October 13, 2017

Still Out to Change the World

Since May, when it was announced I’d be leaving my role as President and CEO of BakerRipley at the end of the year, people have been asking about the transition. What’s next for the agency? For me? I spent some time answering those questions.

Are you really retiring?No. That’s the way others have described my transition but that’s inaccurate. I hope to continue helping leaders develop communities in cities around the world. I’ve been doing that for a while, using vacation and all my free time to work with city leaders on community development, displacement and disaster response.

We live in troubled times, when city leaders are called upon to solve a host of problems. I feel a sense of urgency about the world and helping those who are out to make their cities work better for everyone. As always, I will try to go where I am invited and do what I am asked to do.

Will you continue to work with BakerRipley?The board has asked that I work on very specific projects for BakerRipley after I leave the CEO role. We are currently working to create tools to share what we’ve learned with new staff at BakerRipley as well as other interested organizations. I will be helping to create those tools.

I will assist with Learning Exchanges with other academic and civic organizations — if and when requested by agency leaders.

How will you work with the new CEO?I believe the new CEO will want to set her or his own agenda and vision, built on the successes of the past and responsive to the challenges of the future. So basically I will come when and if called. As previous leaders did for me.

Do you have someone in mind to replace you? I have confidence in the ability of the board search committee to choose the right leader for the agency. Our board members are highly engaged and possessed of a working knowledge of agency strategy and operations. They’ve solicited and incorporated feedback from community leaders, volunteers and staff. I’m grateful to them for their care and dedication. They’ve got this.

What are you looking forward to the most post-CEO role?I am hungry for more time to think, learn, write and teach. So I have been accepting invitations to do these in 2018 and going forward. I have been appointed the Social Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Brown University’s Swearer Center for the Spring 2018 semester. This role will provide support for my research and writing projects, while giving me an opportunity to teach in the Public Policy Program at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. I also hope to continue working with Bruce Katz at the Brookings Institution, looking at how cities welcome the newly arrived. I’ve been asked to join the board of advisors of Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy — I’m enjoying meeting the scholars there. I’m also happy to have been elected to the Business Innovation Factory board. It will be great to indulge in these pursuits — guilt free. Receiving the Heinz Award has been an enormous source of encourgement to me. I’m deeply grateful to The Heinz Endowments for their recognition and for the opportunities this prize supports.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment as CEO? What will be your legacy?I hate this question. All accomplishments are temporary. And nothing is accomplished alone. I’m not interested in legacies. I don’t even like what I did a year ago — so i have no interest in preservation of projects. The past is a book already written — and it’s lessons are available to us if we will practice humble reflection.

The future is where all the action lies, all the possibility for generosity and discovery.

When I came to the agency, I inherited the deeply meaningful values of our country — settlement houses and agency founders — I acted upon them. I know others will do the same. Allegiance to purpose and values is the core of a strong enduring institution.

What will you miss about being CEO? Shared accomplishments. Working with the bold and brave staff and board at BakerRipley has been deeply meaningful and satisfying. I will miss the day to day interactions with these lovely folks. I will miss those moments when we look at what we designed, developed or built and feel the deep joy of knowing it’s working well for the people who need it most.

What about fun?I’m a lot of things. But fun isn’t one of them. Unless you count the fun I have working with people. Or gardening. But I know fun people and if I’m lucky they’ll hang out with me. And go dancing. The actual point of life. Cajun. More time to be Cajun.

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