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Obama Foundation Annual Report 2018

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Letter from President Obama

President Obama smiles with his arms crossed.

No one changes the world alone.

It’s a simple truth, but a powerful one. And it’s a sentiment that has guided me my entire life.

It’s what led me to Chicago as a young man, eager to make a difference but unsure how to do it, searching for mentors and a community that I might be able to help out. It’s what sustained my campaigns and my time in the White House—the support of millions of people who shared the belief that lasting change can only come from the bottom up. And it’s the idea that Michelle and I have devoted our lives to through our Foundation, an organization committed to inspiring, empowering, and connecting people with the voice and the vision for a better tomorrow.

Because the world can use more leaders. I saw that clearly during my time in the White House, and I believe that even more today. When global progress is halted, it’s not because we lack the solutions to our problems. People don’t go hungry because we don’t know how to grow food. Children don’t die because we lack cures to common diseases. Schools don’t fail because we don’t know how to provide a quality education.

We face these and other challenges, as unique as they are, for a similar reason: because we need the kind of inclusive, ethical leadership that can channel a people’s will into progress that benefits everyone. We need fresh eyes and diverse perspectives that can help us question and change our current ways of thinking.

That’s why the Obama Foundation is supporting emerging leaders throughout the world—because we believe that the community leaders of today will become the global leaders of tomorrow.

And I don’t just mean politicians and presidents.

Leadership is necessary at all levels of a society. We need more grassroots leaders who are willing to go into their communities to ensure everyone’s voice is heard. We need more entrepreneurs and private sector executives who understand that enriching their communities and workforce can be just as valuable as enriching their shareholders. We need more advocates who are willing to challenge systems of oppression and ensure that potential is met with opportunity, regardless of race or gender, culture or creed, orientation or belief.

We need more jurists and thinkers and scientists and engineers and artists and everyday people, everywhere, to step up, realize our fates are intertwined, and help lead us into a brighter future.

Those are the leaders of tomorrow that we seek to prepare today.

Throughout these pages, you’ll see how the Obama Foundation is working to identify and support those leaders, whether it’s amplifying the impact of established changemakers like our Fellows and Scholars, offering substantive training programs to emerging voices in communities at home or regions abroad, or breaking down barriers for boys and young men of color in the U.S. and girls around the world so that they can thrive and lead as well.

To me, the stories that really stand out are the stories of connection—young men and young women who’ve met each other through the Foundation’s work and have been able to improve people’s lives in dramatic new ways as a result.

These are connections that would not otherwise exist— Scholars from Asia, Leaders from Africa, Fellows from Europe, college students from Chicago—all forming bonds that will support and enrich them for years to come. Some met during the course of our programming. Some met during our 2018 Summit.

Some will soon meet through a digital network we’re building. And many, many more will meet at the Obama Presidential Center, a campus that will attract people from around the world, while honoring Chicago’s history as a crucible for change.

Today they all know that they’re not alone as they pursue progress.

And in the days and years ahead, they will change the world—together.

Barack Obama signature

Barack Obama

Letter from David Simas, CEO

A White man with ear-length straight brown hair looks to the left as he appears to be motioning with his hand.

Dear Friends,

Here at the Obama Foundation, we’re focused on building the world we all hope to see. A world that is more inclusive and participatory. A world that is more generous. A world that is more just. A world where people discover and harness their own power and voice. A world where people see their lives as being deeply intertwined with the lives of others and see themselves as capable of transforming their communities for the better.

That vision serves as our North Star, guiding everything we do, from community leadership trainings here in Chicago to global leadership roundtables and programs in countries around the world.

We believe that to solve the most pressing problems we face—to build that world we want to see—we need to invest in people. We need to develop leaders who come together in a cooperative, inclusive, thoughtful, and constructive way, focused on bridging our divides and building stronger communities for the common good.

And 2018 was a milestone in our effort to do just that. After months of preparation, research, care, and thought, we introduced several programs that we believe will define our work for years to come. After reviewing 20,000 applications, we selected and supported our first class of 20 Obama Foundation Fellows. We launched our first international program, Leaders: Africa, a year-long program that we kicked off by gathering 200 of the continent’s most promising emerging leaders in Johannesburg. We graduated our first cohort of the Community Leadership Corps, young leaders from Columbia, Phoenix, and Chicago, who are poised to make their cities—and our nation—better. We launched the Girls Opportunity Alliance, a global network of grassroots leaders who are helping ensure that every girl gets the education she deserves.

All of this work happened—and much, much more—while we continued our preparations for the Obama Presidential Center, a dynamic museum and public gathering space here on the South Side of Chicago. When constructed, the Obama Presidential Center will inspire and empower millions of visitors to make a positive impact in their own communities, while providing amenities and economic opportunity to the community that gave President and Mrs. Obama so much.

Throughout the report, you’ll read about this place we’re working to build and the programs that advance our mission. But more importantly, you’ll read about the people we’re investing in today that will help build the future we want to see tomorrow.

Thank you for being part of this journey. We’re looking forward to your partnership in the years ahead.

Signature of CEO David Simas

David M. Simas

CEO

Obama Foundation

Our Mission

Mrs. Obama shares a lighthearted moment with a group of young girls while filming a video in support of the Girls Opportunity Alliance.

Mrs. Obama shares a lighthearted moment with a group of young girls while filming a video in support of the Girls Opportunity Alliance.

Our mission is to inspire, empower, and connect people to change their world.

The Obama Foundation is 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 oversees planning for the future Obama Presidential Center, as well as a range of domestic and global programs. The Foundation calls the South Side of Chicago home and is headquartered just a few blocks away from the future site of the Obama Presidential Center.

The Foundation is governed by a volunteer board of directors, chaired by civic leader Martin H. Nesbitt.

The Obama Presidential Center

A rendering of the Museum Building is shown from the North.

Rendering of Obama Presidential Forum

We were founded by community organizers, so our work will always be organized around communities. And that starts right here on the South Side of Chicago with the Obama Presidential Center.

The Center will be a historic addition to Chicago’s storied architectural and civic landscape. When completed, it will feature a world-class museum, vibrant public gathering spaces, a new branch of the Chicago Public Library, an athletic center which will also host activities and programs, and a variety of community spaces, from a recording studio to an auditorium to a sledding hill. It will reconnect and revitalize Jackson Park, returning more parkland to local residents than it will occupy. And it will generate billions in economic opportunity for families and businesses in the community that gave Barack and Michelle Obama so much.

But before a shovel hits the ground or a beam is raised, we’re consulting and engaging with our neighbors every step of the way. We’re taking feedback from them and making real commitments to them. We want them by our side, at every step.

It’s just who we are.

Michelle Obama hugging someone.
Barack Obama Stickers
President Barack Obama participates in a service project at the Greater Chicago Food Depository in Chicago, IL

Our Community at the Center

It was the crack of dawn, but many of our neighbors showed up. On a brisk, sunny morning in May, they rallied in front of Chicago’s City Hall to show their support for the Obama Presidential Center. A little sleepy, but all smiles, their cheers and dancing took over the morning rush hour amid sounds of horns honking in support. Shortly after, they put in their names—some after waiting for hours—to testify before the city about why they believed the Center belonged on the South Side.

Juanita Butler was one of those early risers. Born and raised in the South Suburbs of Chicago, Juanita did not grow up with access to the resources she deserved. She contracted lead poisoning as a young girl and was often teased for her disability. She lacked the safe public spaces that other neighborhoods had—spaces that would welcome her and give her a chance to grow.

In her eyes, the Obama Presidential Center will be that place. And in her testimony to the Chicago Plan Commission, the public body responsible for reviewing the land use and zoning proposals for large developments, she made that known. “I fear that you guys won’t understand how important this is for people that are shut out and don’t have representation that they need and I needed as a kid,” she said.

Juanita and a few dozen others took turns offering their support for the Center, the culmination of several months of community meetings, hundreds of stakeholder conversations, and a call for support that resulted in thousands of postcards and letters.

Bolstered by the testimony, the Chicago Plan Commission approved our zoning application to build the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park by a vote of 49-1.

A group of people wearing blue Obama Presidential Center t-shirts appear to be dancing on a sidewalk as they hold signs supporting the Center. One woman wearing a gray Obama Foundation logo shirt stands in the center. To the left are men holding signs that read "Obama Yes, Displacement No, No CBA, No Vote."

Advisor Desiree “Dez” Tate and Chief Engagement Officer Mike Strautmanis dance with supporters of the Obama Presidential Center outside of Chicago City Hall.

This was a tremendous milestone—a moment of hard-earned celebration—but it also marked one of the final few days we had with someone incredibly important to our team, Desiree Tate, known to most as Dez.

Simply put, Dez was a powerhouse—an influential and recognizable leader with deep roots on the South Side who was greatly admired across the city and instrumental in bringing the Center to Chicago. Beyond serving as a critical advisor to us in our earliest stages, Dez was kind. She was present. She laughed with us, danced with us, and helped us get started on the right path. We still miss her.

Months later, in a turning point for our future in Chicago, the City Council unanimously approved several other agreements, solidifying the relationship between the Foundation and the city.

Dez would have been proud.

