“Now is the time to launch the Aspen Global Leadership Network because the world needs it—it’s as simple as that,” said Peter Reiling, the Institute’s executive vice president in charge of leadership and seminar programs. “We live in a time of great turmoil, yes, but also one of great opportunity. So why not mobilize the most effective,
the most enlightened leaders out there to tackle the greatest challenges we face?”
In June 2009, the Aspen Global Leadership Network convened 160 Fellows from 23 countries to connect with one another at the Institute’s Aspen Meadows campus in Aspen, Colorado. The participants were members of the Institute’s 13 young leaders’ initiatives, each of which draws classes of 20 entrepreneurial Fellows annually from the top ranks of business, technology, social enterprise, education, and politics in the United States and in nations around the world. The seed for the Network was planted more than a decade ago, with the founding of the Institute’s Henry Crown Fellowship Program, which in turn inspired the 13 programs that flourish today. The forum, designed to introduce Network members across classes and regions and spark collective and collaborative action, was called ACT II.
“ACT II is the official launch of a web of enlightened leaders that stretches across the world,” said Reiling—or, in the words of longtime Aspen seminar moderator Ben Dunlap, an “intergalactic army of the just.” While the Aspen Global Leadership
Network has existed in name for several years, ACT II provided a critical opportunity for alumni from every program to have a chance to grasp the full scope of the Network. These talented and accomplished leaders from Africa, Central America, India, the Middle East, and the United States came together for four days and shook hands, hugged, laughed, studied, debated, and talked—in seminar rooms, over meals, at a bonfire, and on mountain trails—united by a common purpose: to make the world better. It’s what Reiling likes to call, “making a dent in the universe.”
The title itself has a double meaning: “ACT II” asks Fellows to reflect on their own second acts in life and to use that time to put their values into action. While in Aspen, Fellows engaged in intense seminars on how to address the planet’s most pressing needs, how to inject values into corporate culture, and how to preserve one’s integrity in a world marked by shades of gray. But Fellows also participated in more personal sessions about the challenges of leadership, in which they discussed the struggle of maintaining a work-family balance and shared intimate moments of truth that changed their outlooks on life. One afternoon, Fellows even participated in “speed-dating,” a rapid-fire networking session designed to help Fellows meet and find common interests—ideally as a precursor to collaborating on the challenges they all face in their communities, countries, and regions.
Henry Crown Fellow Jim Whitaker, founder and director of Project Rebirth, said, “I feel like the Network has been set up in a way that’s creating an interactivity.” Isaac Shongwe—Henry Crown Fellow, chairman of the Africa Leadership Initiative in South Africa, and Institute trustee—agreed: “It’s just been amazing to see the number of people from different cultures coming together around a certain set of values and wanting to do similar things around the world.” Shongwe said he hopes the Network will one day produce presidents of nations across the globe, who would then be aided by this association of leaders.
For Henry Crown Fellow Ranji Nagaswami, ACT II was deeply personal: “I think we all look for meaning in life, but this experience has given me a framework for thinking about who I want to be, what type of leader I want to be, what type of human being I want to be,” she said. “To think that this fellowship, which started with a group of 20, could extend globally has been a really powerful experience.”
“The Network expects excellence,” said Central America Leadership Initiative Fellow Ricardo Teran, founder of Agora Partnerships in Nicaragua. “It forces you to think about how you can do better, do more.” Teran left ACT II with a head full of ideas and questions—and the business card of Rodel Fellow Ryan Coonerty, the mayor of Santa Cruz, California. The two are collaborating on a hub to incubate small businesses and generate jobs for their respective regions. Meanwhile, Liberty Fellow Eve Blossom, president of the sustainable textiles company Lulan Artisans, made plans to expand her business from South Carolina into Panama and Costa Rica with the help of Central American Fellows. Blossom also recently invited Catto Fellow Suzanne Biegel to join the Lulan Artisans board after meeting her at ACT II.
ACT II will take place biennially in Aspen as a way for current Fellows and alumni to connect, take inspiration from one another, explore collaborations, and, when necessary, recharge their batteries and reset their moral compasses as they strive to make their myriad dents in the universe. After all, “it’s not the next generation who are going to solve the problems of the world,” said Henry Crown Fellow Stephen DeBerry, a venture capitalist from San Francisco. “It’s this generation. It’s the people in this room.”