Letter from President Obama
I first moved to Chicago in my early twenties, still trying to figure out who I was, still searching for a purpose in my life. And it was in Chicago where, working with church groups in the shadows of shuttered steel mills, I learned the lesson that would animate my career: that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it.
It’s the idea at the heart of progress—the conviction that even through hardship and setback, we can come together to change for the better—that gave me work and purpose, and that has given work and purpose to each new generation.
Cultivating that concept of active citizenship is something we made the mission of our campaigns and the eight years Michelle and I spent in the White House. And it remains the mission of our lives after the White House with the Obama Foundation.
I can honestly say that even though I’ve had the extraordinary privilege to serve as President, I’m more convinced than ever that real, lasting change doesn’t come from any one person. It comes only when everybody works together to win and protect progress.
That’s why the Obama Foundation is about inspiring, empowering, and connecting the next generation of young leaders to change their communities, their countries, and our world for the better.
In these pages, you’ll read a number of stories about how our Foundation has already inspired people to help improve their communities. You’ll see how we’re working hand-in-hand with local residents to create a new landmark on the South Side that will create broad-based economic opportunity in the community and benefit the public. And you’ll hear how we’re working with a new generation of emerging leaders to extend the impact they’re already making in the world.
The work of our Foundation won’t be easy, nor will it be accomplished overnight. Lasting change takes patience and persistence. It takes resilience amidst setbacks and disappointments. And it takes hope—that times can get better, that progress can be made, that history can be shaped—as long as all of us play our part.
Letter from David Simas, CEO
This report marks a milestone for the Obama Foundation.
Though we’ve been hard at work for some time, both fulfilling our core mission of helping people become active citizens around the world and designing a landmark Presidential Center on the South Side of Chicago, this is our first annual report. I’d like to welcome you to this in-depth look at the Obama Foundation, a foundation that aims to be unlike any other.
This annual report isn’t just a place to share financial data or metrics. We want to share our story. It’s a story that details how strangers who met at a Foundation training event came together to form a new nonprofit to mentor Chicago-area students and help them become more civically involved. It’s a story about how diversity and inclusion are core to our calling and our conduct. And above all, it’s a story about how the Foundation is inspiring and empowering people around the world to reimagine their civic responsibilities, while equipping them with the tools, resources, and networks to bring about change.
Within all these stories, you’ll hear a familiar echo from President Obama’s 2017 farewell address: an encouragement to believe—not in his ability to create change, but in your own.
The past year saw many new initiatives at the Foundation, but it was also a year of listening. Both at home and abroad, we looked to citizens, advocates, and leaders to help us understand how we could create a global network of change. We’re already putting what we learned into practice, incorporating community feedback into how we shape our programs, our trainings—even the Center.
As we look toward the future of the Foundation, we see a lot of progress ahead. As a start-up on the South Side with one of the world’s most recognizable names on our door, we have a scrappy mindset and a broad ambition. We will have triumphs and we will have setbacks, but together, we will create a movement of engaged citizens who are changing their communities, nations, and ultimately, their world.
Thank you for being a part of our story.
David M. Simas
Our mission is to inspire, empower, and connect people to change their world.
At the Obama Foundation, we believe everyone has a role to play in the future of their communities, their societies, and their shared world. From everyday citizens to emerging leaders, our goal is to inspire and support those who want to change their world for the better.
About the Foundation
The Obama Foundation serves as a hub for global change. It’s a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation established in 2014 to carry on President and Mrs. Obama’s lifelong goals to empower active citizens, build stronger communities, and create lasting change at the local, national, and global level. The Foundation will oversee the future Obama Presidential Center and its museum, a new destination on the South Side of Chicago that will spark lasting economic development while telling the Obamas’ story and inspiring future generations. Money raised by the Foundation goes toward programming, outreach, capital costs, and staffing.
The Foundation is governed by a volunteer board of directors, chaired by civic leader Martin H. Nesbitt. For a complete list of the directors, click here.
Though its work stretches across both the country and the world, the Foundation calls the South Side home, and is headquartered just a few blocks away from the future site of the Obama Presidential Center.
