A Trailblazer is someone who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo; who believes that the way we’ve always done it isn’t necessarily the way we’re going to do it.
Highlighting 7 female leaders who continually evoke a deeper connection to the reason why they’re blazing a trail in the first place: to create a new path and opportunity for others. They are inspired by a sense of community that is pervasive across the board. These Trailblazers willingly share their knowledge and encompass a vast community of learners and leaders. They embody the concept of pushing the envelope and fearlessly navigating the unknown.
In this article, we interview Jennifer Ford Reedy, President of the Bush Foundation.
If you could have a conversation with anyone — past or present, who would it be?
Definitely Ben Franklin. I think about him a lot and how he would be wowed by our scientific innovations and proud that we have held together as a country and become a more inclusive democracy. At times, when current events get me down, imagining a conversation with Ben reminds me of the longer arc of history and makes me feel better!
What is your greatest achievement to date?
For a professional achievement, I feel really proud of the Bush Foundation's work to establish $100M community trust funds for Native and Black individuals to use for education, buying a house, starting a business or other ways to build wealth. This is a big deal for us. It is a reparative action. An acknowledgment of how racial wealth gaps in our country reflect accumulated advantage and disadvantage from public policies. Most people have a sense of the impact of slavery and taking land, but not everyone knows what difference policies like the Homestead Act or federal mortgage programs made in who has built wealth and who has not in our country. I believe there is a big opportunity for people and institutions with wealth to think about what a reparative act could look like for them.
How do you define success?
I think success in life is the ability to make choices based on what you value most. It looks different for each of us based on what we value. To me, success is being able to do things that make other people’s lives better in some way — and I mean that both in big-picture social change and also small everyday kindnesses. It all lines up to the same life purpose for me.
What, in your opinion, is the key to your success?
I work really earnestly at getting better at my job and better as a human being. I think the most critical skill for a good leader is to listen and learn and improve. No one can do everything well, and what the world needs of us changes constantly. Getting feedback and different perspectives and adjusting is the key to any long-term success.
If you could do one thing differently, what would that be?
I have never been able to do a cartwheel. The need doesn't arise much in my adult life, but I still would like to be able to do one.
Three key words to describe yourself:
Half tax professor and half artist. (I am an equal mix of my mom and dad.)
We moved here because my husband spent summers in Minnesota as a kid and thought it was heaven. We have stayed here because we love it. It has been a great place to raise our family and a great place for a career in philanthropy. No doubt we have big stuff to work on. For all our challenges, Minnesota also has a lot to celebrate, including lots of wonderful people who want to make this place work better for everyone.
Is there a significant decision you made or experience you've had that has forever shaped your life?
Several years ago I took a trip to Cambodia to do site visits as a board member for a U.S. foundation. I’ve gotten to travel a lot and meet a lot of people in the world, but this was a different experience for me. The horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime show the very worst that we can do to each other as humans. To meet so many people who experienced those atrocities and yet were so full of joy was transformative to me. I was having a lunch conversation with someone telling me their secret to surviving starvation. Before the trip, I think I (unconsciously) believed I was so lucky that I should always feel guilty, not wholly joyful. After that trip, I believed that if I was not living life joyfully, I was doing it wrong. It has shaped every day since.
What are you afraid of?
Snakes. So afraid that I hate to even write the word!
Is there a piece of advice you've received that brought you to who you are and the meaningful work you do today?
Don’t quit preemptively. It was advice from a colleague when I came back to work after having a baby. She was saying not to quit just because I was afraid it might not work out. Try and see what is possible. It was fantastic advice.
What are you most proud of?
My family, for sure. I do feel some pride each year on Give to the Max Day. It is gratifying to see that work live on in such a big and fun way. I love it as an annual state pep rally to inspire and celebrate generosity in Minnesota.
Jen has been president of the Bush Foundation since September 2012. The Bush Foundation invests in great ideas and the people who power them in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and 23 Native nations.
Prior to joining the Foundation, Jen served as chief of staff and vice president of strategy for the St. Paul and Minnesota Foundation, where she led the creation of GiveMN.org and Give to the Max Day. Her current board roles include Regions Hospital, GHR Foundation, Independent Sector and Council on Foundations. She is involved in a number of civic groups and committees and enthusiastically serves as an election judge. She also teaches a graduate course in philanthropic history and strategy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. She has been honored as a “40 Under 40” leader by the Minneapolis–Saint Paul Business Journal, as one of the “100 Minnesotans You Should Know” by Twin Cities Business Magazine and as a NextGen Fellow by Independent Sector.
Featured alongside Jennifer are:
- Co-Executive Director of the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) LeAnn Littlewolf
- Executive Director of the Duluth Art Institute Christina Woods
- Co-Executive Director of Voices for Ethnic and Multicultural Awareness (VEMA) Seraphia Gravelle (Aguallo)
- President & CEO of the Itasca Economic Development Corporation Tamara Lowney
- President and CEO of Northspan Elissa Hansen
- Executive Director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority Deb Deluca
Read more of our stories in Issue 22 of Lake and Company.