“I fear that you guys won’t understand how important this is for people that are shut out and don’t have representation that they need and I needed as a kid.”
- Juanita Butler, in Public Testimony About Obama Presidential Center
JUANITA BUTLER, IN PUBLIC TESTIMONY ABOUT THE OBAMA PRESIDENTIAL CENTER

Lending Our Ears, Rolling Up Our Sleeves

Public Support For The Obama Presidential Center At City Hall

We’re not just headquartered in this community, we’re part of it. That’s why engagement, stewardship, and volunteerism are central to our work.

From Pilsen to Chatham to Woodlawn, we’ve spent the past two years engaged in dynamic conversation with Chicagoans about our plans to bring the Obama Presidential Center to Jackson Park. But once the Chicago City Council approved our zoning application, we realized it was time to begin another kind of listening tour—one that shifted our attention to how Chicagoans wanted to use and enjoy the future Center.

In June of 2018, we held our first ever Chicago Community Conversation at the University of Illinois at Chicago to get things started. The event brought together 300 local grassroots and community leaders to reflect on Chicago’s rich history of organizing and delve into ways we could all work together to improve our city.

And that was just the start. In the months after, we began gathering small groups of our neighbors for informal dinner conversations to discuss our changing city.

Then in July, we forged a partnership with The Honeycomb Project in Chicago to help us connect with our neighbors through acts of goodwill and service. Together, we’ve packed lunches for the homeless and organized beach clean ups. And we’re still rolling up our sleeves to do more.

8,797

Postcards Submitted

406

Letters Presented

37

Speakers Who Testified

A handwritten letter with black ink on white, lined paper. The letter explains that the sender's 99 year-old grandfather hopes to visit the Obama Presidential Center after a lifetime of waiting to see "this young man" elected.

Our Year in Chicago

January 5

Lakeside Alliance announced as Construction Manager for the Obama Presidential Center

February 27

Public meeting about the Obama Presidential Center with President Obama

May 17

Chicago Plan Commission approves zoning application for the Obama Presidential Center

June 19

Obama Foundation hosts the Community Conversation at University of Illinois at Chicago

June 23-24

Community Leadership Corps Kickoff

July 18

Launch of partnership with The Honeycomb Project

August 28

President Obama greets supporters at our headquarters

October 29

Lakeside Alliance Resource Center opening

October 31

Approval of Use Agreement by Chicago City Council

November 18-19

Obama Foundation Summit

Obama Presidential Center: The Museum

Obama Presidential Center Rendering

The Obama Presidential Center Museum building’s northern facade

The Obama Presidential Center Museum

From their days supporting communities on the South Side of Chicago to the structure of their campaigns to the way they sought to lead, President and Mrs. Obama have always believed that change happens from the bottom up. The Obama Presidential Center Museum, from its design to its exhibits, will be no different.

The architecture of the Museum building echoes this idea of ascension—of a movement upward from the grassroots. Its form is inspired by the idea of four hands coming together, a recognition that many hands shape a place. Like these hands, each facade of the four-sided building will be a little different from the next, providing a unique but engaging view from each angle. The building will serve as a historic landmark in Jackson Park, welcoming visitors to the South Side and the Center.

The Exhibit Galleries

The core Exhibit Galleries of the Museum will also emphasize the grassroots nature of President Obama’s path to the presidency, framed within a larger story of American democracy. The first exhibit level will focus on the historic precedents that made Barack Obama’s election possible—our nation’s founding ideals, the leaders and movements that challenged us to live up to them, and Chicago’s own prominent role in the expansion of civil rights and community engagement.

Subsequent exhibit levels will focus on the President and First Lady’s eight years in the White House, featuring dynamic exhibits about the events, policies, challenges, and accomplishments of the Obama presidency, rooted in the larger, complex discussion about democracy and the role of government that our nation has been having since its founding. The final exhibit level will also describe the work President and Mrs. Obama have led since leaving the White House, and will inspire visitors to push for change within their own communities.

The Museum experience will also include a view of life in the White House, with a full-scale replica of the Oval Office, along with a range of authentic artifacts from the Administration. A special Exhibit Gallery on the Garden Level will feature a changing series of installations that expand on the Museum’s core themes and encourage visitors to return again and again.

President Barack Obama sits at a large, ornate wood desk in the oval office. He is on the phone. Behind him are two flags, long red drapes and large windows.
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Four hands of medium-dark skin tone come together in the center of the frame to form a 3-dimensional rectangular shape.
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The Museum Exhibit Gallery will feature a full-scale replica of the Oval Office.

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The form of the Museum building was inspired by the idea of four hands coming together.

The Sky Room

Once visitors have completed their journey through the four levels of the Museum, they will be invited to take an elevator to the Sky Room on the top level of the Museum building. The Sky Room will offer visitors a space to reflect, with extraordinary panoramic views of Lake Michigan to the East, the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago to the North, and the South Side of Chicago to the West and South. The Sky Room will be free and open to the public and can be enjoyed as a standalone experience without a Museum ticket

The Garden Level

Visitors are then invited to descend to the public Garden Level where they will have an opportunity to share their own stories and to connect with other people’s submissions through a series of interactive programs. Visitors will also be encouraged to commit to engaging within their own communities, finding ways they can make a difference after leaving the Obama Presidential Center and returning home. The Garden Level will also feature a retail shop and café, connect to the Forum and its public programming, and link to several outdoor courtyards designed for both social interaction and quiet contemplation. The retail shop will feature unique Obama Presidential Center merchandise like t-shirts and tote bags, as well as books important to President and Mrs. Obama, and products from local Chicago artisans and businesses.

The café will feature coffee from local roasters, honey gathered from onsite beehives, and sandwiches and salads with fresh ingredients from the Center’s Fruit and Vegetable Garden.

Obama Presidential Center: The Forum

A graphic depiction of a man in a wheelchair and another in a suit in the tiled courtyard of the Obama Presidential Center. People mill around further ahead of them.

A northern-facing view from the Plaza of the Museum building and Forum.

The Forum

The Forum will serve as a place to welcome the local community—a commons designed to bring people together. Largely built into the landscape of Jackson Park, the Forum will house numerous collaborative and creative spaces, including an auditorium, a broadcast and recording studio, flexible learning and meeting spaces, and a restaurant.

The Forum will also provide plenty of spaces for people to relax, eat, do their homework, or play a game of chess. The Forum is designed to serve as a hub for our neighbors, so these spaces will mostly be free and open to the public.

Obama Forum Rendering
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Obama Forum Rendering
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Obama Forum Rendering
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Outdoor seating at the Forum

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A southern-facing view of the Forum with the Library building in the background.

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A northern-facing view from the Plaza of the Museum building and Forum.

Auditorium

Inspired by the amazing concerts, performances, and celebrations in the East Room during the Obama Presidency, the 300-seat auditorium will host a variety of public events and screenings. We plan to bring in performing artists and speakers whose work complements the themes of community engagement or whose presence affords neighbors on the South Side a chance to see renowned acts. The auditorium won’t just be used for special events, however. It will also be a place for community events, and when not in active use, will screen selected content and be open for visitors to enjoy.

Broadcast and Recording Studio

From blues to jazz, hip hop to house, Chicago has always had its own sound. We’re building a recording studio that hits all the right notes, from workshops and master classes in audio production to the opportunity for anyone to lay down a track. For those practicing their flow or starting a podcast, our recording studio will be a place for our neighbors to share their voices. We’ll also have a broadcast studio for budding influencers who want to get some experience either behind or in front of the camera.

Flexible learning and meeting spaces

The Forum will also have six flexible programming rooms for a wide variety of public programming. Each room can accommodate groups of varying sizes and needs for meetings and workshops, orientation sessions for Museum tours, or club meetings and after school programs.

Restaurant

In addition to its sound, Chicago definitely has its own flavor. Our restaurant will be the main dining space for visitors, with outdoor seating available during the warmer seasons. The restaurant will also offer catering service to support meetings, gatherings, and special events at the Center.

All renderings featured in the report are under development and are subject to change as the design process progresses.

Obama Presidential Center: Library And Park

Rendering of Chicago Library in The Obama Presidential Center

The new branch of the Chicago Public Library at the Obama Presidential Center will provide visitors with a relaxing yet inspiring place to read.

The Chicago Public Library

We’ve partnered with the Chicago Public Library to bring a new, 5,000-square-foot branch to Jackson Park, offering specialized programs and events for children, and spaces to learn and create for everyone.

The new branch of the Chicago Public Library will also include the President’s Reading Room, which will serve as an extension of the Obama Presidential Center Museum experience. The President’s Reading Room will provide visitors with a relaxing yet inspiring place to read. It will offer small exhibits focused on the importance of literacy, education, and community service, and feature a special collection of books that are meaningful to President and Mrs. Obama.

Obama Presidential Center Building rendering

The Plaza and Park

At the heart of the Obama Presidential Center will be a public plaza that serves as a place for the Foundation and our neighbors to host informal and planned gatherings alike. It will feature public artwork and host outdoor performances, farmers markets, and fairs.

A nearby park will offer play areas, walking paths, and a sledding hill, all connected by a long pedestrian promenade that joins the Center to Jackson Park and runs alongside its beautiful and historic lagoons.