Everything we do at the Foundation is guided by seven core values. These values serve as our compass, guiding us through important decisions and difficult choices, informing what we do and how we do it.
As we strive to realize our mission, these values define how we work:
We’re invested in the success of others. We treat one another with respect and kindness, and we will work diligently to lift each other up.
We share a passion for impacting the lives of those around us. Sometimes that means speaking up and other times that means stepping aside to create space for other voices. We recognize that we don’t have all the answers, and we are committed to showing up and learning from others.
We recognize that how we do our work and how we collaborate with others is just as important as what we’re seeking to accomplish.
We value one another’s contributions and hold the conviction that only from diverse backgrounds and divergent points of view can we find the best solutions.
We roll up our sleeves, work hard, and focus on what we’re giving back to our communities—rather than what we are gaining ourselves. When we find success, we remember and support those who are just beginning to take risks and make a difference.
We have a fearless mindset. We’re not afraid of taking risks, sharing a new idea, meeting new people, or admitting when we just don’t know the answer. Something great might come out of it.
We strive to be novel thinkers. Unconventional ideas and new perspectives are why we’re here. We’re willing to make big bets on ideas that haven’t been tried before as we aim to solve the hardest problems of our times.
We Call Chicago Home
Believing in Our Community
The Obama Foundation is rooted in the South Side of Chicago. It’s where the Obamas got their start and built their family, where they first began to work for change, and where they will continue to shape their legacy.
Our community is everything to us. We’ve gone door to door across the South Side and will expand our outreach to other Chicago neighborhoods. In 2017, we hosted eight public meetings, numerous stakeholder gatherings, and countless small group and one-on-one conversations. We participated in a dozen fairs and festivals on the South Side and reviewed thousands of online submissions. And there’s still more to come.
The Obama Presidential Center
A Campus for Active Citizenship
Believing in a New Landmark on the South Side
When it opens in Jackson Park, the Obama Presidential Center will be an unprecedented point of convergence between past, present, and future—a museum to celebrate the Obamas’ historic path to the presidency, a home for civic and community engagement, and a place where people are inspired to create change. It will be a place where students and teachers, tourists and neighbors, history-lovers and nature-lovers can meet, share ideas, and learn from one another.
The Museum will serve as a home for a one-of-a-kind collection that inspires visitors and spurs them to make change in their communities and the world.
The Forum, largely built into the undulating landscape of Jackson Park, will house numerous collaboration and creative spaces, including an auditorium, multipurpose meeting rooms, a recording studio, a winter garden, a test kitchen, and a restaurant.
The Plaza will be an open and flexible space, with the ability to host large and small community events alike.
Children’s Play Area and Great Lawn
A Children’s Play Area and Great Lawn will offer a fun, safe environment for all ages and all seasons.
Program and Athletic Center
The Program and Athletic Center will be a multi-purpose facility that will host a variety of programs for the public including presentations, events, athletics, and recreation.
The Center’s library will be an actual public library—a first for any presidential center. As a 5,000-square-foot branch of the Chicago Public Library, it will house a multimedia collection with a focus on civic engagement and conduct programming to engage community members. The initial vision for the library includes spaces for reading and study (including homework help) that can be converted to open seating for programs and events; a dedicated children’s area and a space for a program called YOUmedia, which lets teens explore the world and their own creativity using new technologies; and meeting space that will be available for public use. Adjacent to the library, we plan to include a special collections reading room, which may host a rotating series of small exhibits.
The Obama Presidential Center site will increase parkland on the South Side, with portions of Cornell Drive and the Midway Plaisance removed and restored to open park space. The Center has a goal of achieving LEED v4 Platinum, the highest rating recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council, and will include several sustainable features:
Community gardens and a green roof
Integrated bike and walking paths, and close proximity to public transportation
Sustainable materials used throughout the Center
Stormwater managed on-site and reused for irrigation
Efficient HVAC and lighting systems
Low-flow indoor water fixtures
Improved indoor air quality
From the beginning, the Center was designed to be accessible to everyone. Ramps and elevators will allow for universal access to the Campus, and we’re thinking creatively about how to make the Campus welcoming for all, including those with physical and cognitive disabilities. We’ve also taken into account Chicago weather: the three main buildings will be connected by underground tunnels that will let in natural light and offer comfortable access throughout the year.
