropout factories”. The unemployed will draw on a hybrid funding model to the extent they already receive other assistance.


The sabbaticals will be paid for with an income tax similar to that used in California and New Jersey in the United States for their paid family leave programs. Similar to California and New Jersey, this program would be built on top of an existing department, and overhead would be limited to payments. In-kind donations of seats in classrooms will be donated by learning institutions (private and public universities, community colleges, bootcamps). Similar to public schools in the United States, all employed individuals are required to pay into the system even if they decide to opt out of the sabbatical.


Participants are eligible to take up to a full load of courses for 1 year through the consortium of learning institutions as able.


Participants will be eligible to intern at a participating organization, and will be recognized as students for all intents and purposes as required by internship laws and guidelines.


During the sabbatical, as reasonable, participants will be asked to check in for data purposes (ie. tracking skills gained, mental and physical health, etc.) on a monthly basis both with automated systems and members of the sabbatical community. 


Participants will be expected to join existing sabbatical groups of past and current participants.


Participants will be required to share a reflection within an existing Sabbatical group. Proof of sharing this reflection will be required to receive the last month's subsidy.

Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine higher education to support the needs of tomorrow?

My idea is designed for policymakers. It reimagines higher education by trying to reclaim it from this notion of educational front-loading at a 4 year university and adapting to our contemporary challenges. As The Economist and others note, lifelong learning is now mandatory. Instead of reacting with training, we need to create a healthier society where there is supported lifelong learning for all people. The paid family leave in California and New Jersey offer a potential model for funding.

This idea emerged from:

  • An individual

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Suggestions on how to keep this simple. Input from those involved in pilot projects like Y Combinator's Basic Income Project would also help. Input from those that operate sabbatical programs or have taken sabbatical either by choice (ie. offered through company) or circumstance (ie. laid off/fired).

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Just as Y Combinator is setting up a basic income experiment, the same could be done for a Sabbatical. Randomly select 100 people, that for 6 months will receive a stipend of $3,000. Through partnering universities and companies they will be given the opportunity to study and/or intern for free (participants not required to). Workplaces of those randomly chosen must commit to keeping employee on after sabbatical or person cannot participate.Data kept on skills gained, social and physical health.

Tell us about your work experience:

I have taught at every level from kindergarten to the university level. I also have over five years in administration experience in higher education. I was fortunate to go to grad school at a university with one of the best design schools in the world and I co-founded an NGO drawing on grad school connections.

How would you describe this idea while in an elevator with someone? 2-3 sentences.

We no longer can afford to have a system where only the elites are able to take paid sabbaticals to learn and refresh themselves. We need to make sure that everyone has opportunities to retrain unhindered by the daily costs of life. This program, every 7 years, allows everyone to take a paid year off to learn through free study, an internship or other means.

What is the specific problem your idea is trying to solve? 1 sentence.

A front loading higher education is out of date, support for lifelong learning is now needed for a civically active, educated and economically productive citizenry.

How is your idea different or unique from what is currently on the market?

As far as I am aware there is nothing like it for the average person. The closest thing is the paid sabbaticals that are offered to tenured professors at universities in the United States.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

Interviews can be used to gauge what if any new skills have been gained, and what if any new ways that citizens are more involved. In addition, to gauge the degree to which citizens have become healthier and have improved skills, data can be tracked. The plan can be measured using quantitative and qualitative methods. In an effort to save costs, partnerships with graduate students will be sought.

How might your idea be transferable to a large number of people?

The authority responsible for collecting the tax and distributing the payments can be scaled, from local government to state/provincial or the national level. Right now, one program that serves as a funding model, California's paid family leave program, is at the state/provincial level. Policymakers and their constituents will have to buy-in in order for the program to be successful.

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

Navigate the nuances of differing state laws regarding internships, to determine how participants could participate in an internship if they wished. Determine how participants could use seats in schools (universities, community colleges, online bootcamps, etc.). Seek out potential funders that would be willing to fund a pilot project.

Attachments (1)

OpenIDEO Narrative (3).pdf

Design Narrative


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Chris,

There are a few hours left in the refinement phase, if you have any questions feel free to reach out to me.

Photo of Rosalyn Lin

Hi Chris,

This is a really interesting idea! Maybe I'm being a bit cynical, but I can't help but wonder--what's to stop someone (particularly those who are already really financially well off) from taking the sabbatical as a free vacation? (Or maybe it's meant to allow for an extended paid vacation like it is for tenured professors?) When someone takes the sabbatical, are they required to be taking classes or interning and showing proof of learning?