Program, Athletic, and Activity Center

It wouldn’t be the Obama Presidential Center without a place to shoot some hoops. The fourth main building on the campus will be the Program, Athletic, and Activity Center. The facility will be a home for recreation, community programming, and events. With our largest indoor gathering space, the Program, Athletic, and Activity Center will be a place for pickup games, rec leagues, dance classes, senior yoga, volleyball tournaments, and aerobic fitness classes. But it won’t just be a place to get your heart pumping. It will also offer camps and trainings that teach young people the importance of teamwork, determination, and sportsmanship—skills that serve any future leader well. And it will also host large events and programs that emphasize the importance of community engagement and leadership.

Fruit and Vegetable Garden and Teaching Kitchen

Paying homage to Mrs. Obama’s garden from the White House, we’ll have a Fruit and Vegetable Garden showcasing local produce and active beehives. We’ll also have a teaching kitchen and classroom integrated into the garden that will enable us to offer demonstrations and hands-on classes for our neighbors on topics like planting, harvesting, and cooking from home gardens. The Garden classroom will also provide ideal space for school field trips to introduce kids to healthy eating, the environment, and the importance of pollinators.

Children's Play Area and Great Lawn

The Children’s Play Area and Great Lawn will be the park we all wish we had grown up near. It’ll have a giant playground with innovative, imaginative play equipment for children and seating for adults to relax. It’s a place for sledding in the winter and picnics in the summer. And it will be the perfect place to get a view of Jackson Park’s beautiful lagoons year-round.

Obama Presidential Center: History

From Hope to History

Our Oral History Partnership

The Foundation recently announced that Columbia University, along with partners at the University of Chicago and University of Hawai i, had been selected to produce the official oral history of the Obama presidency.

Over the next five years, these institutions will conduct interviews with roughly 400 people, including Cabinet secretaries, assistants to the President, mid- and lower-level administration staff, journalists, and outside figures—Republican and Democrat—both in Washington and beyond, who can speak to this president’s eight years in office. The project will also examine Mrs. Obama’s work, initiatives, and legacy as First Lady. Partners in Chicago and Hawai i will explore how both communities shaped President and Mrs. Obama’s pre-presidential lives.

Columbia and its academic partners will have full control over all editorial aspects of the project, and they expect to make the oral histories publicly available online by 2026.

Stories of the 2008 Election

On President Obama’s 57th birthday, Louise Bernard, Director of the Obama Presidential Center Museum, asked our global audience for some help. She asked every person—whether they were young or old, in the U.S. or overseas, fired up and ready to go or shivering in the cold on inauguration day—to help us tell the story of the historic 2008 presidential election. We asked them to submit their photos, audio recordings, written reflections— anything that would help us honor the tenth anniversary of President Obama’s first presidential victory.

We couldn’t tell the story of the Obama Presidency without incorporating the voices of people who lived through, worked for, or witnessed this historic presidency.

White button with a basketball and hoop. Barack Obama is written across the top.
Two people holder "Obama has won!" newspaper
Young Boy watching Obama on television
Crowd listening to Obama Speech
Children holding Obama campaign sign

The Records of the Obama Presidency*

In addition to building a Museum that immerses the public in the story of President and Mrs. Obama, we also want to help the public engage with the vast historical record of the Obama Presidency.

One of the primary ways to understand a presidency is through its records—through the papers, memos, drafts, speeches, texts, even postits—and now emails, blog posts, and tweets—that detail and document an administration. President Obama’s tenure came at an inflection point in record keeping: not at the dawn of the digital era, but as it fully took hold. Unlike other administrations, the vast majority of records created in the Obama White House—estimated at more than 95 percent—were born digital.

That’s why we are partnering with NARA, the National Archives and Record Administration, to digitize the remaining five percent of records— some 30 million pages—that exist on paper to create a comprehensive digital archive at the first fully digital presidential library. Our goal is to increase access to the records so that anyone can engage and study them, no matter where they live.

Though the Foundation will fund the digitization of these records, a special team of NARA archivists who are dedicated to preserving, reviewing, and providing access to the Obama presidential records will directly oversee this work and ensure the process and product meets all their relevant policies, regulations, and best practices. Throughout the entire process, those NARA archivists will maintain control and ownership of both the paper originals and digitized records and bear responsibility for making them available to the public in accordance with the Presidential Records Act, as they have for previous administrations.

*These records are owned and controlled by the Barack Obama Library, a NARA entity

Graph stating 95% of Obama's records are digital.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

A young woman in a blue blazer smiles while writing on a piece of paper.
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The staff of the Obama Foundation gathers for a group photo at our 2017 retreat.
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Foundation staff join neighbors and volunteers to plant local species in Jackson Park.
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Members of the Obama Youth Jobs Corps attend a workshop.

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The staff of the Obama Foundation gathers for a group photo at our 2017 retreat.

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Foundation staff join neighbors and volunteers to plant local species in Jackson Park.

Our Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Obama Presidential Center Spending

In 2018, we set a goal of spending 32.5 percent of the Obama Presidential Center professional services budget with diverse vendors—firms that are at least 51 percent owned, operated, and controlled by women, people of color, people with disabilities, veterans, or members of the LGBTQ+ community. By the end of the year, we had exceeded that goal with more than 40 percent of our spend going to diverse vendors.

Lakeside Alliance

In October 2018, our construction manager Lakeside Alliance set up shop in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago. Lakeside is a collective of five construction firms, four of which are local African-American owned businesses. Their new resource center is a space where local residents interested in learning about building things can stop by to enroll in workforce development training, explore construction and subcontracting opportunities for the Obama Presidential Center, or just learn about the construction industry as a whole.

So far, Lakeside has taken part in over 20 community meetings to discuss the Obama Presidential Center, hosted two union trade informational sessions, and organized two career and training opportunity fairs for those seeking job opportunities.

Lakeside also helped cofound the We Can Build It Consortium, a coalition of seven organizations led by Chicago Women in Trades, designed to recruit and place individuals into a pipeline for projects around Chicago and the country. The consortium includes two apprenticeship programs in partnership with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 134 and the Chicagoland Regional Council of Carpenters. IBEW Local 134 will work with Council of Carpenters to create and teach a test prep program to prepare aspiring electricians for the apprenticeship aptitude test.

Operations Spending

Across our Chicago, D.C., and New York offices, 24 percent of our operations spend was with diverse vendors, a total of $7 million spent with 150 businesses. We define operations spend as the number of dollars spent on a variety of professional services, including event planning, production services, office services, technology, and consulting.

Our Partners

We pride ourselves on working with minority- and women-owned business enterprises around the country, especially at home in Chicago.

A group of young people all wearing white t-shirts with the same logo sit and stand in a semicircle, posing for the camera. Behind them is a city skyline. It is a sunny day and shadows are cast on and around the group.

Agency EA

Agency EA is a minority- and women-owned brand experience firm based in Chicago. At our 2018 Summit, this boutique agency was critical in bringing our vision to life. From designing a stage for speakers from all walks of life to share their stories, to producing an experience that fostered rich connections among attendees, this team left attendees inspired and engaged.

Space Continuum

Space Continuum is a certified minority business enterprise and furniture dealer based in Chicago that is known for curating dynamic and beautiful workplaces across the city. As the Foundation grew in 2018, Space Continuum helped design our collaborative and comfortable new office spaces in Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C

A man with dark sin tone, short hair, white beard and glasses looks into the camera. He wears a dark-colored suit jacket with a white pocket square. Behind him is a window showing a view of a large building.
A group of people stand in a semi-circle posing for the camera. One in the center holds up a t-shirt with the name of a construction company. Several young men in the group wear red or yellow ties with black suit jackets adorned with a shield-shaped patch.

BOWA Construction

“Build your future!” That’s what bowa means in Edo, a native Nigerian language. Our partner since 2018, Bowa Construction, a certified minority business enterprise, is an awarding-winning construction firm that focuses on renovation projects. Bowa is helping remodel our office space in Chicago and helping us solidify our footprint on the South Side.

The Obama Youth Jobs Corps

A Foot in the Door

We are proud to partner with Urban Alliance, a national youth development organization, to provide workforce development training to underserved high school students through the Obama Youth Jobs Corps. Beginning in the tenth grade, Obama Youth Jobs Corps students receive workforce readiness training at partner organizations and businesses throughout Chicago, culminating in a ten-month paid internship during a student’s senior year. There are currently 105 sophomores in the program, as well as 56 juniors who are poised for an internship placement in the fall

Jason Guzman is a senior at Curie Metropolitan High School and hopes to study computer science at DePaul University in the fall. Jason is currently interning at Hyatt, an Obama Youth Jobs Corps partner, and he considers the experience invaluable.

“I have grown so much both professionally and personally,” Jason said. “I have learned important real world skills through my job and from my mentor, such as how to confidently give a presentation in a room full of people, work cross-functionally with other teams, and remain professional in all environments. Working hard is the only way you can make a difference and become the best version of yourself.”

More than the skills he has learned, Jason’s favorite part of the experience has been the way he’s been embraced as a member of the Hyatt team. “I am given tasks that make an impact.”

“Inclusivity is not about reaching a magic number or spending a certain dollar amount... It’s about having a seat at the table and having your voice both heard and considered.”
- Michael Strautmanis, Chief Engagement Officer
Michael Strautmanis stands at the center of the image, wearing a suit jacket and name tag. He and two women appear to be in conversation and laughing.

