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The Aspen Institute is an international nonprofit organization founded in 1950 as the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies. The organization is dedicated to "fostering enlightened leadership, the appreciation of timeless ideas and values, and open-minded dialogue on contemporary issues". The institute and its international partners promote the pursuit of common ground and deeper understanding in a nonpartisan and nonideological setting through regular seminars, policy programs, conferences, and leadership development initiatives. The institute is headquartered in Washington, D.C., USA, and has campuses in Aspen, Colorado (its original home) and near the shores of the Chesapeake Bay at the Wye River in Maryland. It has partner Aspen Institutes in Berlin, Rome, Madrid, Lyon, Tokyo, New Delhi, Prague and Bucharest, as well as leadership initiatives in the United States and in Africa, India, and Central America.
The Aspen Institute is largely funded by foundations such as the Carnegie Corporation, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Ford Foundation, by seminar fees, and by individual donations. Its board of trustees includes leaders from politics, government, business and academia who also contribute to its support. Board members include Madeleine Albright, Sylvia Earle, Henry Louis Gates, David Gergen, David H. Koch, Queen Noor of Jordan, and Condoleezza Rice. Walter Isaacson is President and CEO.
On July 27, 2008, the Aspen Institute Board of Directors approved a new mission:
- To foster values-based leadership, encouraging individuals to reflect on the ideals and ideas that define a good society, and to provide a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues.
The Aspen Institute does this in four ways:
- Seminars, which help participants reflect on what they think makes a good society, thereby deepening knowledge, broadening perspectives and enhancing their capacity to solve the problems leaders face.
- Young-leader fellowships around the globe, which bring leaders together for an intense multi-year program and commitment. The fellows become better leaders and apply their skills to major challenges.
- Policy programs, which serve as nonpartisan forums for analysis, consensus building, and problem solving on a variety of issues.
- Public conferences and events, which provide a commons for people to share ideas.
The Institute was largely the creation of Walter Paepcke, a Chicago businessman who had become inspired by the Great Books program of Mortimer Adler at the University of Chicago. In 1945, Paepcke visited Bauhaus Artist and Architect Herbert Bayer, AIA, who had designed and built a Bauhaus-inspired minimalist home outside the decaying former mining town of Aspen, in the Roaring Fork Valley. Paepcke and Bayer envisioned a place where artists, leaders, thinkers, musicians could gather. Shortly thereafter, while passing through Aspen on a hunting expedition, Oil Industry maverick Robert O. Anderson (soon to be Founder & CEO of Atlantic Richfield) met with Bayer and shared in Paepcke's and Bayer's vision. In 1949, Paepcke organized a 20-day international celebration for the 200th birthday of German poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The celebration attracted over 2,000 attendees, including Albert Schweitzer, Jose Ortega y Gasset, Thornton Wilder, and Arthur Rubinstein.
In 1950, Paepcke founded the Aspen Institute; and later the Aspen Music Festival and eventually (with Bayer and Anderson) the International Design Conference at Aspen (IDCA). Paepcke sought a forum "where the human spirit can flourish", especially amid the whirlwind and chaos of modernization. He hoped that the Institute could help business leaders recapture what he called "eternal verities": the values that guided them intellectually, ethically, and spiritually as they led their companies. Inspired by philosopher Mortimer Adler’s Great Books seminar at the University of Chicago, Paepcke worked with Anderson to create the Aspen Institute Executive Seminar. In 1951, the Institute sponsored a national photography conference attended by Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, Berenice Abbott, and other notables. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Institute added organizations, programs, and conferences, including the Aspen Center for Physics, the Aspen Strategy Group, Communications and Society Program and other programs that concentrated on education, communications, justice, Asian thought, science, technology, the environment, and international affairs.
In 1979, through a donation by Corning Glass industrialist and philanthropist Arthur A. Houghton, Jr. the Institute acquired a 1,000-acre (4 km²) campus on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, known today as the Wye River Conference Centers.
In 2005, it held the first Aspen Ideas Festival, featuring leading minds from around the world sharing and speaking on global issues. The Institute, along with Atlantic Monthly, hosts the festival annually.
