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Leaders for Our Times

July 29, 2014  • Peter Reiling

Peter Reiling

Q: What gives me hope against the backdrop of too many horrific events in recent weeks – the loss of innocent lives on both sides of the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a passenger plane with 300 souls senselessly shot out of the sky over Ukraine, the thousands of children traveling across U.S. borders to escape unthinkable violence in Central America, the kidnapping of 300 Nigerian schoolgirls?

A: Three hundred twenty entrepreneurial business, government and civil society leaders descending on Aspen, Colorado determined to step up and address the challenges, large and small, that they see in their midst.

These are individuals who are teaching girls how to read, write and become self-sufficient, where something as basic as that is a dangerous endeavor; who are opening up their schools to refugee kids from foreign countries speaking a different language before a policy on how to handle them is set; and who are marching for peace and humanity as rockets continue to fly overhead.

What brings them to Aspen?

The second annual Aspen Action Forum taking place July 29-August 1. This four-day program assembles some of world’s most entrepreneurial leaders, pulling largely from the Aspen Institute’s flagship Henry Crown Fellowship Program — or one of the 13 leadership initiatives it has inspired at home and around the world. They are joined by other invited guests who are equally committed to positively impacting people’s lives.

They come because they are doers seeking other like-minded leaders. Together they will engage in inspiring readings-based seminars, interactive roundtable discussions on leadership and “Action Workshops” for those seeking counsel to overcome hurdles as they attempt to tackle challenges in their communities, countries and the world. Most important, they will focus on actions they can take in areas that they are passionate about, to make a difference in the world.

The Action Forum is about just that – action. Here are a few updates from “Action Pledges” made at the inaugural Action Forum in 2013:

  • BETH GALANTE (United States) pledged to bring energy security to 10,000 low-income families in Louisiana by 2020. Through PosiGen Green Grants, Beth has provided energy security to more than 3,500 low-income Louisiana families by putting solar panels on their roofs, making energy efficiency improvements to their homes, and educating them on how to reduce their energy costs even further. Many have seen their energy costs slashed by more than 50 percent.
  • BRUCE ROBERTSON (South Africa) pledged to register 15,000 farming families to produce organic agriculture in previously war-torn northern Uganda. He has far exceeded his pledge registering 32,600 organic farmers. He now pledges to have registered 60,000 organic farmers by 2016.
  • MANOJ KUMAR (India) pledged to educate 100,000 girls in India by 2020 through a program which places underprivileged girls in schools, equips them with the uniforms, books, shoes, and other needed supplies. He has reached 92,450 girls and is on track to make it to 100,000 by the end of August.

See more 2013 Action Pledge updates.

2014 participants have already begun to share new pledges they are making:

  • KC HARDIN (Panama): I will help the four gangs in Panama City, Panama to demobilize and integrate into formal Panamanian society in the next two years.
  • GHASSAN HASBANI (Lebanon): I will develop 100 new effective, enlightened leaders in the Middle East.
  • MARYAM UWAIS (Nigeria): I will curb child marriage in target communities of Northern Nigeria.
  • GOVINDRAJ ETHIRAJ (India): I will encourage the top 5000 influencers in India to disseminate data that will power the citizens’ movement for better governance and accountability by 2015.
  • FERNANDO ESPUELAS (USA): I will significantly increase Latino voter turnout in the 2014 U.S. election.
  • JEREMY CHEUNG (China): I will increase the number of young women entrepreneurs in China.
  • HEATHER SONN, (South Africa): I will create meaningful work for young women from abused backgrounds in South Africa.

To experience some of the Action Forum content and public programming check out during the week. For a full list of participants and more info see and be inspired to consider what actions you might take to make a difference in your community.

This whole event would be impossible without the major sponsorship of the Resnick Family Foundation which has also been a model of community-oriented action for and with the people of the Central Valley of California.

I am more and more convinced that the best way to push back the forces of destruction is to encourage and support as many entrepreneurial leaders as possible who see solutions where others see dead ends, who fight inertia with action, and who beat the odds through sheer determination. This is why I continue to have hope. And this is why we hold the Aspen Action Forum.

Peter A. Reiling is Executive Vice President for Leadership and Seminar Programs, and Executive Director of the Henry Crown Fellowship Program at the Aspen Institute.