Our Programs

A young woman stands and speaks to a group.

Emerging leaders gather in Hawaiʻi as part of our Leaders: Asia-Pacific Design Workshop.

Our Programs

Our foundation is guided by a belief that everyone has a role to play in the future of their communities.

But how people show up to lead is just as important as whether they show up to lead in the first place. To drive lasting change, leaders need to be inclusive. They need to prioritize equity and diversity. They need to prize integrity and accountability. And rather than imposing their ideas from the top down, they need to build support from the bottom up, working at the grassroots within their communities.

In each of our initiatives—whether they take place in the South Side of Chicago or in South Africa—you’ll recognize a common approach that reinforces these tenets. We invest in human potential to help emerging community leaders build the world they want to see. We prioritize investing in diverse communities and work hard to recruit talented changemakers from underrepresented communities.

We stress the importance of ethical leadership and reinforce the idea that the change people seek is more important than the title they hold. We make time for service, whether it’s refurbishing a local school in Johannesburg, pulling up weeds for our neighbors in Chicago, or helping people develop their own communitybased projects and organizations.

Above all, we take the long view. We are embarking on a generational project, developing leaders around the world who will help determine our shared future. But while change doesn’t happen overnight, we know that it starts in our communities.

And in our case, that means right in our backyard.

Community Leadership Corps

Everyone Leaves a Leader

Dejah Powell grew up splitting time between the South Suburbs and the South Side of Chicago. As a young girl she noticed that the mostly African-American neighborhoods she grew up in didn’t have the same resources as the mostly white neighborhoods on the North Side. There were fewer parks and places to exercise. Access to wellness was also limited, from counseling services to yoga studios. And grocery stores were hard to find and poorly stocked.

A couple states over in St. Paul, Minnesota, Emily Nordquist’s family found itself on uncertain footing after years of financial stability. Her mother passed away and soon after, her family lost their business and eventually had to sell their home. Financial stress dramatically changed her family’s life and the way they approached the world.

As Dejah and Emily grew older, those early experiences stuck with them. Dejah wanted to ensure her community could access the wellness resources she saw in other parts of the city. After moving to Chicago, Emily wanted to help young women achieve the financial wellness she struggled to find in high school. And though they both cared about their communities and were eager to grow as leaders, there wasn’t a clear path for turning their intentions into action.

The Community Leadership Corps was designed exactly for people like Dejah and Emily: young, community-minded, and full of leadership potential. For six months, selected applicants are given in-person trainings, get access to online coaching and project funding, and are connected to the broader Obama Foundation network to help them design, implement, and launch community projects.

“The Foundation has provided the structure and accountability for my team to take our dreams and passions and turn them into a reality. We’ve now blossomed into an exciting group of people embodying our mission of integrating wellness into the black community in Chicago.”
- Dejah Powell
Portrait of DEJAH POWELL

In 2018, we launched the Community Leadership Corps in three cities: Phoenix, Arizona; Columbia, South Carolina; and right here in Chicago. That’s where Dejah and Emily first met—and first started work on their projects.

Dejah recruited two of her best friends to found black&well, an organization committed to integrating wellness into the black community in Chicago. black&well helps create a space for the community to talk about health issues. At events across the South Side, they’ve offered wellness education, yoga, guided meditation sessions, and conversations about improving access to nutritious food. Emily also founded an organization, Penny, along with two other Corps members. Penny helps young women throughout Chicago find ways to build healthy relationships with money by offering financial literacy education and tools.

During the six months she spent in the Community Leadership Corps, Emily connected with mentors, with peers, and with the young women she was trying to support. By listening to them, she shaped Penny into an organization that was truly responsive to the financial needs of young women in Chicago.

Together, Dejah and Emily have teamed up, hosting workshops aimed at furthering the goals of both their organizations.

Thanks to the Community Leadership Corps, two young women with different passions were both able to kickstart their careers in community change. And by working together, they’ve been able to expand the impact they would have made on their own.

“I was given both the confidence and community to really build on my passion to help young women change their relationship with money and help my community take the first steps together to achieve financial wellness.”
- Emily Nordquist
Portrait of Emily Nordquist

The Community Leadership Corps Journey

A smiling young person wearing a dark blue and teal headscarf looks to the right. They are surrounded by other, slightly out-of-focus faces mostly looking the same direction.

Kickoff

This two-day introductory event is where participants take part in training activities that encourage selfreflection and help them build a basic organizing framework. After the kickoff event, participants are asked to recruit two other people in their network to join their project team in order to tackle an issue they identify

A group of people gather around a table in conversation. One man with dark hair and glasses appears to be in focus. Behind them is a brick wall with various colorful posters.

Bootcamp

The three-day bootcamp is where participants and their project teams got feedback on their plans, trained on the specific skills needed to implement their action items, and identified the resources needed to support their work.

A woman with medium-dark skin tone wearing a headset looks up and to the right. She wears a white sweater of a black top and holds index cards in her hands.

Capstone

The six-month long program culminates in a two-day long event where participants from all three cities celebrate, reflect, and expand their network of emerging community leaders. We also put the mic in their hands; half of all workshops are led by the participants themselves, and event speakers are recruited based on the requests of Corps members.

A group of people appear mid-clap and dance. In focus is a Black woman with short hair, glasses and a bright orange skirt. She wears a name tag with the word "Rania"

By the Numbers

After completing the community leadership corps, we surveyed participants about their experience.

100%

reported that they plan to continue working in their communities

86%

felt they knew the next step to making change in their community

92%

felt personally connected to young leaders who are making a change in their community

Six young women appear to be happily dancing, shouting or singing as they look off to the left. Most wear white name tags around their necks.

Community Leadership Training Days

Change Starts Today

Every generation has a chance to remake history. But if you’re a young person who wants to change your community, your country, or even the world, where do you start?We created Community Leadership Training Days to answer that question. In Dallas, Oakland, and Oklahoma City, we hosted day-and-a-half sessions that brought together 100 18-to-25-year-olds to learn the skills to lead. Passionate young people learned how to tell their own stories and how to use those personal narratives as a blueprint to define the change they wanted to make. They also met with local leaders and community organizations to help put their ideas into action.

Attendees told us they left these sessions uplifted, but we were the ones who came away inspired, hopeful that an emerging generation of leaders was stepping up to make their communities better. Leaders like Tiara Cooper, a single mother who lost her own mother as a teenager and has committed herself to making sure people in her community have better access to the things they need; Hanlyn Tyler, a student who is fighting for transgender inclusivity on their campus and beyond; and Danielle Carty, a young pharmacy technician who dreams of starting her own nonprofit to help her community manage high drug prices.

A deep skin toned Black woman with short cut hair is leaning on a short wall with her body turned to the left. She is facing the camera with a straight expression and her left hand in a loose fist under her chin. She is wearing a denim button up shirt with a blue and red flannel tied around her waist, pink nail polish and several earrings in her left ear. The background appears to be a hallway within a building.

Tiara Cooper

“My experience was groundbreaking— and honestly shocked me. We were given the opportunity to be ourselves and not who we are on paper. I was expecting things to have a boardroom feel, but this experience helped me look deeper within myself as to why I care so much about my community. I am now accepting the fact that I ʻbelongʻ and that my community needs real voices and direct representations of who we are, what we can be, and what we plan to do!”

A White man with short and curled light brown hair is leaning against a wall in a building. He is smiling with his mouth closed and his arms folded, showing a watch on his left wrist. He is wearing a dark blue button down shirt with the collar open and the sleeves rolled at the elbow.

Hanlyn Tyler

“I learned how to better organize and execute plans to empower my community. I am meeting with my school’s pride alliance to set up a transspecific mentoring program to help the younger or inexperienced trans students on campus know that they can do anything and they are not alone.”

A medium skin toned Black woman with blue, close cut hair is standing with her arms crossed look at the camera with a straight expression. She is wearing gold framed round glasses, a red and black striped t-shirt and an earring in her right ear. The background is a classroom.

Danielle Carty

“The Training Day helped me to connect with others who share the same level of passion for the community. I was able to be myself and navigate key skills to further my goals. I was also able to share my story, identify my values, and understand what I have to offer my community and the world.”

Our Programs: My Brother's Keeper Alliance

My Brother’s Keeper Alliance hosts its first national convening, MBK Rising! in Oakland, CA on February 19, 2019.

President Obama poses with young participants at MBK Rising! in Oakland.

My Brother's Keeper Alliance

From Mantra to Movement

Five years ago, in the aftermath of the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin, President Obama called on Americans to recognize that we all have a stake in the success of our nation’s boys and young men of color. America could never live up to its potential or its ideals unless all its children had an opportunity to thrive. We are all our brother’s keeper.

Today, that mantra has become a movement—an Alliance of nearly 250 MBK Communities led by mayors and elected officials, tribal leaders, nonprofit heads, and private sector partners, all dedicated to breaking down the barriers that too often leave boys and young men of color at a disadvantage and clearing pathways that can lead them to opportunity.

In 2018, that work was centered around the voices of the young men themselves. We hosted online town halls led by young men sitting side-by-side with leading changemakers, whether it was Common speaking about criminal justice reform, Arne Duncan discussing violence prevention efforts in Chicago, or Dr. Sybrina Fulton discussing the legacy of her son, Trayvon Martin.

