Ascending at the 2022 Aspen Ideas Festival

Lori Severens, Shilpi Niyogi | June 15, 2022 | Ascend Fellowship, Convenings

For more than 70 years, the Aspen Institute has been a premier convener of leaders from around the globe and across many disciplines to engage in deep and inquisitive discussion of the ideas and issues that both shape our lives and challenge our times.

This year, the Aspen Ideas Festival returned to in-person programming at our campus in the Rocky Mountains June 25 – July 1, 2022. The Festival was broken up into two sections: Festival 1 was June 25 – 28, and Festival 2 was June 28 – July 1. And leading into the Festival was Aspen Ideas Health June 22-25.

From across the country and around the globe, some of the most inspired and provocative thinkers, writers, artists, business people, teachers, and other leaders drawn from myriad fields all stepped back from their day-to-day routines to delve deeply into a world of ideas, thought and discussion.

We were honored to have been joined by so many leaders from across the Ascend community who embody values-based leadership and advance the future of well-being and family prosperity in our country. Explore their many contributions below, and share their ideas that engage, challenge, and inspire action.

One highlight at this year’s festival for Ascend at the Aspen Institute was gathering with leaders from across the country for a special livestream — Leaders for Our Times, Solutions for Our Future celebrating 10 years of reimagining leadership through the Ascend Fellowship.

Leaders for Our Times, Solutions for Our Future

Tuesday, June 28, 2022 ●  6:00-7:30pm MT ●  St. Regis Courtyard

Many places we look, we are stuck. Stuck in old ways and old thinking. We are burdened by zero-sum thinking and surrounded by the word ‘can’t.’ Our best way to get unstuck is to follow and stand with visionary leaders that don’t get discouraged; they gather their courage and big ideas to turn the tide. What the world calls for now are tide-changers. Those who are ready to halt never-ending cycles of poverty, reverse growing inequities, and restore trust which is at a record low.

For the last 10 years, through the Ascend Fellowship, Ascend at the Aspen Institute has been reimagining how we nurture courageous leaders to solve complex problems and accelerate intergenerational family prosperity and well-being. We believe if we invest in the leaders that have not yet enjoyed the podiums and platforms to live up to their full potential – leaders that look, think and sound very different than the leaders of the past – we will create the world where our children and families prosper.

We heard from Lori Pfingst, who is transforming Washington State’s $2 billion health and human services system to do more for families and children; Katie Albright, who is rethinking mental health for kids and their parents; Mayor Melvin Carter, who is navigating polarization and pain while making measurable progress to improve the well-being of St. Paul’s children and families; and Melanie Bridgeforth of the Women’s Foundation of Alabama, who is active in the halls of the legislature to make sure the best ideas for children and families become policies.

We took the opportunity to hold two conversations about power — the Power of Place, and Parent Power: Transforming Systems with Families at the Center. Across both sessions, we heard from courageous leaders who are using their power to expand who we see as leaders, how we identify what leaders need to make progress in fierce headwinds, and how we center equity within and across our communities.

Power of Place

Sunday, June 26, 2022 ●  9:00-9:45am MT ●  Booz Allen Hamilton Room, Koch Building

From San Antonio to Boston and from Los Angeles to Cincinnati and thousands of communities between, the Power of Place is about unearthing collective purpose and capital. Hear from visionaries who zero in on historical traumas to rebuild trust and a sense of community and from an expert who is tapping new sources of capital to fuel entrepreneurs. Also learn how unassuming community institutions transform in times of uncertainty to become trusted sources for information and civil discourse. This session showcased the various kinds of capital required for a community to succeed—and how the Aspen Institute helps build that capital.

Speakers: Dr. Wendy Ellis, Center for Community Resilience, 2018 Ascend Fellow; Laura Huerta-Migus, Institute for Museum and Library Services, 2018 Ascend Fellow; Moderator: Marjorie Sims, Ascend at the Aspen Institute

Parent Power: Transforming Systems with Families at the Center

Monday, June 27, 2022 ●  9:00-9:45am MT ●  Booz Allen Hamilton Room, Koch Building

For over a decade, Ascend at the Aspen Institute has lifted up parents’ voices and experiences to inform bold solutions for economic mobility in the United States. How does lived expertise influence the way programs and policies are created? What can we learn from a new wave of philanthropic efforts to invest in communities and their own parent leaders? Four dynamic leaders shaping higher education, state systems, criminal justice, and philanthropy share insights on why meeting this moment is so important for all families and what is at stake if we don’t.

