Future Builders: Leaders Meeting the Moment

As a nation, we have realized that we can no longer tolerate the racial, gender, and social inequities that have shaped our country. Long before today’s unprecedented energy for change, there were leaders who were laying the foundation. Three of those leaders, Ascend Fellows Kwame Anku from the Black Star FundGeorgia Mjartan from South Carolina First Steps, and Sherece Y. West-Scantlebury from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, were our special guests for this episode of AscendTogether. In conversation with Anne Mosle from Ascend at the Aspen Institute, they share the risks they took, their strategies for pushing change, and their vision for putting equity at the center of investment finance, philanthropy, and state systems for children and families.


Date: Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Time: 1:00 - 2:00pm ET
Location: Virtual

Host: Ascend at the Aspen Institute



Kwame Anku

Chairman & CEO

Black Star Fund


Kwame Anku is the Chief Visionary of the Black Star Fund.

A co-founder of the Black Angel Tech Fund, Anku has extensive experience in early stage deal sourcing, brand marketing, growth strategy, investor relations and advising startup founders.

He is an Aspen Ascend Fellow at the Aspen Institute pioneering nationwide efforts to increase fund manager diversity

Anku is a mentor for the AT&T Aspire Accelerator and the Founder Institute of Sacramento and serves on the Advisory Board for the Carlsen Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Sacramento State.

As an international thought leader, Anku has delivered keynote addresses in the U.S. and Africa. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, NPR and Sirius XM as a subject matter expert and was invited twice to The Obama White House to share his innovative work.

Anku is an honors graduate of Stanford University. 

Georgia Mjartan

Executive Director

South Carolina First Steps


Georgia Mjartan is the Executive Director of South Carolina First Steps, a state agency and nonprofit committed to ensuring that all of South Carolina’s children are prepared for success in school. As the leader of the state’s Early Childhood Advisory Council, Georgia Mjartan is linking public, private and nonprofit systems to ensure whole families are supported in their efforts to become successful in school, work and life. As a significant funder in South Carolina, First Steps provides over $17 million in grants annually to a network of 46 nonprofit affiliates, one in each county, which provide parenting support, increase access to high-quality child care and offer a variety of other evidence-based programs. Georgia also oversees First Steps 4K, an innovative, publicly-funded pre-K programs which allows 3000 children annually to participate in free, high-quality, full-day, 4-year old kindergarten in private, nonprofit and faith-based centers. 

Georgia is a graduate of the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government program.  She was one of twelve Americans awarded the George Mitchell Scholarship for graduate study on the island of Ireland. As a Mitchell Scholar, she completed a Master of Science in Public Affairs and Political Communications at the University of Ulster (UK).  Georgia holds undergraduate degrees in English and Political Science from the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. 

Georgia’s accomplishments have been recognized extensively.  Southern Living named Mjartan one of the Southerners of the Year and Arkansas Business recognized her as the Nonprofit Executive of the Year.  Her work has been featured on NBC News, USA Today, and PBS.  

Georgia is an Aspen Institute Ascend Fellow and a Commissioner for the Columbia Housing Authority, a position appointed by the Columbia City Council. Through a gubernatorial appointment, she served as an inaugural member of the state’s Housing Trust Fund Advisory Committee.  Georgia has served on numerous nonprofit boards including the founding boards of City Year Little Rock and Harmony Health Clinic, a free clinic for the uninsured.

For more than a decade, Mjartan was Executive Director of Our House, a nationally-recognized social services agency in Arkansas that successfully moves homeless and near-homeless families and individuals out of extreme poverty by taking a two-generation approach. Georgia was also an adjunct faculty member at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, her alma mater, where she taught nonprofit management for five years. Prior to that, she worked as a consultant on behalf of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Mid-South Delta LISC, and the United States Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families.

Anne Mosle

Vice President & Executive Director

The Aspen Institute’s Forum on Women and Girls and the Ascend program


Anne Mosle serves as a vice president of the Aspen Institute, executive director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute and as co-chair of the Aspen Institute Forum on Women and Girls. As a leader in building pathways to opportunity for children and families with low incomes, her expertise is in the sweet spot of policy, practice, and philanthropy, and she has been a catalytic force in the two-generation approach and leadership strategies for child and family well-being and prosperity. Prior to Aspen, Mosle was a vice president and officer of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, where she led Family Economic Security, Civic and Philanthropic Engagement, and Impact Investing teams investing $150M annually and was president of the Washington Area Women’s Foundation. She serves on the board of American Public Human Services Association, Institute for Women’s Policy Research Institute as well as a trusted advisor to numerous community, public, private, and philanthropic efforts focused on creating intergenerational economic mobility. Mosle has been recognized with the national Jerry Friedman Human Services Leadership Award, Washingtonian of the Year, but most importantly by parents and families with low-incomes and of color as an unwavering champion and supporter of both their and their children’s success and potential.

Sherece West-Scantlebury, PhD

President & CEO

Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation


Sherece is a leading 21st century equity advocate. From her early beginnings as a housing advocate in New York City to leading programs at some of the most prestigious foundations in the Southeastern United States, Sherece has been relentless in her quest to increase prosperity for families striving to move out of poverty. Sherece uses every opportunity to speak life into leaders and organizations. Her expertise in public policy, funding strategies, and program development make her one of our nation’s top transformational leaders.

Before the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, she was the founding CEO of the Foundation for Louisiana (FLL). Prior to FFL she was with the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Sherece earned her Ph.D. in Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Maryland, and a master’s in Public Policy from the University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

She is a member of the board of directors of Community Change, ForwARd Arkansas, and Philander Smith College.

When she is not working, you will find Sherece traveling the world with her husband Joe, hanging out with their pups Peaches and Herb, or chilling with them at home reading, eating grapes or popcorn (sometimes both) while listening to music. She loves to dance.


Power of Disrupting Financial Systems: Kwame Anku

2019 Aspen ThinkXChange: Sherece Y. West-Scantlebury

Child Care is Critical to Getting the Economy Moving Again: Georgia Mjartan

The right people.
The Right Time.
The Right Conversation.