It was also a year of focus, with the Alliance choosing to prioritize where we could have the greatest impact, starting with the recognition that change starts and ends with communities. We decided to focus on place—identifying diverse cities, towns, and tribal nations that are devoted to our shared mission. We then chose two challenges to be the focus of our time and resources: reducing youth violence while providing a second chance, as well as ensuring all youth have access to caring adults and mentors that can help them navigate the path to success.

NACA Inspired Schools Network
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A group of young men look to the right. They are sitting at desks and clapping. Behind them on the wall are pennants and a white board.
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A group of students assemble a teepee at the NACA Inspired Schools Network in Albuquerque, an MBK Alliance National Impact Community.

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Young people attend a training at Sierra Health Facilities in Sacramento, California, another MBK Alliance National Impact Community.

With that focus in mind, we launched a national competition to identify and invest in communities and community-based organizations that are measurably improving the lives of their boys and young men, either by making communities safer or helping young men thrive. After conducting a nationwide search, we selected 19 organizations in 15 communities throughout the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico.

Through our investment, we are helping scale effective programs to reach more young people in need, while also working with communities to identify and address systemic barriers that impede opportunity. We also wanted to highlight these organizations as national models that are making steady progress and have the potential to be proof points for what it takes to substantially improve life outcomes for boys and young men of color.

Identifying these communities and lifting up the leaders within them was a big part of 2018. But we didn’t want to stop there. We wanted to bring them together.

MBK Rising!

Arrive as Many, Rise as One

It was a moment five years in the making. In February of 2019, the MBK Alliance brought together hundreds of young men of color, along with the community leaders who serve them, in Oakland, California. MBK Rising! was the first meeting of the movement since the MBK Alliance became part of the Obama Foundation. It was a time to mark progress. To surface lessons that could guide the future of the movement. But most importantly, it was an epic celebration of our boys and young men of color

MBK Rising! was as much a revival as it was a convening—a chance to honor and encourage those engaged in this difficult but life-changing work. The event kicked off with a day of service, as attendees fanned out across the Bay Area to plant community gardens, organize books at libraries, paint murals, and clean up schools and classrooms.

The following day, several separate leadership tracks for young people, philanthropic and corporate leaders, elected officials, and community-based leaders came together with local guests for our first Main Stage session. It began with a native blessing and performance before John Legend held a powerful conversation with three icons of determination: Dr. Sybrina Fulton, Reverend Wanda Johnson, and Congresswoman Lucy McBath. All three had lost sons in tragic killings; all three have turned that loss into inspirational action, leading campaigns against gun violence and police misconduct.

Then it was time for President Obama to take the stage. Surrounded by the young men of the My Brother’s Keeper movement, President Obama and Stephen Curry from the Golden State Warriors held a wide-ranging conversation about the challenges they faced as young men and the lessons they learned as they matured.

President Obama joins Stephen Curry and a group of young men at MBK Rising! for a mainstage conversation.

The President answered questions from the audience and discussed the importance of modeling a more compassionate, more socially responsible, bigger-hearted version of masculinity. He talked about the importance of fighting against the systemic barriers that limit opportunity for young men of color. And, he even weighed in on Kendrick versus Drake.

We then fanned out over Oakland, with nearly 1,000 participants dining and talking at locally-owned restaurants, followed by a youth-only after party

The final day of the convening was no less stirring, as a gospel choir and grammy-award winning musician Fantastic Negrito kicked off the day, and attention shifted to the community leaders on the front lines of the My Brother’s Keeper movement. Activist Shaka Senghor talked about his journey from serving 19 years in prison to becoming a best-selling author, mentor, and activist for criminal justice reform. Community leaders from across the country spoke about innovative practices in violence prevention and mentorship and the significant impact those efforts have had on the lives of young men of color. Activists Alicia Garza and Ericka Huggins and Mayors Keisha Lance Bottoms and Aja Brown took the stage with other sisters of the movement to discuss the responsibility boys and young men have to girls, young women, and the LGBTQ+ community, and the need to push back against toxic masculinity. And Oakland’s own Ryan Coogler took the stage with frequent collaborator, Michael B. Jordan, to talk about the need for a new narrative and art that honors communities of color.

The event began the way it started: with the voices of the young men My Brother’s Keeper was established to serve. Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown sat down for an emotional and vulnerable conversation with four young men of color, discussing their journey to adulthood as they overcame obstacles, and advice they have for leaders to make a real and lasting difference.

What MBK Rising! demonstrated most was that across America, a generation of young men is aching to fulfill its promise. The question is whether we as a society will help clear the barriers standing in front of them.

Through My Brother’s Keeper Alliance and MBK Rising!, the Obama Foundation is investing in the organizations, the initiatives, and the leaders who are ensuring our boys and young men of color have a clear path toward opportunity.

Four women holding microphones sit on a gray couch. The one on the left appears to be speaking. Behind them is a partial view of the Obama Rising Sun "O" logo.
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Five men sit on metal chairs on a stage. They are all looking to the right where one appears to be motioning with his hands. Behind them is a large blue, white and yellow sign with the words "Obama Foundation, MBK Rising."
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Actress and advocate Mj Rodriguez speaks at a panel at MBK Rising!

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Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown leads a conversation with young men of color on stage at the event.

Portraits of Change

Amidst the steady buzz of activity and energy at MBK Rising!, time stood still for a moment. A few attendees stepped into our portrait studio so that we could capture their photo and hear how they were building a brighter future for their communities. If there was one thing that united their stories, it was the sustaining joy they felt as they pursued this work.

A Native American man wearing a black suit looks directly at the camera, his hands clasped in front of him. He wears an intricately beaded brooch and a lapel pin.

Rory Wheeler

Seneca Nation, New York

“Giving back is so important to me. I work hard every day for those who came before me and for those who will come after me. We need to be the change we want to see in our own communities, so I strive to be an example of resilience, dedication, and service to younger generations.”

A side profile portrait photo of a man with a medium skin tone wearing a denim jacket looking toward the left-hand side of the photo and smiling in front of a gradient black background.

Emanuel Milton

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

“I am bettering my community for boys and young men of color by providing a sense of fun, unity, and love through the work I do. Whether I’m helping at a community engagement event, or providing services to those in need, or just simply going to a high school to speak with students about their day, I try to incorporate those three things.”

A Black man with short hair and glasses smiles slightly as he looks to the right. He wears a plaid button-down shirt and dark jacket. The background is black and the lighting is soft on his face.

Quintez Brown

Louisville, Kentucky

“I better my community for the boys that look just like me by changing the narrative around violence, masculinity, and professionalism. I refuse to succumb to the stereotypes that too often imprison us to a single story; instead I show young men of color that we can be whoever we want to be.”

Little Village, Big Impact

Walk through the Little Village neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest Side and you’ll see colorful murals, cute storefronts, and carts selling champurrado and paletas —traditional Mexican hot chocolate and fruity ice cream bars. But this vibrant four-square-mile neighborhood with over 50,000 young people also faces challenges, including unemployment and violence.

New Life Centers of Chicagoland was founded in 2005 to help young people in the neighborhood address these challenges. New Life targets young people between the ages of 12 and 24 who are most likely to be affected by violence or become involved with the criminal justice system, and provides them with mentoring and coaching opportunities, violence mediation, and street-based counseling.

Violence interrupters like Benjamin Estrada, Director of Street Outreach, travel to hot spots to preempt conflicts, interact directly with young people, and show them they’re cared for. “It takes a lot of persistence,” he said. “It takes a lot of love.”

But his work and the work of New Life is having a real impact: Between 2016-2017, shootings decreased by 14 percent in Little Village and homicides fell by a staggering 61 percent.

As an MBK Alliance Seed Community, New Life Centers will receive $50,000 in funding to aid the implementation of their work, along with technical support. And they will serve as a model for other organizations working on behalf of boys and young men of color across the nation.

A man with medium skin tone and a neutral expression on his face wearing a black baseball cap and hoodie stands to the left of the frame. Behind him appears a colorful wall and a slightly out-of-focus sign reading "Limon, 12 por $1.00."
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A colorful archway with a clock in the middle and orange and pink flowers spans a road with cars driving down it. The words "Bienvenidos a Little Village" are on a sign beneath the archway.
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Benjamin Estrada is the Director of Street Outreach at New Life Centers of Chicagoland, a MBK Alliance Seed Community

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The Little Village neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

Our Programs: Girls Opportunity Alliance

Mrs. Obama greets young girls who helped launch the Girls Opportunity Alliance.

Mrs. Obama greets young girls who helped launch the Girls Opportunity Alliance.

Girls Opportunity Alliance

The Future is Only as Bright as Our Girls

On a crisp fall day, more than 600 girls from around the world gathered together in Rockefeller Center. They were there to celebrate the International Day of the Girl, a day declared by the United Nations in 2011 in recognition of the fact that global progress depends on the progress of girls around the world. But they also got a special treat: a visit from First Lady Michelle Obama and an announcement of a new initiative at the Obama Foundation that supports adolescent girls’ education around the world.

