When I joined the Obama Foundation last fall as President, I planned to help refine its strategy for the long-term. After two years of launching programs around the world, successfully experimenting with different models of leadership training, I wanted to ensure the organization had a roadmap to deliver on its mission sustainably. And I also planned to see that strategy through, to help the Foundation execute against it in a world that seemed to be crying out for new leadership.
But, as the world learned time and again this year, our plans change.
When the COVID-19 pandemic upended our lives back in March, we like many organizations prioritized the health and safety of our staff, our program participants, and our community. We suspended in-person operations and shifted our entire Foundation to a virtual work environment. Our leadership trainings, many designed around in-person convenings, also went virtual-first, allowing us to support and connect our leaders even during a time of social distancing.
Critically, we also recognized that the world was in desperate need of hope and inspiration, so we zoomed President and Mrs. Obama’s words to audiences across the world. And rarely was their leadership more necessary and their voices more comforting than in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.
As calls for police reform and racial justice united generations in the streets, President Obama worked with our My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, an effort dedicated to expanding opportunity for boys and young men of color, to address the anguish and anger the world was feeling, and channel it toward productive change. In conversations livestreamed to millions, President Obama encouraged people to follow protest with collective action, and issued a challenge to America’s mayors to review and reform their police use of force policies. To date, over 300 cities have taken up that pledge.
Amidst all this activity, we still conducted our strategic review, developing a theory of change and leadership framework that will help sustainably guide the Foundation’s programming for years—if not decades to come.
Today, after responding admirably to crisis after crisis, the Foundation has made significant progress on a strategic plan that will guide us for years to come, the digital fluency and firsthand experience to conduct virtual programming at a global scale, and a proven ability to execute during prolonged periods of uncertainty. Our plans for the Obama Presidential Center are also progressing, with major hurdles behind us and federal environmental reviews nearly complete.
Yet one more plan that I had originally laid out will change. Two weeks ago, President-elect Biden and Janet Yellen asked me to put my name forward as the nominee for Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Department. After consultations with President and Mrs. Obama, I decided to move forward with this profound opportunity, to serve my country during a time of immense need. I plan to remain at the Foundation until my Senate confirmation, which means I am unlikely to remain to see through the strategy we have worked so hard to refine. But I have never been more optimistic about the future of the Foundation.
Valerie Jarrett, President and Mrs. Obama’s long-time friend and advisor, will join to help guide the Foundation through this transition, until a permanent candidate can be found. Valerie has advised the Foundation from the very beginning, and with extensive experience in the public and private sectors and deep roots in Chicago, her leadership will be invaluable as the Foundation enters a new chapter. While the decision to leave the Foundation wasn’t easy—nothing this year has been easy for anyone—I am heartened that we will have such high-caliber leadership in Valerie to help guide such an exceptional staff.
I am honored to serve the Obama Foundation during this time, but I know its best days lie ahead.
Wally Adeyemo, Foundation President