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David Simas Reflects on the Foundation's Path Forward


July 17, 2020
A rendering of the Obama Presidential Center campus.

As part of our 2019 Annual Report, Obama Foundation Chief Executive Officer David Simas penned the message below to reflect on the Foundation's work to date and its path forward. You can read the full Annual Report, including a message from President Obama, here.

Dear Friends,

If ever there was a time in which strengthening our communities, supporting fresh leadership, building trust, and taking care of each other were paramount, now is that time.

So much of what we do—from our work to build the Obama Presidential Center to our support of emerging leaders—is to foster exactly these values and promote a sense of unity and common purpose. And despite the challenges we face in our socially distanced world—and the brutal acts of police violence and inspiring protests that began as we were finalizing this report—we’re uncovering new ways to fulfill our mission.

Here in Chicago, our plans to build the Obama Presidential Center on the South Side continue to progress. Even in this environment, the City of Chicago and federal agencies are busy completing their work on the federal review process needed for us to break ground. We remain optimistic about our progress and look forward to the new gardens, paths, and play areas—as well as new jobs and investment—the Center will bring to our neighbors. There’s no better way to honor President and Mrs. Obama’s legacy than to support the community that has always supported them.

To support our leaders at home and abroad, we’ve hosted virtual trainings, webinars, and calls to offer relevant expertise to our audiences and connect people to share best practices.

President Obama has been a reassuring presence during several of these online gatherings. He’s connected with supporters in Chicago to thank them for their resilience during this time, as well as with Obama Foundation program participants to encourage them as they contend with the effects of COVID-19 in their own communities. He also joined town halls organized by the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, along with national and local leaders, to discuss the tragic killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery; the history of police violence in America; and specific actions we can take to encourage reform of our public safety system.

Because we know that the COVID-19 crisis is tragically hitting communities of color hardest, the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance has also been sharing resources and hosting a series of town halls focused specifically on organizations that serve boys and young men of color. The Girls Opportunity Alliance, which funds and supports organizations working to educate young girls in the developing world, is helping grassroots leaders sustain their operations and explore how learning can continue when classrooms are shut.

But even as we respond to the challenges of today, the work of the Foundation has always been a long-term endeavor. And to understand how best to approach an imperiled future, we feel it’s vital to understand the progress we’ve made until now.

Those stories of progress are what you will read in this report. Investment that can help unlock potential. Trainings that help leaders grow their skills and extend their impact. Exposure that helps them expand their influence. Funding for evidence-based solutions that help leaders strengthen communities and reform broken policies. Encounters with President and Mrs. Obama that provide inspiration. Chance meetings that propel movements.

And I’m heartened by the potential these stories of progress and leadership hold for the stronger, more connected, more just, world we are helping to build.

Signature of CEO David Simas