Meet the Architects
We selected Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects to bring the Obama Presidential Center to life. The architects, who were awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2013 by President Obama, carefully considered how the Center will engage with the light, land, and community around it. They elected to partner with local firm Interactive Design Architects to ensure that their design would be rooted in the values and history of the surrounding neighborhoods.
An Embodiment of Hope and the Power of Togetherness
The design of the museum building is inspired by four hands coming together as one. Each of the façade’s four sides are different, illustrating that it takes many hands, from many backgrounds, to shape a place.
The Museum’s ticketed core exhibits (levels two through five) will present President and Mrs. Obama’s story and the narrative of the Obama Administration in a broader historical context. Drawing from African American history, the history of civil rights, and the powerful place of Chicago in American history, the Museum will frame the movements and milestones that helped to shape the nation over time.
The Museum will collect materials on an ongoing basis and in a wide range of media: 3D objects, prints, photographs, paintings, manuscripts, books, textiles, and ephemera. The core collection will feature presidential artifacts from President Obama’s eight years in office that are held by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Additional materials from periods pre- and post-presidency, as well as non-White House material from 2009 to 2017, will complement the documents and artifacts collected by NARA.
Garden & Plaza Levels
The Plaza level and part of the Garden level of the Museum building will be free and open to the public to gather and explore artwork on display, as well as interactive exhibits and programs.
The Sky Room
The Sky Room, an observation and reflection space on the eighth floor of the Museum building, will also be free and open to the public. This space will invite visitors to contemplate their connection to the broader community and their roles as active citizens and offer spectacular views of Lake Michigan, Jackson Park, and downtown Chicago.
Temporary Exhibition Gallery
The rotating program of exhibitions in the Temporary Exhibition Gallery will provide an opportunity to expand upon and investigate further topics or historical moments highlighted in the core exhibits. The temporary gallery will foster partnerships with other cultural institutions and encourage repeat visitorship.
The Museum will be accessible in a range of ways for all visitors regardless of age, physical ability, or learning ability. Throughout the exhibition design process, we will align the Museum’s core exhibits and interactive programs with the latest principles in universal design and accessibility.
Jackson Park: A New Chapter for A Grand Civic Landmark
Jackson Park is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was envisioned by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux—the designers of New York’s Central Park and Riverside, Illinois—as one of the gems in a vast South Park system. In developing the landscape plan for the Obama Presidential Center, we have partnered with landscape architects Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), and are drawing on Olmsted and Vaux’s original design ideas and principles. MVVA leads the landscape architect team in partnership with Site Design Group and Living Habitats, two Chicago-based firms.
The Great Lawn will be positioned to face the lagoon and welcome visitors from within Jackson Park. With winding paths, gentle hills, and a new tree canopy, the field element will be the perfect year-round space for sledding, picnicking, gathering, playing, and relaxing.
The park’s wooded areas will connect the Lagoon with the park’s western edge, where the noisy six-lane Cornell Drive currently stands. It will encompass the top of the Forum building, be home to a children’s play area, and remain a peaceful place for bird watchers.
Jackson Park’s lagoons and proximity to Lake Michigan are central to the park’s original design, and we’re preserving and enhancing many of the existing spaces. Selection of native water-loving plants and specimen trees will be guided by the Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration Program.
Our Community Commitments
Our Community Commitments
We're building on the South Side community's rich history by engaging directly with our neighbors, guided by our Community Commitments.
We will use our leverage and the power of the Obama name to bring resources to our community and address the need for comprehensive economic development. We will seek to build economic opportunity by protecting against unwanted displacement, helping create infrastructure improvements, and attracting additional investment to the area.
We will nurture curious minds by educating our youth and community members to tackle the challenges of our time.
We will be a resource to the communities surrounding the Obama Presidential Center, providing accessible space to gather, educate, socialize, and entertain.
We will embrace meaningful diversity and inclusion by engaging both our South and West Side neighbors, as well as underrepresented populations, including opportunity youth, women, members of the LGBTQ community, veterans, and people with disabilities.