As someone about to graduate and enter the workforce, I am 100% behind the idea of getting a sabbatical, but I'm having a hard time seeing it scaled out to the entire population and put into action realistically (particularly given the current political climate and my impression that this can only be executed through policy change).

Photo of Chris Eberhardt

Rosalyn Lin thanks for your comments and questions. That helps for this last weekend push. I do see this as something that would be implemented through policy change.I think the experiment component is key, and while an experiment would cost more than the challenge award, it is definitely within the realm of the possible for a foundation or venture capital firm.

Photo of Yash

Hi Chris,

As a Senior in college that is about to graduate, I find your idea incredibly interesting. There are so many new interests that I have just began to explore and I wish I had more time to learn these things. I strongly believe in your idea considering the fact that the new economy is going to require life long learners that are able to quickly adapt and adopt new skillsets.

I do understand that the paid family leave program has a similar funding structure to the program you are suggesting; however, can you pleasure elaborate on how the funding structure would work? Also, how difficult is it to get this types of policy to be passed considering today's tight political budgets. Would love to hear back from you.


Photo of Chris Eberhardt

Yash thank you for the questions. I'll be coming back to your questions this weekend. In all likelihood this might be like paid family leave, at least in the United States, where it is only enacted in some states. I think what also changes the dynamic would be the introduction of a universal basic income; taking care of the basic daily life costs that can make lifelong learning harder. I would expect this to emerge first in CA because that is where techies including Musk are increasingly calling for it and the Lt. Governor Newsom (sp?), and likely future Governor tends to have a strong pulse on tech and how that will reshape the nature of work. Also, Y Combinator is getting ready to do a universal basic income experiment in Oakland.

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Chris,

There is just a week left of refinement. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Welcome to the Refinement phase Chris! We've added new Refinement questions to your original submission that we'd love for you to answer. Please check out the Refinement Phase Toolkit for instructions on how to answer the new questions and other recommendations we encourage all idea teams to consider in the upcoming weeks.

Refinement Phase Toolkit:

Lastly, here's a useful tip: When you update the content of your post, it'd be helpful to indicate this in your idea title by adding an extension. For example, you can add the extension " - Update: Experience Maps 02/01" to you idea title. This will be a good way to keep people informed about how your idea is progressing!

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Chris,

I hope you are having a nice weekend.

There are two ideas from previous challenges that might be of interest. Unfortunately, I have been struggling to find ideas that are analogous to ‘A Paid Sabbatical’.

Incubator Club is a finalist idea from our financial services challenge. It is an “incubator” for credit union members, where they can pursue their small business dreams and connect with their community. The incubator Club uses different membership options meet members needs and time commitments -

Unbroke is a finalist idea from our financing higher education challenge. It creates a new marketplace by negotiating down tuition costs and helping the majority of colleges fill seats. It has a really interesting business model -

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Chris,

Welcome to the refinement phase, if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me by using @ and typing my name.

Take care,


Photo of Christophe Parot

I wrote something similar last year :

Photo of Chris Eberhardt

Christophe, thanks for the link. We both suggest sabbaticals, but I think our foci are different.

Photo of Andrea Zelenak

Hi Chris!
I'm assuming you've heard the Stephan Sagmeister Ted talk, hence the 7 year sabbatical? I wrote a post for a different challenge based off of that same ted talk! I know a lot of people who have taken time off either before college or in between undergrad and grad school. There should be options for people to find themselves in a career path and not feel like they're wasting time if they aren't going to school or working. (for some reason I can't link it).
The talk, I'm assuming you know it:

Photo of Chris Eberhardt

Hi Andrea,
thanks for the links. I had not heard of Stephan Sagmeister's Ted talk, although I think I had heard of him. I got the idea largely from seeing sabbaticals in action at universities over 10 years. I got the idea of 7 years from Christian and Jewish traditions; although these days I think sabbaticals are often only practiced by leaders and not the laity.

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Chris,

Sadly I don't have experience of sabbaticals and Y incubators. I am wondering if Christophe Parot can help regarding basic income.

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Chris, interesting post! Any chance you could find an image to go along with it? Images help grab attention and tell a story. You should be able to use the Edit Contribution button on the top of your post and follow the instructions to add images from there. Looking forward to seeing more of your inspiring insights on OpenIDEO.