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The Aspen Institute is an international nonprofit organization founded in 1950 as the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies. Today, 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 seek to 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. 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, Lyon, Tokyo, New Delhi, 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. Walter Isaacson is currently President and CEO.

Contents

Mission

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 a selected class of proven leaders together for an intense multi-year program and commitment. The fellows become better leaders and apply their skills to significant challenges.
  • Policy programs, which serve as nonpartisan forums for analysis, consensus building, and problem solving on a wide variety of issues.
  • Public conferences and events, which provide a commons for people to share ideas.

History

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 the decaying former mining town of Aspen in the Roaring Fork Valley and envisioned a place where artists, leaders, thinkers, musicians could gather. 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 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 created 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.

Policy programs

The Aspen Institute has more than 20 policy programs that work to advance public and private sector knowledge on significant policy issues confronting contemporary society. They attempt to frame critical topics and convene leaders and experts from relevant fields to reach constructive 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.

Aspen Institute policy programs share a common mission and methodology. Each serves as an forum for leaders in a field who bring a diversity of perspectives in pursuit of informed dialogue and action.

  • The Aspen Strategy Group convenes prominent foreign policy and national security experts to consider the important challenges facing the United States in the world today.
  • The Business and Society Program is dedicated to developing leaders for a sustainable global society. Through dialogues and path-breaking research, it creates opportunities for executives and educators to explore new pathways to sustainability and values-based leadership. Its websites, CasePlace.org and BeyondGreyPinstripes.org, are the leading sources of innovative curriculum in top 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 major global 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 concrete and realistic recommendations to Congress, the Administration, State and local stakeholders, parents, and the general public to ensure the law is an effective tool in spurring academic achievement and closing the achievement gap.
  • The Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program promotes dialogue and innovative 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 Community Strategies Group designs and manages peer learning exchange and critical examination opportunities among community leaders, practitioners, and policymakers engaged in improving 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 participatory learning using applied research to stimulate dialogue and action among funders, policymakers and nonprofit and community leaders about various 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 among diverse groups of policymakers, practitioners, analysts, and other leaders.
  • 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 on the global stage. 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 about the challenges and opportunities of an increasingly interdependent world.
  • The Health, Biomedical Science, and Society Initiative examines societal issues related to health policy, medicine, nutrition and biotechnology through a combination of roundtable 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 explore and 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 from several disciplines and professions 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 prominent American, Palestinian and Israeli business and political leaders committed to developing pragmatic economic and policy initiatives that advance prospects for peace in the Middle East.
  • The Nonprofit Sector and Philanthropy Program supports research, dialogue, and leadership initiatives on critical 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 common problems and share strategies for promoting 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 a variety of programs for accomplished young entrepreneurial, government, and civic leaders spanning a number of different countries. Through these programs, the Institute is identifying young men and women between the ages of 30 and 45 who have already achieved a certain level of success and encouraging them to reach yet further — for significance by benefitting society at large.

  • The Henry Crown Fellowship Program seeks to develop our next generation of community-spirited leaders, providing them with the tools necessary to meet the challenges of corporate and civic leadership in the 21st century. The program is a unique mix of intellectual and personal development seminars designed to broaden the perspectives of the participants and hone their skills in values-based leadership.
  • The Africa Leadership Initiative (ALI) brings together as Fellows successful 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. The region is home to a growing number of capable young leaders in all sectors of society. CALI is designed to capture the energy, the talent, and the resolve of these leaders who have already realized a certain level of success and inspire them to assume a more proactive stance in addressing the foremost challenges of their region and their times.
  • 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. It provides them with an opportunity to better understand their own leadership values and those of their peers; to engage more vigorously in the foremost challenges of their communities and country; and to explore new ways to work in concert to improve Indian society and the world at large.
  • 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 highly successful Nigerian leaders who are uniquely qualified to influence the future development of Nigeria, to enhance or develop their values-based leadership skills, and to assume a transformative role in the future development of Nigeria. The mission of the NLI is to create a growing global network of credible and very accomplished community-spirited Nigerian leaders who are committed to taking responsibility for driving positive change in Nigeria and Nigerian communities.

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