We will serve as an economic engine for the South Side, stimulating an estimated $2.1 billion in economic impact by attracting private investments, strengthening the local economic climate, and creating shared prosperity to help our neighbors build wealth right here where they live.
We will be careful stewards of the land, honoring the rich history of Jackson Park and prioritizing the preservation of the parkland in our design and operation of the Obama Presidential Center.
We will inspire, train, and elevate the next generation of civic leaders in underserved neighborhoods across Chicago, educating our youth to tackle the challenges of our time.
We will partner with and strengthen existing community-based organizations.
Above all, we will continue to listen. We will update these Community Commitments as our plans progress to make the most of the opportunity we have and ensure prosperity is shared with our community. Our neighbors’ voices have been vital to our progress and will continue to guide our decisions. Our door is open.
To contact the Obama Foundation, visit obama.org/chicago Opens in a new tab .
Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion
Living Our Mission
Believing in the Power of Diversity
When we sat down to define our values as a foundation, inclusivity was top of mind. We see everything we create, from buildings to programs, as an opportunity to stay true to that value.
A primary goal is that the Foundation and the Obama Presidential Center be standard-bearers for diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels.
This goal extends the definition of diversity beyond race and gender to include veterans, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ community—and we’re looking to our neighbors in underrepresented communities to help us identify and engage these partners.
So, how are we doing? A third of the Foundation’s leadership team identifies as a person of color, two-thirds are women, and among those we also have LGBTQ representation. Our board, chaired by Martin Nesbitt, is composed of long-time champions of equality including Thelma Golden, Dr. Mahalia Hines, John W. Rogers Jr., and Juan Salgado to name a few. For a complete list of our directors, refer to page 55.
On the professional service front, in 2017, we spent over $6 million with more than 70 diverse businesses across sectors including legal, digital, insurance, and design among others. A quarter of that—$1.5 million—was with Chicago-based companies. Our responsibility is to increase that number steadily as we grow, so that diverse business owners across industries will have meaningful opportunities unlike ever before.
Still, inclusivity is not about reaching a magic number or spending a certain dollar amount; it’s about changing attitudes and lives. For that reason, we began a program in 2017 focused on providing paid internship opportunities and workforce readiness training for low-income high school seniors. The Obama Youth Jobs Corps (OYJC), launched in partnership with Urban Alliance, a national youth development nonprofit organization, seeks to break down the stereotype that success is only for certain people.
During the 2017 school year, we put 18 students to work at seven organizations, for more than 1,400 total work hours. The OYJC team devised and taught a civic engagement curriculum to nearly 175 additional sophomores and juniors, many of whom will be placed in internships upon reaching their senior year.
In the students’ words, the OYJC has afforded them an opportunity to see things they never thought they would see and help their community in a positive way.
The Inclusion Council
Our 19-person Inclusion Council was created to advise the Foundation on ways to transform opportunities for underrepresented groups. Composed of people who have dedicated their lives to socio-economic justice, the Council functions as an independent body that offers guidance to the Foundation and objective evaluation on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion at every level.
Melody Spann Cooper, Midway Broadcasting Corporation
Connie Lindsey, Northern Trust
William Von Hoene Jr., Exelon Corporation
Ken Bennett, Choose Chicago
Marca Bristo, Access Living
Ellen-Blair Chube, William Blair
Jamie Citron, Obama Foundation
Evelyn Diaz, Heartland Alliance
Sidney Dillard, Loop Capital
Brett Hart, United Airlines
Susan Hassan, Valor Equity Partners
Perri Irmer, DuSable Museum of African-American History
Weldon Latham, Jackson Lewis
Langdon Neal, Neal & Leroy
Nadia Quarles, University of Chicago
Laura Ricketts, Chicago Cubs
Juan Salgado, City Colleges of Chicago
Eli Williamson, Leave No Veteran Behind
Bernarda Wong, Chinese American Service League
An Unprecedented Business Partnership
Believing in a new way of doing business
Large-scale institutional projects are often awarded to big-name majority-owned construction firms. We decided early on in the planning process that we would do things differently. Any firm participating in our request for proposal process would have to provide evidence of a serious and longstanding commitment to diverse representation at the decision-making table, as well as a belief in our shared values of community engagement, diversity, and inclusion. A promise in proposal form wasn’t enough. We wanted proof they could walk the walk.