The Girls Opportunity Alliance (formerly the Global Girls Alliance) represents a continuation of Mrs. Obama’s work in the White House to ensure that girls everywhere have a right to learn. It’s a right that deserves far more protection: Today, due to social, economic, and cultural barriers, more than 98 million adolescent girls around the world are not in school.

We know that when girls get the opportunities they deserve, amazing things happen. Poverty goes down. Economies grow. Families get stronger. Babies are born healthier. And the world, by all accounts, gets better.

The Girls Opportunity Alliance is designed to kickstart this virtuous circle in countries around the world by supporting global grassroots leaders who are currently fighting to empower girls around the world. We are connecting these leaders so that they can learn from one another and extend their impact through collective action.

We’ve also made it easy for people everywhere to support them. Through a crowdfunding platform started in partnership with GoFundMe, anyone, anywhere, can support the education of girls in India, Guatemala, Uganda, and beyond. The fund has already received thousands of donations from all 50 states and more than 40 countries.

An Education in Determination

There are nearly 3 million people in the city of Lucknow, in Northern India. Few can match the determination of a tenth grader named Kiran Sahu. After her father passed away, she spent much of her childhood in other people’s homes, cooking and cleaning to support her mother and her five sisters.

Her financial circumstances alone would have made attending school difficult, but as is so often the case with girls’ education, it wasn’t just a question of resources. Kiran has a brother who couldn’t stand to see her attend school. He burnt her books. He burnt her school uniform. And at age 13, he pulled her out of school five separate times.

But in the face of gender discrimination and high school fees, Kiran had champions. That includes her mother, who always encouraged her to get an education and choose a path different than the one she followed. And it also included Dr. Urvashi Sahni, the founder of the Study Hall Educational Foundation and the Prerna Girls School that Kiran attends.

Kiran Sahu on stage

Prerna is more than just a school. It’s an accepting environment that provides access to education for more than 800 girls, many of whom could not otherwise afford it. Prerna also provides girls like Kiran a safe space to discuss issues outside of school work, offering them emotional support and care beyond the classroom. And if girls are ever forced to leave, Prerna and Dr. Sahni are ready to welcome them back with open arms.

Dr. Sahni is one of the thousands of grassroots leaders the Girls Opportunity Alliance supports around the world. Her Foundation has helped expand girls’ education throughout urban and rural India and was one of the first organizations listed on our crowdfunding platform.

Thanks to the support of donors from around the world, we raised $25,000 to support Dr. Sahni’s efforts to provide a formal education to girls in rural communities like Kiran.

Today, Kiran is well on her way to earning the education she always wanted, and fulfilling a new dream: to become a police officer and prove to her brother that girls can run the world.

Our Programs: Foundation Fellows

The 2018 Class of Obama Foundation Fellows gathered in Chicago to meet for the first time.

The 2018 Class of Obama Foundation Fellows gathered in Chicago to meet for the first time.

Obama Foundation Fellows

Twenty Reasons to Be Hopeful

When we put 20 outstanding, innovative civic leaders together in one room, we knew powerful things would happen. In the spring of 2018, we invited our inaugural class of Obama Fellows to meet for the first time, and to begin a two-year journey that would collectively push their work forward.

During the first year of the Fellowship program, the leaders have built on their impressive work in an effort to create transformational change. After meeting in Chicago and hearing from President and Mrs. Obama, they immediately established connections and found opportunities to collaborate. Later, amidst training sessions and guided conversations, they reflected on their first year together at the Obama Foundation Summit. In their first year, our Fellows have expanded their work and continue to model the powerful truth that each of us has a role to play in civic life.

Fellows Moussa Kondo and Sandor Lederer unearthed a powerful connection: both had strong, personal experiences with corruption that drove them to tackle the issue, though in different, innovative ways. Celina de Sola and Nedgine Paul Deroly drew a wealth of support from each other as they worked to overcome inequality in El Salvador and Haiti. And Clarissa Delgado and Veronica Crespin-Palmer bonded over their shared work of expanding education to alleviate poverty and trauma, even if that work happens a continent apart.

Each of our Fellows will continue their journey for another year, taking advantage of the individualized support, resources, and connections the Fellowship provides to deepen the impact of their work. In the second year of their Fellowship, they’ll begin to collaborate with and learn from a new cohort of 20 leaders—the class of 2019 Fellows. We’re excited to grow the Fellowship community from 20 to 40. We can only imagine the powerful things that will happen next.

Conversations Among Fellows

A Black man with short hair and beard looks at the camera. He wears a blue, white and light-green button-up shirt.

“Since the Fellowship, we’ve seen a lot of mobilization and engagement around our work. This kind of engagement is really hard to do in Mali because of the underlying mistrust of institutions and the people who make decisions. The way people see our work has changed—we’re a more credible entity and I think it’s helped us build trust between our organization and the people and communities we want to help.”

—Moussa Kondo, Mali

“I’d also add that the support and coaching I’ve gotten through the Fellowship has been incredibly valuable to myself and to my organization. A lot of ordinary people in Hungary who start NGOs haven’t studied these things. You just start doing it, and depending on your skills and expertise, some people are better at it and are able to succeed. It’s been such a precious thing to be connected with other Fellows because their stories are deeply inspiring; it’s a huge gift to me that I can work with them to learn and grow together.”

—Sandor Lederer, Hungary

A man with a mop of curly dark and gray hair looks at the camera. He is wearing a blue button-up shirt with the top button unbuttoned.
A Black woman with shoulder-length hair smiles for the camera. She wears a blue top with black designers. The background is gray.

“What’s been incredible for me so far in this experience has been the reminder to not engineer smallness for our movements. Celina and I both care so much about people’s power and about what can be done with local community assets, that it can be easy to focus more on the person and lose sight of the systemic change we’re working tirelessly to create. I have been challenged, and I have been pushed in a lot of ways when it comes to movement building and dismantling systemic inequality in our specific contexts. and the people and communities we want to help.”

—Nedgine Paul Deroly, Haiti

“I agree. I’d add that this Fellowship has helped me reflect on what I believe, and retrace the steps that led me to start really paying attention to social justice and carefully designed systemic oppression—as Nedgine mentioned before. I’m putting the pieces together, and thinking so much about the scale of the work we are doing. It’s important for us to work deeply in each community and understand it well, and it’s interesting to think about what that means as we grow and scale.”

—Celina de Sola, El Salvador

Celina de Sola smiles to camera for a portrait against a light gray background.
A woman with black hair pulled back looks at the camera. She wears gold earrings and an intricately embroidered black-and-white top. Around her neck is a necklace displaying several colorful objects.

“I agree. I’d add that this Fellowship has helped me reflect on what I believe, and retrace the steps that led me to start really paying attention to social justice and carefully designed systemic oppression—as Nedgine mentioned before. I’m putting the pieces together, and thinking so much about the scale of the work we are doing. It’s important for us to work deeply in each community and understand it well, and it’s interesting to think about what that means as we grow and scale.”

—Clarissa Delgado, Philippines

“Wow, thank you. I really appreciate your humor and optimism, Clarissa. It’s also really inspiring to see another woman of color really crushing it in this space. Your perspective on education and how you approach it has been really powerful for me. And honestly it’s been therapeutic to be able to bounce ideas off of you, share common frustrations, and keep the long term vision for our organizations at the forefront. You really are an incredible support system I need, because this work is no joke!”

—Veronica Crespin-Palmer, U.S.

A woman with light-colored skin and long, dark hair curled and parted to the side. She smiles for the camera and wears a yellow v-cut top. Behind her the backdrop is gray.

Our Programs: Foundation Leaders

President Obama works with members of the first Leaders: Africa class at a service project in Johannesburg.

President Obama works with members of the first Leaders: Africa class at a service project in Johannesburg.

Obama Foundation Leaders

Regional Leadership, Global Change

Every region in the world faces its share of challenges. But we also know that each region is home to tens of thousands of incredible emerging leaders who have overcome odds to drive real impact in their communities. These are the leaders we want to support, offering them targeted guidance and a connection to each other, so they can take their work to the next level. That was the genesis of the Obama Foundation Leaders program, which we first launched in the Summer of 2018 in Africa.

A group of people appear to celebrate, some with their hands in the air and others smiling. They wear yellow name tags on lanyards around their necks. The background is a green wall.
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Two people hug each other. The photo is dimly lit, but other people can be seen out-of-focus in the background.
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Leaders gather together for team building.

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Leaders participate in team building exercises during the convening.

Leaders: Africa

A Continental Shift

Why begin with Africa? You can’t talk about the future of the world without talking about the future of Africa. The continent is already home to several of the fastest growing economies in the world, with growing, youthful populations. Those demographics also make Africa the youngest continent in the world and therefore one full of promise.

We opened the applications for our Leaders: Africa program in the Spring of 2018 unsure of what to expect. Seventeen days later, we’d received 9,800 applications from every country on the continent.

In July, we convened 200 of our most promising applicants on the campus of the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa. The kickoff began with a conversation with Mo Ibrahim, a pioneer in African telecommunications and one of the world’s most prominent good governance advocates, hitting home the theme of responsible leadership that would resonate throughout the five-day event.

The second day began with a powerful call to action from South African advocate Thulisile Madonsela: “Don’t go it alone,” she said. “When spider webs combine, they can even tie-up a lion.”

