Ascend Fellows Move Ideas Into Action

December 4, 2013 |


Above, Ascend Fellows share their leadership values


Last month, I spent three days with a diverse group of leaders at the final Forum of the Ascend Fellowship. Reflecting on my experience working with twenty remarkable individuals, I was faced with a bittersweet realization that the inaugural Ascend Fellowship had suddenly come to an end. When we created the Fellowship in 2012, we were looking for a new way of working, a different model of problem-solving for America’s families. Recognizing that breakthrough-ideas come from different sectors and communities, we designed the Ascend Fellowship to bring together a diverse cohort of pioneering leaders committed to helping American families build economic stability for themselves and future generations. It created a space for leaders to learn from, and with, each other. We lifted Fellows out of the day-to-day work of their organizations and tapped into the values that drive them to innovate and influence their communities in new and meaningful ways.

Leaders introduce new concepts and frameworks. They create opportunities for others to think and work in bold ways. Take these examples from Ascend Fellows: Katie Albright at the San Francisco Child Abuse Center, whose work on developing new tools and approaches to improve mental health outcomes of children and parents together could shift the way mental health services are resourced and delivered. Or, the collaboration between Dr. Mario Small at the University of Chicago, Dr. P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale at Northwestern University, and Henry Wilde at Acelero Learning, developing a creative pilot that tests the impact of parental networks on children’s academic success.

Leaders inspire action that changes the world by challenging what is accepted and taking calculated risks. Most importantly, they use values to inform their leadership; a practice that the Aspen Institute has been employing since its founding in 1950. When we consider what is necessary for vulnerable children and their parents to become economically stable in America, we realize that it is an increase in values-based leadership that many of our institutions, systems, and communities need.

We know the problems facing American families living in poverty are complex, and require collaboration across sectors and areas, and within systems. Considering recent data demonstrating an increase in partisanship among political leaders and the American public, it is clear we need to foster collaboration among leaders from different sectors, who work on different issues, and operate within different structures. The Ascend Fellowship has demonstrated that such an effort is viable and can be successful if leaders are given the space to lead with their values.

November marked the close of the inaugural Ascend Fellowship. Yet their work continues. These efforts, fueled by values, may change the ways we support low-income children and their parents in America.

Read more about Ascend Fellows in their blogs on the Aspen Institute Huffington Post media partnership.

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