Speakers: Drayton Jackson, Foundation for Homeless and Poverty Management; Dr. Daria Willis, Howard Community College, 2021 Ascend Fellow; Ebony Underwood, WE GOT US NOW, 2021 Ascend Fellow; Dr. Daniel Williams, Steelcase Foundation, 2021 Ascend Fellow; Moderator: Anne Mosle, Ascend at the Aspen Institute

And two Ascend Fellows brought their unique and personal perspectives to two very special sessions. Katie Albright set the stage for a tribute to her indefatigable mother, Secretary Madeline K. Albright. And Joe Hobot shared a thoughtful reflection on the long view from Indigenous teachings and spiritual wisdom.

A Tribute to Madeleine K. Albright

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The 2022 Aspen Ideas Festival will present a tribute to Secretary Madeleine K. Albright on the afternoon of June 29.

In 1997, Albright was appointed by President Bill Clinton as the first female Secretary of State and became, at that time, the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government. Throughout her career, Secretary Albright set a high bar as a tough negotiator deeply committed to principles of democracy at home and abroad. Albright became a Trustee of the Aspen Institute in 2002 and played a vital role within the organization over two decades; among a number of initiatives, she founded the Aspen Minister’s Forum, helped to establish Aspen Central Europe, received the Institute’s Henry Crown Leadership Award in 2011, and participated in many Institute programs and events.

Speakers: A keynote will be given by Katie Albright, President & Chief Executive Officer of Safe & Sound and an inaugural 2012 Ascend Fellow. Afterwards, two close interlocutors and friends of Secretary Albright will appear on stage in Aspen, Colorado, to discuss the challenges and promises of global diplomacy: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State in the Obama Administration; and Stephen J. Hadley, National Security Advisor under George W. Bush. The interview will be conducted by Yamiche Alcindor, Washington Correspondent for NBC News and Anchor and Moderator of Washington Week on PBS.

Is Our Ethos of the American Independent Spirit Hurting Us?

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

With so much of Western philosophy centered on the individual, we can only understand those around us in comparison — and competition — with ourselves. There are less self-centered ways of looking at the world, ones that start at a place of connection and recognize shared challenges and shared victories. What is preventing us from feeling connected to one another? And what might a more connective approach to society look like?

Speakers: Elaine Pagels, Professor of religion at Princeton University; Pico Iyer, writer; Simran Singh, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Religion and Society program; and Dr. Joe Hobot, American Indian IOC and a 2018 Ascend Fellow.

We’re also pleased that 22 Aspen Ideas Festival Fellows represented Ascend! These Festival Fellows are a diverse group of global leaders who are selected for their work, accomplishments, and ability to transform ideas into action. They were nominated by senior members of the Aspen Institute’s staff, Festival advisors, previous Fellows, and many others within the Aspen Institute’s broad network. These Fellowships are made possible by a group whose purchase of special Patron passes directly contributes to this important program. The Aspen Institute is proud to host these distinguished leaders and grateful to the Patrons for their crucial support.

  • Katie Albright, CEO, Safe & Sound
  • Yoslin Amaya Hernandez, Student Advocacy Coordinator, Generation Hope
  • Melanie R. Bridgeforth, President and CEO, Women’s Foundation of Alabama
  • Melvin Carter, Mayor, City of Saint Paul
  • Gregg Croteau, Chief Executive Officer, UTEC, Inc.
  • Rebecca Dixon, Executive Director, National Employment Law Project
  • Wendy Ellis, Director and Assistant Professor, Center for Community Resilience, The George Washington University
  • Tameka Henry, Executive Director, The Obodo Collective
  • Joseph Hobot, President and CEO, American Indian OIC
  • Drayton Jackson, Executive Director, The Foundation for Homeless and Poverty Management
  • C. Nicole Mason, President and CEO, Institute for Women’s Policy Research
  • Laura Huerta Migus, Deputy Director, Office of Museum Services, Institute of Museum and Library Services
  • Michael Niyompong, WellPower
  • Nitzan Pelman, Founder and CEO, Climb Hire
  • Lori Pfingst, Senior Director, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services
  • Michelle Rhone-Collins, CEO, LIFT
  • Michelle Sarche, Associate Professor, Colorado School of Public Health
  • Rinku Sen, Executive Director, Narrative Initiative
  • Sarah Stripp, Managing Director, Springboard To Opportunities
  • Ebony Underwood, Founder/CEO, WE GOT US NOW, INC
  • Joe Waters, Co-Founder and CEO, Capita
  • Daniel Williams, President and CEO, Steelcase Foundation
  • Daria Willis, President, Howard Community College

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