Graça Machel, a champion of education, social justice, and ethical leadership and wife of Nelson Mandela, sounded a similar note, encouraging leaders to collaborate. “A profound transformation of the continent will be achieved when young leaders’ networks work together,” she said.

David Sengeh, an Obama Foundation Leader and the Chief Innovation Officer of Sierra Leone, led a session on innovation in government, where he also emphasized the importance of diverse teams, reminding participants that innovation could come from anywhere. And there was no better way to celebrate the communal spirit of the gathering than with a traditional South African braai, with the voices of the Soweto Gospel Choir serving as a moving, joyful backdrop.

“One is never too young to lead.”
- Kofi Annan
Portrait of KOFI ANNAN

The third day became a bittersweet one in retrospect. In what would be one of his final public appearances, the late Kofi Annan joined former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lakhdar Brahimi. “One is never too young to lead,” he told the audience, as he highlighted the need for dedication to a cause. “Change is a process. It can take a long time. It’s not an event.”

The final day was highlighted by a special town hall conversation with President Obama. He talked about the urgent need to engage in the work of change. And he urged those who were considering leadership positions to not lose sight of their goals.

But rather than end the gathering with his words, the President rolled up his sleeves and joined the Leaders in an act of service. The cohort traveled to the Far North Secondary School in Johannesburg, where the President helped the Leaders paint a mural, make benches, and beautify the grounds.

The service project seemed a fitting tribute to close out a phenomenal gathering—it occurred on what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday.

Having laid the groundwork for partnership in Johannesburg, the Leaders embarked on a year-long journey of leadership training and network building. The Leaders have engaged with a suite of virtual programming that includes interactive webinars facilitated by experts and inspirational figures, bi-monthly group meetings to hold each other accountable, and group discussions that explore strategies and approaches for ethical and innovative leadership.

Together, these elements have helped build a self-sustaining community of leaders—one whose members lift up and learn from each other, engage in sincere self-reflection, and embrace an abiding commitment to bring positive change to the continent. Our hope is that they become leaders for life, staying deeply engaged with each other and the Foundation. As we said to them throughout the convening: “You are the ones you’ve been waiting for!”

President Obama plays with school children during a service project in Johannesburg.

President Obama plays with school children during a service project in Johannesburg.

Simple Bonds, Profound Impact

A journalist committed to the truth. An Olympian hungry to make an impact in a new arena. A young State Commissioner putting a new face on government. Abaas Mpindi, Simidele Adeagbo, and Mark Okoye came to Johannesburg from different countries, with different backgrounds and ambitions. But they all left forever changed.

For Abaas, that change happened in a flash, after hearing President Obama say his name during a speech commemorating what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday. President Obama cited Abaas and his work training young journalists as a source of hope for the continent—someone who was leading change while embracing Mandela’s values. The mention boosted his credibility with the young people he trains and the organizations and officials who can help him expand his work.

Today, Abaas is working with fellow journalists he met at the convening to expand his initiative beyond his native Uganda. He’s using lessons he learned during program webinars on fundraising and capacity building to ensure that expansion is sustainable. And he’s working with the World Bank to focus on training refugees in citizen journalism so they can tell their own story. “The Obama Leaders: Africa program is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” he said.

Simidele’s story was quite different. After becoming Nigeria’s (and Africa’s) first female athlete in the sport of skeleton in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, she was looking for her next act. “I wanted to inspire, empower, and enable the next generation of girls in Africa,” she said, “but I wasn’t sure where to start.”

Luckily the convening and subsequent year-long program connected her “with the greatest think tank of leaders committed to moving Africa forward ever assembled.” Those connections helped give her the confidence to start making a difference on her own.

After attending Leaders: Africa, Olympian Simidele Adeagbo began holding sports leadership trainings in countries across the continent.
After attending Leaders: Africa, Olympian Simidele Adeagbo began holding sports leadership trainings in countries across the continent.
After attending Leaders: Africa, Olympian Simidele Adeagbo began holding sports leadership trainings in countries across the continent.

During the course of her year with the Leaders program, Simidele has worked with 400 girls across Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, and Morocco to build their leadership skills and help unlock their potential through the power of sport. “I didn’t wait to build a nonprofit,” she said. “I just got started by giving my time, sharing my knowledge, and mentoring as many girls as possible. As President Obama says, ‘Worry less about what you want to become and worry more about what you want to do.’”

And Mark Okoye, Nigeria’s youngest State Commissioner, made the most of his year among 200 of Africa’s best and brightest, leading to connections that will transform his community.

After meeting four other Africa Leaders at the convening from his state of Anambra, he later introduced them to the Executive Governor. Impressed with the group, the Governor asked them to form an executive committee to advise the Anambra government on youth empowerment and entrepreneurship policies. “We hope to engage, inspire, and empower youth over the years,” Mark said. “Watch this space!”

Mark also met a fellow Leader from Nigeria, Ifeanyi Orajaka, who runs a renewable energy company specializing in off-grid solar for underserved communities. After a spirited conversation, he encouraged Ifeanyi to pitch the Anambra State Government on a public-private partnership to build off-grid power in rural communities there. That led to a $5 million deal, and by November of 2019, a total of 12 communities with 10,000 people, 361 small businesses, 53 schools, and 11 health centers will receive uninterrupted power for the first time.

Mark, Simidele, and Abaas are just three people. But thanks to the connections they made and the continued support they receive through the Leaders program, they’ve been able to achieve far more than they could on their own. And as a result, thousands of lives will be changed for the better in their communities.

It’s enough to give you hope.

Leaders: Asia-pacific Design Workshop

A Change in Context

Germany, Indonesia, Brazil, India, Singapore, New Zealand, the Netherlands, South Africa, and Hawaiʻi. Over the past two years, President Obama has met with groups of emerging leaders from all around the world. No matter the location, these town halls and roundtables reveal just how much unites local leaders pushing for change. Their dedication, their focus, their passion for making life better for others; it’s evident in every country.

And universal themes emerge as well, transcending geographical and cultural differences. People everywhere are concerned about big global challenges like education, climate change, public health, and ethical governance.

But the more of these conversations we had, the more clear it became that even when discussing global matters, local context mattered more. Working for change requires rootedness—an understanding of community and place.

That’s why we tailor our programs to those local contexts with local input. Rather than deciding how best to design leadership programs abroad, we want to hear directly from regional stakeholders already working for change on the ground.

President Obama smiles and points during a leadership training session.
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President Obama engages with regional leaders at the Design Workshop.

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Young leaders from across the Asia-Pacific joined President Obama and Foundation staff in Hawaiʻi to help design our Leaders program for the region, set to launch in late 2019.

So in January of 2019, we brought 21 emerging leaders from 16 countries and territories across the Asia-Pacific region together in Hawaiʻi to help us co-design our next regional leaders program, Leaders: Asia-Pacific.

The multi-day workshop consisted of hands-on design sessions, immersive group activities, and conversations with President Obama about the skills and resources leaders need to amplify and accelerate their impact.

The group also explored the rich history and cultural traditions of Hawaiʻi, and during a visit to the Mānoa Heritage Center, leaders were inspired to reflect on their own cultures and communities. Leaders completed their time in Hawaiʻi at a celebration with President Obama and local community leaders.

Throughout the workshop, the complexities of prominent issues in the region, such as climate change, indigenous rights, and government transparency and accountability continued to surface. Leaders discussed how cultural norms and traditions require young leaders to offer respect to previous generations, even as they push for breaks with the status quo. And they emphasized the importance of including Pacific islands—including Hawaiʻi—in the dialogue about the region’s future, rather than focusing only on large countries.

By the end of the workshop, they developed a set of context-specific recommendations that will be incorporated into the Asia-Pacific Leaders Program, which will launch later in 2019. We’re looking forward to expanding our global network of leaders pushing for change around the world.

Our Programs: Foundation Scholars

A group of people smiling and cheering with their hands in the air. They all wear the same gray t-shirt, and some wear name tag lanyards. Behind them is a red house with a sign that reads "For Sale By Owner."

The 2018 class of Obama Foundation Scholars began their education with a week-long Chicago immersion, where they attended workshops, heard from guest lecturers, and participated in a neighborhood service project on the South Side.

Obama Foundation Scholars

A New Class of Changemaker

Ana Maria Gonzalez-Forero had found her calling. As the Chief Sustainability Officer of a foundation in Colombia, she works with indigenous communities to help them understand their rights and ensure that any developments that are built on their land are designed inclusively and benefit everyone. Having witnessed so many development projects take advantage of the land and resources of the people who’d lived there for centuries, she wanted to ensure everyone had a seat at the table.

Thousands of miles away in London, fate set Fatima Zaman on a different but clear path. On July 7, 2005, she was sitting in class when she heard the explosions from bombs that killed 52 people, the result of a devastating terrorist attack. The immediate chaos was terrifying, but it was the aftershocks that rippled through her Muslim community— the mistrust that erupted, the radicalization that surfaced, the cohesion that began to wear away—that convinced her to become a counter-extremist.

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Man posting photo on wall.

The two young women both knew how they wanted to spend their careers. But they also wanted the experience and expertise needed to advocate for change at the highest level. So they dedicated a year of their lives to learning, reflecting, and refining their work as Obama Foundation Scholars.