Around the same time we were putting together the contract, five construction firms were assembling to create one expert team. Four of the largest, most respected African-American-owned firms in Chicago—Powers & Sons Construction Company, UJAMAA Construction, Brown & Momen, and Safeway Construction Company—joined to form the Presidential Partners. These firms were thinking unconventionally as well: they interviewed a number of large national firms to find the ideal partner to share in their bid. That company was Turner Construction Company, one of the largest construction management firms in the United States. Together, Turner and the Presidential Partners formed the Lakeside Alliance.
In Lakeside Alliance, we saw a willingness to do the hard work necessary to overcome obstacles that make it difficult to build diverse workforces. Lakeside has committed to building a pipeline of talent from underrepresented populations that are not only equipped to build the Obama Presidential Center, but are also prepared to participate in future projects across the city.
Lakeside Alliance means we have four African-American-owned firms at the head table, all of them profiting from the project, gaining experience that will allow them to compete for similarly sized projects in the future, and offering their expertise to help shape the Obama Presidential Center so that it reflects the diverse community we share.
According to Jimmy Akintonde, CEO of UJAMAA: “The Obama Presidential Center will be a historic project for the South Side and greater Chicago community and embodies the Obama Foundation’s commitment to hiring diverse talent. We believe this opportunity can set the stage for a new model for more minority-owned businesses to have a major role and a major stake in Chicago construction projects, large and small.”
It will take hard work and a commitment to educating and training communities so they are competitive for future opportunities, but Lakeside Alliance is doing just that by taking several steps, including:
Hosting career and training fairs across City College campuses
Opening a South Side resource center, providing storefront access to the Obama Presidential Center builders
Supporting the creation of apprenticeship and training programs
Lakeside Alliance Diversity & Inclusion Goals
In its contract with the Obama Foundation, Lakeside Alliance has committed to meeting an ambitious set of diversity and inclusion goals, with financial incentives for exceeding those goals and penalties if they fail to meet them.
OPC Economic Impact by the Numbers
Direct and indirect construction jobs will be created because of the Center
Permanent jobs will be supported as a result of the Center
Anticipated annual visitors to the Center
Expected to reach Cook County in the first 10 years of the Center’s operations
in economic impact on the South Side
Programs & Activities
Passing the Mic
Believing in the next generation
Creating a better society for tomorrow requires making choices today: choosing to engage, choosing to listen, and choosing to persist. Our programs are designed to inspire people to choose to do the work necessary to better their communities and equip them with the tools to get it done. According to Anne Filipic, Chief Program Officer: “Our work makes real what the Obamas have always believed—that when more people participate, and more perspectives are included, we come to smarter solutions that are focused on what matters most to communities.”
Currently, this work takes two forms: 1) developing civic leaders who work with others to unlock the civic potential of their communities; and 2) removing barriers that prevent certain populations from fully participating in their communities.
From Training Day to Taking Action
One day can change a life.
That’s the takeaway from the very first Obama Foundation Training Day held in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood in Chicago on October 14, 2017. We designed the day to bring together a diverse group of 150 young people from all over the city to explore their own identities as leaders, articulate challenges and opportunities in their communities, determine the change they wanted to make, and develop a path to make it happen.
We expected revelations. Big ideas. A newly invigorated community of change-makers.
And we got just that with Table B.
“Our group really clicked because of how diverse we are—not just racially or religiously, but ideologically,” Malay Trivedi said. “At the end of the Training Day, we knew we wanted to do more—we wanted to see how far we could take it.”
After meeting at the Chicago Training Day, Table B—a randomly assigned team made up of peer advisor Robert Emmons, University of Chicago student Malay Trivedi, University of Illinois student Diana Villalobos, and Loyola University Chicago student Brendan Epton—brainstormed over email and conference calls before landing on a shared interest: educational inequity and the belief that every student deserves the same opportunities, regardless of where they are born or how much their family might earn.
