Aspen Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield delivered the below welcome remarks at the Society of Fellows Opening Reception on June 18, 2019 on the Aspen Meadows Campus in Aspen, CO. Follow him on Twitter @DanPorterfield.
Thank you for being here this evening and for your membership in the Society of Fellows.
Many thanks to all of my colleagues who support the Society of Fellows, led by our Executive Vice President Eric Motley.
I’m so pleased that we’re joined today by our Institute Trustee who chairs the Society of Fellows Programming Advisory Board, Bonnie McCloskey, and my wife Karen Herrling who serves on the SOF Board with Bonnie.
And I’m excited for you to meet our new Executive Director Warwick Sabin, who is a terrific leader and longtime devotee of the Aspen Institute, in just a few moments.
A year ago this evening was my first opportunity to speak at an event of the Society of Fellows, and in that year I’ve had the chance to see firsthand both the Society of Fellows in action and to see the significant societal return of your investment in the Institute. Your contributions make a big impact, empowering this Institute to serve people and communities near and far.
For example, your investments have allowed us to recruit the journalist David Brooks to launch Weave: The Social Fabric Project, through which he has identified and elevated the voices of everyday people around the country who are re-weaving community by rejecting the politics of division and embracing an ethic of collective problem-solving.
Your investments have enabled us to engage youth in places like Newark, St. Louis, Dallas, Louisville, Aspen, tribal communities, and the Mississippi Delta—where we are helping young people develop a calling for leadership by rolling up their sleeves and working on solutions.
And, your investments have made it possible for us to lead the American Talent Initiative, a national effort to increase the number of high-achieving, lower-income students at the nation’s top colleges. And in two years we’ve helped enroll 7,291 more qualified low-income students in those institutions, which is the equivalent of creating a new Duke or three new Colorado Colleges in just in two years.
These are just some of the ways that, today, we live out the enduring vision of Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke to build a free, just and equitable society—a vision as crucial to human flourishing today as it was in 1949.
With that in mind, I’d like to close by mentioning four themes relevant to the work we’re doing today to ensure the strength of the Institute tomorrow. I hope they’ll spark your imagination.
The first is listening. It’s needed in Congress, at the dinner table, and by the great institutions of America life.
We just conducted a major survey of our various stakeholders and partners, including more than 100 members of the Society of Fellows. Among other things, we learned that you deeply value public convenings, care most for dialogues that include diverse viewpoints, and overwhelmingly would recommend the Aspen Institute to others.
In response to suggestions that we include more conservative voices at the Ideas Festival, Kitty Boone worked hard to create a 2019 program that will allow our audiences to engage with speakers including Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Brett Stephens, and Karl Rove.
We’re listening to all of our supporters right now with even greater intentionality, and that will make us a stronger and more responsive organization.
Second, is leadership. All across society, everyone is crying out for it. In our survey, we found that an overwhelming majority of our supporters deeply believe in our work to foster “values-driven leadership committed to positive change.” This kind of leadership is so distinctive and so needed. Values-driven leadership is the opposite of self-centered or transactional leadership. You’ll see us ramping up our efforts in the years to come. Already we’ve created a new program for leaders in civil society—people like David Brooks’ Weavers who are putting their shoulder to the wheel on behalf of helping others.
A third theme is Aspen itself, our home and our home base. As I wrote yesterday in The Aspen Times, I’m proud of our work in this area, led by Vice President Cristal Logan, who’s here tonight. In August, for example, we’re hosting right here on campus a major symposium on the Bauhaus movement and its relevance to Aspen, which we hope you’ll attend.
We’re also working to identify the next chapter in the Institute’s service to vulnerable people and communities down valley. In April, I was privileged to meet with dozens of local leaders working on challenges ranging from opioids to family violence, and from the need for affordable housing and child care to the devastating impact of four-day school weeks in some counties. It’s exciting to envision putting our collective brainpower to work to see how much more the Aspen Institute can do for the greater good.
And a final theme is aspiration. Across the Aspen Institute’s many programs, we’re now emphasizing collaboration for collective impact, and being bold and confident to seek out bigger investments in work that makes a difference. We’re already working on a big initiative on the topic of inclusive growth—how do we harness the power of technology and innovation to grow the economic and opportunity pie for all?
For 55 years, the Society of Fellows has been a critical energy source that has helped power the Aspen Institute to become a model non-profit change-maker, second to none. We’re a force for good in the Roaring Fork Valley, the country, and the world. Your belief in the Aspen Idea and your generous support make it possible for our network and influence to grow exponentially, which is good for the one and the many, the individual, and the society. Thank you.
It is now my pleasure to introduce Warwick Sabin, our new leader, in conversation with Aspen Ideas Festival impreseria Kitty Boone.