Ana Maria and Fatima became two of our first class of 37 Obama Foundation Scholars, embarking on a course of graduate level education at either the University of Chicago or Columbia University in New York. The programs are designed to give rising leaders with a proven commitment to service the opportunity to hone their skills in the classroom and connect with experts outside of it through technical trainings, community engagement, and mentorship provided by the Obama Foundation.

Rather than offer them a typical school orientation, we invited our Scholars to Chicago for a week so they could develop their own sense of community with each other. The Scholars participated in workshops focused on

storytelling, engaged in exercises to envision “the world as it should be,” beefed up their presentation skills through performances and public presentation work led by our friends at the Second City Theater, and sat for a conversation with President Obama.

After hearing from the President, we also offered them a literal chance to walk in his footsteps. We took them to breakfast at Valois restaurant, the President’s favorite greasy spoon while he was a law professor at the University of Chicago. We gave them a tour of Jackson Park, reliving its rich history as the site of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and examining the future site of the Obama Presidential Center. And we introduced them to two of President Obama’s earliest mentors, Reverend Alvin Love, who worked with a young Barack Obama in his earliest days as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, and former President of the Illinois State Senate Emil Jones Jr., who supported his burgeoning political career as a State Senator.

Three people sit around a table. A woman in the center with light skin and wavy light brown hair looks to the right. Behind them is an Obama Foundation Scholars logo.
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Obama Foundation Scholars Alice Barbe and Mahmoud Abouelnaga present work they have done over their year with the program.

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At the initial Chicago gathering, Scholar Patricia Conlu meets with her classmates.

But the most important part of the Scholar’s orientation was a day of service—37 community leaders from countries all over the world, all getting their hands dirty as they worked with local residents to clean up and beautify the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago.

That spirit of service marked the tenure of the Scholars throughout their year in the program. Through organized dinners with local community members—and community outreach efforts they planned themselves—the Obama Foundation Scholars spent much of their school year working to improve their temporary homes. Bonaventure Dzekem, a medical doctor from Cameroon, led a community health workshop for Chicago’s African diaspora. And Stanley Ndambakuwa, who runs a community fund for education in Zimbabwe, hosted a conference on girls’ education with the Chicago YWCA.

Outside the classroom, the Scholars also gathered on a weekly basis to participate in technical trainings or speaker series. And they met again as a class for a November workshop to develop action plans that they have committed to implement once they return home.

They gathered again in Washington, D.C. in early March 2019 for another cohort-wide training and the chance to engage with development institutions and global leaders based in the nation’s capital who can help them propel their work forward after they graduate.

Now, as they approach the end of their year with us, Ana Maria, Fatima, Bonaventure, Stanley and the rest of the first class emerge ready to return to their home countries to approach complex global problems with an entirely fresh perspective, new networks, and a deeply rooted community that is committed to helping them achieve their vision for the world they would like to see.

Two Obama Foundation Scholars walk away from camera with their arms around one another. They are wearing they're Obama Foundation Scholars swag!
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A group of people pose for a selfie in front of the Lincoln Memorial. They wear warm winter coats and carry backpacks and umbrellas.
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President Barack Obama stands in front of a room of people with hands raised. He holds a microphone. There is a blue sign reading "Obama Foundation" behind him.
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A moment of connection between two Scholars after a gathering in Chicago.

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Scholars gather for a selfie in front of the Lincoln Memorial on an educational trip to Washington, D.C.

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President Obama addresses the Scholars during the program kickoff.

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Scholars Trisha Shetty and Alice Barbe help beautify Chicagoʻs South Side

Our Programs: Foundation Summit

Community Leadership Corps participant Chanelle Bell kicks off the 2018 Obama Foundation Summit.

Community Leadership Corps participant Chanelle Bell kicks off the 2018 Obama Foundation Summit.

Obama Foundation Summit

Common Hope. Uncommon Stories.

Chanelle Bell was ready. Though she was about to introduce Janelle Monáe to the stage (something she called a “line on the resume moment”) and though she had just spent the previous two days attending the capstone gathering for the Community Leadership Corps, and though there were hundreds in the audience in Chicago and thousands more from around the world on the livestream, Chanelle wasn’t nervous and she wasn’t tired. She was collected. She was energized. She was ready. And she kicked off the 2018 Foundation Summit to a thunderclap of applause from a collective audience of hundreds of emerging leaders from around the world.

The Summit featured its share of notable names. Janelle of course, along with Zadie Smith, one of the world’s greatest living novelists. Orange Is the New Black actress Dianne Guerrero talked about translating her fame as an actress into a new role as an immigration and women’s rights advocate. And best-selling author Dave Eggers hosted a conversation with President Obama, where they discussed the power of the pen and their shared commitment to strengthening Chicago.

But it wasn’t the big names that shined at the Summit. It was emerging changemakers like Chanelle, who spoke on stage about the organization she founded to celebrate black excellence, Positively Melanin. And her fellow Community Leadership Corps member Emily Nordquist, who took the stage to talk about how her own experience with financial insecurity led her to offer financial literacy courses to marginalized communities.

A person with shoulder-length bright blue hair wears glasses and wearable microphone moves her hands. They wear a t-shirt and gold necklace. The Obama Foundation sunrise logo can be seen behind her.

Obama Foundation Scholar Ana Maria Gonzalez-Forero talks about her work on the Summit stage.

Remember Obama Foundation Scholars Ana Maria Gonzalez-Forero and Fatima Zaman? They were both on stage, talking about how their course of study was preparing them to make an even bigger impact once they returned home. So was Kiran Sahu, the young woman from Lucknow, India, who fought to pursue her education with the help of a grassroots education organization. And David Sengeh, the Chief Innovation Officer of Sierra Leone, discussed how innovation can come from the most unexpected place.

And then there was Obama Foundation Fellow Nedgine Paul Deroly, who kicked off the closing session with a moving discussion of the power of place.

In Nedgine’s case, it was that power which drew her to her birthplace of Haiti, to help give every Haitian their birthright of a quality education. And in the Foundation’s case, it was that power of place that led us to bring hundreds of our program participants—whether from the Caribbean, the Congo, or Columbia, South Carolina—to Chicago. The place where President Obama first began his career in public service. The place where Michelle Obama was born and raised. The place where, together, they started their careers and family. And the place where they’ve chosen to build their Presidential Center.

For the hundreds of Summit participants, the Chicago experience began before the first speech. The day before the Summit, we organized dinners at iconic restaurants across the South and West sides of the city, so that visitors could break bread with our neighbors.

The morning before it began, we invited a local Chicago bookseller and coffee shop to set up pop-ups outside our auditorium, imparting some local wisdom and flavor to the proceedings.

And it was here—in this city that has long served as a crucible for social change—that hundreds of people with different stories joined together to celebrate their common hope: a better future for their communities.

What would happen next?

A Human Network

Robert Katende and Vanessa Paranjothy smile to camera.

A Human Network

You may already know Robert Katende’s story. He grew up in the slums outside of Kampala, Uganda, where his intelligence and talent as a soccer player helped him defy the odds to attend university and become an engineer. Knowing personally just how much potential existed in the margins of Kampala’s society, Robert began coaching soccer and later chess to the children in Katwe, the city’s largest slum. It was there that he coached and trained a young girl named Phiona Mutesi, who eventually became Uganda’s National Junior Chess Champion and “The Queen of Katwe,” with a best-selling book and Disney movie to follow. Vanessa Paranjothy’s story hasn’t received the same attention yet. She founded the startup Freedom Cups in her native Singapore, a company which helps provide menstrual cups to the 70 percent of women worldwide who don’t have access to adequate sanitation for their periods.

It was at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago where Robert, an Africa Leader, first met Vanessa, an Obama Foundation Scholar at Columbia University. When he heard about Vanessa’s work, he knew Freedom Cups could make a difference in the lives of the young women in his chess academy who, lacking sanitary products, would often have to miss school or chess practice during their periods. “How can we get this to Uganda?” he asked her.

A group of women clap and smile listening to a speaker. One woman

This is one of the primary goals of the Obama Foundation: to ensure that people doing impactful work around the world know each other, support each other, and help each other achieve even more. We want people to see the work they do in their communities as part of a broader effort, because when they create change in their world, it ends up changing ours.

And while the Summit is a powerful way to connect leaders once a year, in one place, we want to create a way for those pursuing change to meet at any time, regardless of location—a digital platform that forms a human network.

We’re in the early stages of testing this platform with some of the emerging leaders from our programs, giving them a way to connect with each other and tap into the resources and expertise that the Obama Foundation is assembling. Eventually we hope to give all the participants of our programs—and maybe one day visitors to the Obama Presidential Center—a way to connect with other people around the world who share their passion for progress.

And maybe then you won’t just know Robert’s story or Vanessa’s story, but the story of thousands of changemakers connecting across the planet.

Because no one changes the world alone.

Our Financials

Our 2018 Financials

We spend every day trying to live up to our mission and we are grateful for the support and partnership of individuals, corporations, institutions, and foundations who share our sense of urgency and purpose.

Pie chart of Revenue, Fundraising and Operating Expenses

Our Board of Directors

Thank You

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/contributors.

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