Serious Policy Between Our Two Ferns

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

By Michael Hamill Remaley 

When Barack Obama wanted to reach a mass audience in his final push to get young people especially to sign up for health insurance ahead of the March 31 deadline, he made an appearance that surprised many on the Funny or Die web series "Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis." We don't actually have ferns for the Philanthropy New York "CEO Interview Series," but our one-on-one discussions do produce their own occasional laughs and many actionable policy insights.

The fast approaching CEO Interview with Wallace Foundation President Will Miller on April 30 promises to provide foundation professionals at all levels and varied programmatic backgrounds important observations about foundation investment strategies, strategic planning, fundamental reforms for our education system and new approaches to supporting the arts. This is the second time that Surdna FoundationPresident Phil Henderson will be stepping into the interlocutor role, so we know to expect witty and penetrating conversation in addition to serious attention to policy.

Will Miller assumed the presidency of The Wallace Foundation, one of the nation's 50 largest independent charitable foundations with assets over $1.4 billion, in July 2011. The former chairman of Irwin Management Co., a privately-owned investment management firm, Miller has leadership experience in the civic, nonprofit and philanthropic sector. He has served on the boards of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Yale University, and Public Radio International, where he served five years as chairman of the board, and played key roles in a variety of civic and educational reform efforts in Indiana.

Public education, improving economic opportunity and civic revitalization have long been priorities for Miller. He was a founding member of the Community Education Coalition of Columbus, a regional partnership of school superintendents, community college leaders, business executives and others that sought to advance an innovative initiative focusing on education and careers. Clearly Miller knows a thing or two about the reality of policy implementation.

In reporting on Philanthropy New York programming each year, we list how many of them had a specific policy focus.  For example, in 2013 we produced 144 programs, and we have noted that 57 of those (40%) had a specific focus on policy.  We don't count our CEO Interviews among those policy-focused programs because they do range across all facets of foundation operations and beyond - from personal histories that bring leaders to their present positions to the minutiae of human resource management.  However, foundations' relationship and approach to policy issues inevitably arise in these conversations. And they are among the most important take-aways for many PNY members who attend.

In the conversation with Will Miller on April 30, we will no doubt talk about The Wallace Foundation's "Knowledge Center" and how they are using it to affect policy. We will talk about what the foundation has learned about working with government from its very hands-on approach to improving school leadership in New York City. We will hear about their national efforts to improve afterschool learning and improve arts education.  These are all areas with vast policy implications. 

We will also take some time to get to know Will a bit better.  That's one of the things we like most about our CEO Interview Series: It is an amazing opportunity to understand the personalities associated with the policies and the very passionate convictions of the leaders who shape foundation priorities. 

Please join us on April 30 for our conversation with Will Miller. 


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