That’s how UniTeach: Learn one. Love one. was born. The group founded UniTeach to empower Chicago-area students with diverse socioeconomic backgrounds to raise their voices and become civically engaged. The pilot program launched in May 2018 at a charter school in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood.
The UniTeach team spent an hour per week with around 30 eighth-graders, guiding conversations about changes the students would like to see and giving them a crash course in civic engagement.
“They have such an acute understanding of the problems facing their communities,” said Malay, who is UniTeach’s president. “These students have been consistently told what they can’t do. It’s empowering to be able to tell them, ‘Yes, there are problems, but there’s no reason you can’t go out and fix them. It doesn’t take anyone special to make a difference.’”
All four members of Table B credit the Obama Foundation for not only connecting them to one another, but to additional resources that help them create curricula for their students.
Though still in its infancy, UniTeach created a board of advisors and is actively raising money to support its goal of enlisting younger generations to get involved. They’ve also filed for 501(c)(3) status.
“Training Day empowered me to pursue and specify the goals that I had for myself,” Malay said. “I knew I wanted to go into public service, but I had no idea how.”
2017 Training Days by the numbers
Obama Foundation Training Days energized young people—particularly those who were not yet engaged in civic life—to make a positive difference in their community. The participants, generally ages 18 to 24, learned how to use their own story as a powerful tool for change and how to take concrete, simple steps to organize around the issues they care about. Programs were designed in collaboration with a diverse set of organizations, from universities to churches to opportunity youth organizations.
My Brother's Keeper Alliance
Believing in equality of opportunity
In order for America to prosper, all of our children must have a level playing field and equal opportunity to thrive.
That’s why President Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) in 2014 to address persistent opportunity gaps and ensure that every child—no matter who they are or where they come from—can achieve their dreams. In 2017, the Obama Foundation became the home of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a private-sector initiative inspired by MBK.
The MBK Alliance serves as a national call to action to build safe and supportive communities for boys and young men of color where they feel valued and have clear pathways to opportunity.
Young men like Malachi Hernandez.
Malachi was 16 when he became an inaugural member of Boston’s MBK Advisory Board. As one of five children raised by his mom in an underserved Boston neighborhood, the odds were stacked against him. But thanks to a devoted mother, a lot of determination and hard work, and one-of-a-kind mentorship and leadership opportunities he found with MBK-Boston, Malachi thrived. He learned skills that weren’t taught in his school, like networking and speechwriting, and found his voice and leadership abilities. More importantly, as he told President Obama at a 2015 roundtable, he now knows that he matters.
Now a 20-year-old student at Northeastern University and a member of both MBK-Boston and the MBK Alliance Advisory Councils, Malachi gives back in any way he can. “MBK-Boston helped me overcome struggles, graduate from high school, and become the first in my family to attend college,” said Malachi, who’s majoring in political science. “Now, I always advocate for more youth at the table, because if we’re going to do work for young people, we need to have young people present.”
Believing in a world of difference
At the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in front of more than 70,000 people, President Obama sat down with Chancellor Angela Merkel and four talented young leaders from Chicago and Germany to discuss the important role young people play in shaping a better future.
During trips to Indonesia and Brazil, President Obama, alongside members of the Foundation, joined roundtable discussions with dozens of young people to learn more about the work they are doing to serve people in their communities and what the Obama Foundation can do to support them.
And in New Delhi, the Foundation convened a Town Hall with the President and nearly 300 emerging leaders—authors, artists, entrepreneurs, and civic leaders—from across India to discuss active citizenship, challenges they face in their work, and opportunities to bring about positive change.
Foundation members also traveled to China, Nigeria, South Africa, and Colombia to speak with young people about how to become more engaged in their communities and learn how the Obama Foundation can empower, equip, and connect them.
In all of these places, we found that young people are putting in the work—helping girls stay in school, building businesses that create employment, working across divisions to reduce conflict, and bringing medical care to rural communities.
And they’ve asked us for help.
Training. Networking. Mentorship. Providing tools for them to more easily create change.
That’s where our focus now lies, and how we can—and will—make a difference on a global scale.
A Fellowship Program to Catalyze Change
Believing in civic innovation
When we invest in one leader, entire communities benefit. That’s the idea at the heart of the Obama Foundation Fellowship—and what makes our approach unique.
