IDEAS: the Magazine of the Aspen Institute Winter 2017

In a season of change at the Institute, some things remain constants. One is the quality and range of leaders who pass through our doors—doors that span the globe. In a recent presentation, Maureen Conway, the vice president for policy programs at the Institute, created an interactive map to show the places where the more than 30 policy programs at the Institute operate, meet, and touch and improve people’s lives. It had many, many more dots in unexpected towns deep in rural as well as urban areas than the audience—Institute friends all—expected. Then Conway showed the group a map of the world, and their surprise only grew. The maps will soon appear on aspeninstitute.org, and my wager is that they’ll surprise you, too.

Few groups personify the intense focus and help that Institute-trained leaders apply than the ones recognized every year by the McNulty Prize, who apply business skills and bootstrapping enterprise to ideas that change lives. As our cover story shows, “laureates” go where conventional nonprofits can’t, whether that be distributing eyeglass kits that allow rural women to make and sell glasses or guaranteeing a market for smallholder farmers in Uganda. The winners are but a few of the year’s particularly noteworthy fellows from the Aspen Global Leadership Network, whose well of dauntingly active leaders startle me at any gathering I happen upon with the sheer electricity they emit.

As the Institute faces its new future under new leadership, it is building the country’s next cadre of leaders—and more deliberately than ever before, with the inclusion of young voices throughout all programs as part of the new Youth & Engagement framework. Anyone who encouters the young people the division bring to the table or the stage has a wow moment. Mine was hearing a team of high-school students from the Sankofa Freedom Academy, in Philadelphia, perform a rap describing their plan to reduce food waste and feed more students—subjects close to my heart, as director of the Institute’s Food and Society Program. They were just one of the teams brought to the Aspen campus to compete in this year’s Aspen Challenge. At at time when the Institute’s north star remains a place people find solutions in a nonpartisan setting, their optimism was as reassuring as it was infectious.

– Corby Kummer