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A Conversation with Valerie Jarrett

Valerie Jarrett sits listening with her hand up to her face. She wears blue and black glasses, a light blue blouse and a black jacket.

Read chief executive officer Valerie Jarrett’s reflection on the impact of our work in 2022 and her vision for the future, as told to Obama Foundation staff.

Valerie Jarrett sits smiling and speaking to a crowd of young students with dark hair. Sitting beside her, a young person with a medium deep skin tone who wears a red sweatshirt that displays a red, green and black Chicago flag. Next to them, a banner that reads 'FUTURES SERIES AT HYDE PARK ACADEMY HIGH SCHOOL."

Q: Our mission is to inspire, empower, and connect people to change their world. What are you looking forward to as we continue to grow and expand?

Over the past few years, we’ve weathered a global pandemic and its impact on our lives and our jobs, witnessed the erosion of core pillars of democracies here in the United States and around the world, endured the increased polarization of our discourse, and growing uncertainty in our daily lives. It has been a challenging time for us all.  

That’s why it is more important than ever to lift up those who are unwilling to accept the status quo as impossible to change, but who are instead committed to turning their ideas for positive change into action.

Empowering the next generation of changemakers has become the cause of my life. We are building a network of leaders who are eager to learn from us and one another in order to tackle  the most pressing challenges of our time. Their stories inspire me to do my part each day. That changemaking spirit is what I’m most looking forward to nurturing—as we expand our programs, find creative new ways to support our growing network of leaders, and build a world class campus that will be a beacon of hope to the world on the South Side of Chicago. 

Valerie Jarrett smiles and walks leading a crowd of people with various skin tones at a construction site. All are wearing pants, coats, gloves, and jackets with yellow safety vests and white hard hats.

Q: 2022 was another year of progress for the Obama Foundation, from expanding our programming to making progress on the construction of the Obama Presidential Center. To what do you attribute our success?

When I first met Michelle Robinson and a young Barack Obama, they told me that they wanted to use their skills and talents to give back to their community. Over three decades and two presidential terms later, the Obamas are committed to the work of the Obama Foundation to help the next generation lead.

I have the privilege to be at the helm of an organization that makes the impossible inevitable. 

Even in the most challenging times, we continue to raise the bar. Our success is a product of what happens when we help ordinary people come together in community to do extraordinary things. As CEO, I’m honored to be a part of an organization with such an extraordinary team of dedicated staff who uphold our mission and are committed to creating lasting change around the world. I’m proud of their values, work ethic, and selfless dedication to fulfilling our mission. 

Q: The theme of this year’s report is “the power of our network.” We’re showcasing that together, our leaders, builders, and supporters are creating positive change in their communities around the world. What does that mean to you?

I believe everyone has the power to make a difference—that’s something the Obamas have taught me over and over since the first day we met. We are all capable of being a mighty force for good, especially when we work together.

Our progress is visible across our programmatic work and at the site of the Obama Presidential Center. I’m thrilled that over the last year we have furthered our mission and continued to invest in the next generation of leaders and support their growth. Our impact in Chicago, across the country, and around the world is a team effort! It is the power of our network that makes it possible for us to create a lasting change back home in the communities where we and our leaders live and work. 

Yes, there’s still plenty to be done, but I am proud of the strides we have made together for the next generation. I can’t wait to see what the future holds. 

Valerie Jarrett smiles as she stands next to Beverly Ndifoin Niyang, a Black woman with a deep skin tone. She is wearing glasses and braids. Valerie Jarrett is wearing a yellow blazer with a blue scarf.

Q: What is your greatest hope for the Obama Presidential Center?

As a proud Chicagoan, I’m thrilled that the Obama Foundation will have a permanent, physical home at the Obama Presidential Center on the South Side. The Center will be an economic engine for the city, a laboratory for positive change, and a beacon of hope for residents of Chicago and around the world. 

Ultimately, the Center will be a place where future generations will be inspired, empowered, and connected to change the world. 

Q: How can people get involved and support the Foundation?

We are doing a lot—but that’s what we do. 

Check out the new and improved! Engage with our programs on all social media platforms and donate to empower the next generation of leaders. We couldn’t do any of this without your support. I hope the stories you read in the pages ahead inspire you to join our journey.


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