Today, the Aspen Institute seminar programs include sessions such as Global Values and Leadership and Pursuing the Good Life.
In 2011, the Institute hired Ronald Schiller, who was at the time a fundraising executive with National Public Radio. Schiller became the center of a widely publicized controversy when a secretly recorded tape was released. In the recording Schiller meets with a pair of self-described Muslims who claim to wish to donate money to NPR because they approve of the political slant of its coverage. Schiller is recorded calling members of the Tea Party "seriously racist, racist people", characterizing the group as "fanatically involved in people's personal lives and very fundamental Christian — I wouldn't even call it Christian. It's this weird evangelical kind of move", and saying that NPR "would be better off in the long run without federal funding". Following the exposure, Schiller resigned from what was to be his post as the new director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program and Harman-Eisner Artist-in-Residence Program, stating that "he does not feel that it's in the best interests of the Aspen Institute for him to come work [there]".
The Aspen Institute has more than 20 policy programs that work to advance public and private sector knowledge on policy issues confronting society, convene leaders and experts from relevant fields to reach solutions. The programs explore topics such as prospects for peace in the Middle East; communications, media, and information policy; economic opportunity in rural America; social innovation through business; the nonprofit sector; creating smart solutions to help Americans save, invest and own; and community initiatives for children and families.
- The Aspen Strategy Group convenes prominent foreign policy and national security experts to consider the important challenges facing the United States.
- The Business and Society Program is dedicated to developing leaders for a sustainable society. It creates opportunities for executives and educators to explore new pathways to sustainability and values-based leadership. The program hosts the Corporate Values Strategy Group and the Center for Business Education. Its websites, CasePlace.org and BeyondGreyPinstripes.org, are used by business schools around the world.
- The Program on World Economy promotes dialogue among leaders in business, finance, government, academia and the media from industrial and developing nations in order to generate new approaches to economic challenges.
- The Commission on No Child Left Behind is a bipartisan, independent commission to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the No Child Left Behind Act and make recommendations to Congress, the Administration, State and local stakeholders, parents, and the general public to ensure the law is an effective tool.
- The Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program promotes dialogue and decision-making in the fields of communications and information policy. It convenes leaders to assess the impact of modern communications and information systems and develops new models for communications policy.
- The Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs is a global network of organizations that examine entrepreneurship in emerging markets. The network's members provide financing and business support services to small and growing businesses.
- The Community Strategies Group brings together community leaders, practitioners, and policymakers engaged in regional and community economic development, civic capacity, family livelihoods, and the development of local philanthropic resources.
- The Congressional Program offers nonpartisan educational programs designed to foster leadership on public policy issues among members of the US Congress.
- The Council of World Women Leaders and Ministerial Initiative is a partnership with the Institute that promotes good governance and gender equality and aims to increase the number, effectiveness and visibility of women in top leadership roles.
- The Economic Opportunities Program advances strategies that connect the poor and underemployed to the mainstream economy. EOP facilitates learning using research to stimulate dialogue and action among funders, policymakers and nonprofit and community leaders about approaches to poverty alleviation, including self-employment and microenterprise, industry-based employment strategies, and access to capital and credit for low-wealth consumers and communities.
- The Education and Society Program identifies emerging policy issues and encourages new initiatives in education.
- Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative is a partnership of the Aspen Institute, Columbia University, and the Council of International Human Rights Policy whose aim is to put human rights values and principles, such as equity and participation, at the heart of global governance and policy to ensure that the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable are addressed Working in Africa, Realizing Rights: EGI has programs in the areas of health, trade and development, and migration.
- The Global Interdependence Initiative commissions research and provides technical assistance to help global issues advocates, experts and communicators engage the American public in dialogue on the subject.
- The Health, Biomedical Science, and Society Initiative examines issues related to health policy, medicine, nutrition and biotechnology through discussions, speaker series and public convenings.
- The Homeland Security Initiative examines the issues relating to US homeland security, assessing progress made by the US Department of Homeland Security and developing recommendations for making America safer.