Our Fellowship is rooted in our values and inspired by the examples of authentic, community-based leadership that the Obamas have demonstrated to the world. When selecting Fellows, we choose leaders who are putting their communities at the center of making change, so that when we lift them up, their communities are lifted up too. In selecting Obama Fellows, we look for leaders who are:
1. Civic innovators
We want to lift up people who are doing creative and powerful work in a community-driven way.
2. Discipline diverse
We look beyond the “usual suspects” of civic leadership to find individuals who represent a broad range of approaches to civic engagement—organizers, inventors, artists, educators, and more.
3. At a tipping point
We’re investing in individuals who are ready to take their work to the next level so we can help maximize their impact.
4. Talented, but not connected
We intentionally seek out innovators who haven’t yet benefitted from a fellowship or similar opportunity.
5. Good humans
It’s not just the “what,” it’s also the “how.” Embodying the values of the Obama Foundation is just as important as the work our Fellows are doing.
2017 Fellowship Applicants by the Numbers
The Fellowship was announced in September 2017, and the response was extraordinary.
We received over 20,000 applications from people around the world already doing incredible work in their communities. After seven months of reviewing applications and interviewing candidates, the first class of Fellows was announced in April 2018 and soon joined us in Chicago for their first of four in-person gatherings. Throughout the two-year program, each Fellow will pursue a personalized plan to leverage the Fellowship’s offerings to take their work to the next level.
applicants from 191 countries
inaugural Fellows from 11 countries
Meet the Fellows
How can a fellowship program help those with a proven commitment to bringing about change do their work in bigger, better ways? In designing the program, we first explored what was working in leadership development, what was missing, and what the Obama Foundation could uniquely bring to the table. The Fellowship we ultimately created combines best-in-class elements of existing leadership programs with the Foundation’s unique advantages: our ability to connect leaders to the peers, collaborators, and mentors who can help them boost their work, and our platform to lift up the stories of successful leaders, inspiring others to join.We see this first cohort of Fellows as one that will help pave the way for years to come, because they will help us co-design the Fellowship. While we hope they leave this program better equipped to design solutions for their communities, we also know that the Foundation will benefit greatly from their insights on how to support leaders around the world.
Learn more about our first class of Fellows and how they’re making a difference in their communities: obama.org/fellowship
Erin Barnes, ioby, Brooklyn, NY
Veronica Crespin-Palmer, RISE Colorado, Aurora, CO
Celina de Sola, Glasswing International, San Salvador, El Salvador
Clarissa Delgado, Teach for the Philippines, Makati, Philippines
Nedgine Paul Deroly, Anseye Pou Ayiti, Gonaïves, Haiti
Tiana Epps-Johnson, Center for Technology and Civic Life, Chicago, IL
Sasha Fisher, Spark MicroGrants, New York, NY/Rwanda
Harry Grammer, New Earth, Los Angeles, CA
Zarlasht Halaimzai, Refugee Trauma Initiative, London, UK/Greece
Ashley Hanson, PlaceBase Productions and The Department of Public Transformation, Granite Falls, MN/Boulder, CO
Preethi Herman, Change.org Foundation, Delhi, India
Navdeep Kang, Mercy Health, Cincinnati, OH
Moussa Kondo, Accountability Lab, Bamako, Mali
Sandor Lederer, K-Monitor Association, Budapest, Hungary
Kalani Leifer, COOP, San Francisco, CA/New York, NY
Melissa Malzkuhn, Motion Light Lab, Gallaudet University, and Ink and Salt LLC, Washington, D.C.
Koketso Moeti, Amandla.mobi, Johannesburg, South Africa
Alex Smith, Cares Family, London, United Kingdom/Manchester, United Kingdom
Dominique Jordan Turner, Chicago Scholars, Chicago, IL
Keith Wattley, UnCommon Law, Oakland, CA
Where Ideas Converge: The Summit
Believing in Working Together
The Obama Foundation Summit had no shortage of big names—Prince Harry, Common, Rashida Jones, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Dolores Huerta, José Andrés, and of course, President and Mrs. Obama—but big ideas took center stage at the two-day event held in the fall of 2017 in Chicago.
