Melissa Murer Corrigan, Vice President Social Impact

ACT has a broad and deep history of focusing on social responsibility. And focus on social impact is inherently connected to our mission of helping people achieve education and workplace success. Social impact is the effect we hope that ACT’s leadership, research, and convening powers has on equity and opportunity for all students, especially underserved populations and working learners.  But social impact never happens in a vacuum.

While considering social responsibility and social impact, let’s focus on that all important word “social.”  We cannot achieve social impact alone or by ourselves.  Yes, ACT has expertise, focus, and resources to get the job done.  But it’s important to note that ACT’s efforts are always stronger when working with others.

Looking back over the past few months – and years – I think it’s good to reflect on how ACT has been engaging with other leaders focused on social responsibility and social impact.  If we are all judged to a certain extent by the company we keep, then ACT should be judged by others as an organization focused on making a real difference in the lives of others. Let’s start by talking about leaders that visited ACT in the past few months, Sandra Cisneros and Maurice Swinney.

As we celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month in 2017, ACT was honored to host award winning author Sandra Cisneros for a lecture. We partnered with the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop to bring Cisneros back to Iowa City and share her amazing story.  She has lived an extraordinary life and her stories raise awareness of many important social issues.  She shared her passion for education and learning, creating a new narrative that includes the lives of working-class people and encourages us all to make a difference and go out and do something.  Cisneros focuses on getting to know others who are different from ourselves.

Sandra Cisneros was recently awarded the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Chairman’s Award.  “I am the daughter of a Mexican immigrant who became a U.S. citizen by serving in the U.S. Army. I am the granddaughter of campesinos who arrived in this country as migrant farm workers,” said Cisneros. “Perhaps never more in the history of our nation do we need to unite as a community on behalf of community. It is with gratitude and humility that I accept the recognition of CHCI.”

In June 2017, we hosted education luminaries at ACT to talk about their work with underserved students. The Distinguished Lecture: Educator Series, which included Maurice R. Swinney, principal at Edward Tilden Career Community Academy, a high school in Chicago Public Schools, brought educators who are directly reaching the students we hope to effect to ACT’s campus. Swinney shared how he is inspired by his students, both those who succeed and those who don’t. He understands and tries to find solutions for some of the complex problems that his students face such as difficult home environment, poverty, and transportation challenges. Working towards solving these challenges or at least acknowledging them helps to ensure that all students have access and a path to college and careers.

He drives the school equity work, serving vulnerable and high-risk students who must have supportive adults, reliable systems and communities, quality teaching, and out-of-classroom experiences that ensure their success. ACT maintains its relationship with Principal Swinney, and a number of our team members even visited his school a few weeks ago to see him in action.

These kinds of relationships are critical to our success, and we sustain them long after the speaker events are over. Wes Moore is another friend of ACT.  Moore visited Iowa City a couple years ago as part of ACT’s Distinguished Lecture Series to celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.  He is a social entrepreneur, decorated army combat veteran, bestselling author and spent much of his childhood growing up in the Bronx. Earlier this year, Moore was named CEO of Robin Hood Foundation in New York City – an organization focused on making a meaningful difference on poverty.  Upon his appointment, he noted, “People living in poverty are particularly vulnerable now, so Robin Hood’s work is more urgent than ever. I’m proud to be joining an organization that’s been leading the charge on making a meaningful difference.”

Prior to Robin Hood, Moore founded and served as CEO of BridgeEDU, an innovative college platform that works on addressing the college completion and job placement crisis. BridgeEDU reinvents the freshman year by combining high touch and high tech supports for students.

Another friend of ACT is Dr. Tererai Trent, whom joined us to help celebrate ACT’s United Way week.  Rooted in humble beginnings, Tererai grew up in a cattle-herding family in rural Zimbabwe, in a country then known as Rhodesia, where both cultural practices and a war that liberated her country from colonial rule charted the course of her life. She shared with ACT team members that due to traditional women’s roles and cultural norms, there was no opportunity to go to school.  But this did not stop her!  She still dreamed of an education and determinedly taught herself to read and write from her brother’s schoolbooks. Despite marrying young and having three children by the time she was eighteen, Trent never lost sight of her dreams.

A two-time guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Trent was named by Oprah as her “All-Time Favorite Guest” and received a $1.5 million donation to rebuild her childhood elementary school in recognition of her tenacity and never-give-up attitude. With the firm belief that education is the pathway out of poverty and a desire to give back to her community, Trent founded Tererai Trent International to focus on providing universal access to quality education. As a follow up to her visit, we connected with Dr. Trent on a Twitter chat focused on the success of women and girls, reaching thousands of people with our shared message of equity in learning for women and girls!

ACT’s CEL team endeavors to engage with extraordinary leaders like Sandra Cisneros, Maurice Swinney, Wes Moore, and Tererai Trent – and keep the conversations going beyond the speaker events on our campus.  We clearly understand that social impact and success in social responsibility lies in our work with other leading individuals and organizations.  As we focus on the company we keep, ACT’s mission is at the core of both our work and our network.