- The Initiative on Financial Security brings together business executives, elected officials, policy experts, and leaders from the nonprofit community to develop proposals on how low and moderate income Americans can save, invest, and own assets over their lifetime.
- The Justice and Society Program convenes leaders to affect national and international policy regarding human rights, international law, transitional justice, and post-conflict multilateral peacekeeping operations.
- The Middle East Strategy Group includes American, Palestinian and Israeli business and political leaders committed to advancing prospects for peace in the Middle East.
- The Nonprofit Sector and Philanthropy Program supports research, dialogue, and leadership initiatives on issues affecting the nonprofit sector and philanthropy.
- The Program on Energy and the Environment brings together leaders in business and government as well as educational, research, and environmental organizations to seek creative solutions to domestic and international policy issues involving energy and environmental sustainability.
- The Roundtable on Community Change is a forum in which leaders working to revitalize distressed urban and rural communities can address problems and share strategies for positive change.
- The Socrates Society seminars are designed as a forum for emerging leaders to explore leadership challenges. Participants arrive from industries including finance, government, academia, law, sciences, and nonprofit.
Aspen Global Leadership Network
The Aspen Institute leadership initiatives include programs for young, government, and civic leaders spanning a number of countries. Through these programs, the Institute is identifying young men and women between the ages of 30 and 45 who have already achieved a level of success and encouraging them to reach yet further.
- The Henry Crown Fellowship Program seeks to develop the next generation of community-spirited leaders, providing them with the tools necessary to meet the challenges of leadership. The program is a mix of intellectual and personal development seminars designed to broaden the perspectives of the participants and hone their skills in leadership.
- The Africa Leadership Initiative (ALI) brings together as Fellows young leaders from Ghana, Nigeria, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. The program encourages the Fellows to take more responsibility for the society in which they live and work.
- The Central America Leadership Initiative (CALI) seeks to develop a new generation of community-spirited leaders in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. CALI captures the energy, the talent, and the resolve of these leaders.
- The India Leadership Initiative (ILI) is a collaborative venture between the Aspen Institute, the Aspen Institute India, and the Global Markets Institute of Goldman Sachs. Like the Henry Crown Program, ILI focuses on young (ages 30–45) entrepreneurial, government, and civil society leaders from across India.
- The Liberty Fellowship Program, inspired by Aspen Institute seminars and modeled after the Henry Crown Fellowship Program, is for motivated leaders in South Carolina.
- The Nigeria Leadership Initiative (NLI) is an international nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that aims to provide a platform for Nigerian leaders who are qualified to influence the development of Nigeria.
- The Catto Fellowship Program is designed to create an opportunity for leaders from different sectors and cultures to step back from the fray, reflect on and crystallize their beliefs relative to the environment, to learn from others approaching environmental challenges from different angles and jointly develop solutions.
- ^ "Leadership and Board of Trustees". The Aspen Institute. Retrieved 2011-08-18.
- ^ Good, Chris (March 8, 2011). "What James O'Keefe's Latest Video Means for NPR Funding". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2011-08-18.
- ^ Camia, Catalina (8 March 2011). "NPR executive calls Tea Party supporters 'racist'". USA Today.
- ^ Memmott, Mark (March 8, 2011). "In Video: NPR Exec Slams Tea Party, Questions Need For Federal Funds : The Two-Way". NPR. Retrieved 2011-08-18.
- ^ Stelter, Brian (8 March 2011). "NPR Executive Caught Calling Tea Partiers ‘Racist'". The New York Times.
- ^ "NPR exec caught bashing Tea Partiers as 'racist'". TODAY News. March 8, 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-18.
- ^ Urquhart, Janet (10 March 2011). "Embattled NPR exec won't take Aspen Institute post". The Aspen Times. Retrieved 11 March 2011. "“Ron Schiller has informed us that, in light of the controversy surrounding his recent statements, he does not feel that it's in the best interests of the Aspen Institute for him to come work here,” said a brief announcement from James Spiegelman, vice president of communications and public affairs at the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C."