Five hundred inspiring civic leaders from 60 countries were selected to attend the Foundation’s launch Summit, where nothing was left off the table as people came together to brainstorm creative solutions to better their communities. “People came into it open and willing to try something new,” said San Francisco-based visual storyteller Wendy MacNaughton, who led a breakout session on illustrated journalism. “The energy, vulnerability, and commitment were high. There were filmmakers, authors, civic leaders, organizers, and journalists—and they all brought their whole selves to it.”
Where We're Going From Here
Where We're Going From Here
Believing in our future
In 2017, we learned many lessons from our conversations with future and emerging leaders during roundtables, town halls, and Summit workshops. We’re taking what we’ve learned from these inspiring and insightful conversations to power both our current and future programs. Here are some of the new programs we’re working on in 2018.
Obama Foundation Scholars
To lift up emerging leaders who have already begun to demonstrate impact in their communities, we’re partnering with the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy to develop a special master’s program in international development and policy. Twenty-five Obama Foundation Scholars will come to Chicago from around the world to develop their research, analytical, and applied skills.
At the same time, a dozen international Obama Foundation Scholars will go to Columbia University for one year to work with academics and expert practitioners to identify tangible solutions to real-world problems. Both programs will be supplemented with rich leadership development, mentoring, and networking opportunities provided by the Foundation. The first cohort of Scholars will begin their studies in August 2018.
Obama Foundation Leaders: Africa Program
By inspiring, empowering, and connecting 200 emerging leaders from across Africa, we hope to build a new generation of innovative, ethical changemakers and role models for communities, countries, and the entire continent. The one-year leadership development and civic engagement program launched in July 2018 with a five-day convening in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Foundation is planning similar programs, tailored for each region, in Asia, Europe, and Latin America.
Community Leadership Corps
Building on the success and learnings from our pilot Training Days, we are testing more focused day-and-a-half long trainings in the fall of 2018 designed for an audience that is ready to take the first step in their civic journey. In parallel, we are piloting the Community Leadership Corps, a six-month leadership development program for young people ages 18-to-25 who are already involved and ready to take on a more active leadership role in their communities of Phoenix, Columbia, and Chicago.
My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge
MBK Alliance’s work to reduce barriers and expand opportunity for boys and young men of color continues to gain momentum in hundreds of communities around the country. In April 2018, we launched the MBK Community Challenge Competition, a pilot program that aims to grow the impact of community-based solutions that measurably improve life outcomes for boys and young men of color. The competition’s focus is on reducing youth violence, growing the pipeline of mentors to young men of color, and strengthening initiatives that will lead to lasting local change. Winners will be announced in the fall.
A Network of New Leaders
Our programs aim to touch thousands of people interested in changing their communities for the better. But we don’t just want to reach an audience—we want to build a lasting network of new leaders who can lift each other up as they pursue progress. We’re developing digital platforms to help program participants stay connected and build stronger ties. These platforms will connect participants with similar interests or similar goals, give them a vehicle to share their work, and help them achieve more together than they can alone.
A Membership Directory Open to Everyone
Building a network of people working for change shouldn’t just apply to program participants. We’re also planning to launch a membership directory that will allow us to recruit and interact with the millions of people around the world who have expressed interest in our work. Depending on their desired involvement, members will be offered a wide variety of benefits—including invitations to events, early looks at new technologies and programs-in-progress, and access to special-edition Foundation “supplies”—our stylish and useful Foundation-branded items.
2017 Financial Highlights
We spend every day trying to live up to our mission: to inspire, empower, and connect people to change their world. We’re grateful for the support and partnership of individuals, corporations, institutions, and foundations who share our sense of urgency and purpose.
Interest & Other Income: $393,205
Corporate & Foundation: $11,862,220
General & Administrative: $5,294,922
As of December 31, 2017:
Net Assets: $224,234,090
Pre-Construction Costs: $12,791,909
Note: these numbers are audited, but pending the Obama Foundation Board’s approval. Contributions include in-kind donations.
This work wouldn’t be possible without your support. We are proud stewards of your gifts. For a complete list of donors, visit obama.org/about.