Executive Committee


As we welcome the wonderful month of May, I’m excited because there are so many great things happening. Summer is right around the corner, the school year is coming to a close and Milwaukee Succeeds is on the move. On March 29-30th, our Executive Committee gathered together for our Executive Retreat. It kicked off with a dinner on the 29th and an all-day strategic session on the 30th. The group utilized the services of Leslie Marquard of Marble Leadership who uses a Strategic Actioning Session method to engage attendees. This week our very own Ellen Gilligan, President and CEO of Greater Milwaukee Foundation, is here to share her experience at the Executive Retreat.

Take it away Ellen!

See you soon,

Q1: Tell our readers, what is the Executive Committee? What is its purpose?

Ellen: Milwaukee Succeeds’ Executive Committee is a cross sectorial committee that includes education, business, government, nonprofit and philanthropic leaders who have joined together to advance educational success for all Milwaukee children in all schools, cradle to career. The Executive Committee includes the Mayor, Common Council President, CEO of Northwestern Mutual, President of Marquette University, Chancellor of UW-Milwaukee, Superintendent and Board President of Milwaukee Public Schools, President & CEO United Way Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County, President & CEO of the Milwaukee Urban League, President & CEO of Bader Philanthropies, the Greater Milwaukee Committee, the President of the MMAC, President of MATC, VP of GE Healthcare, and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

Q2: The Executive Committee recently participated in an all-day Executive Retreat. What was the purpose and was it fulfilled in your mind?

Ellen: The purpose of the retreat was to inspire, and deepen engagement and commitment to achieving Milwaukee Succeeds goals, engaging the Committee, deepening understanding and developing new ideas to bring effective strategies to scale.

The retreat was transformational. Milwaukee Succeeds is a marathon, not a sprint. Five years in, it’s important for people to have renewed passion, renewed commitment, and renewed understanding. These are not somebody else’s goals; these are our community’s goals. We all have to pitch in using everything we have at our disposal to help all our kids succeed—they are Milwaukee’s future.

Q3: How would you describe the day?

Ellen: The retreat was a Strategic Actioning Session, a unique and iterative planning process which is designed to be very engaging. It’s a very creative process that involves all participants in team learning, problem solving, identification of new ideas, and innovative solutions leading to new approaches and a deepened personal commitment to the work. Our goal was for the Milwaukee Succeeds Executive Committee to leave the retreat and carry forward a high level of enthusiasm and personal commitment.

Q4: Jeff Edmondson, Founder and Executive Director of StriveTogether, engaged in an intimate interview at the retreat. Describe what it was like being present for that conversation.

Ellen: Jeff’s engagement in the retreat began the night before when he joined the Executive Committee at dinner and had the opportunity to hear from the group what we thought were some of the key issues in our work. Jeff began to share some of the successes of other communities in the StriveTogether network and some of the lessons learned.

The next morning the day started with Leslie interviewing Jeff, picking up on and elaborating on some of the themes from the night before. The interview was both powerful and inspirational. Jeff was very candid about both the successes of the work and the failures, lessons learned the hard way. It’s not often you have the opportunity to hear someone reflect and share so openly and honestly about what’s worked and what hasn’t worked and what they’ve learned along the way. At the same time, Jeff inspired the group by sharing many successes that communities are having tackling the same issues that we in Milwaukee are working on. Sharing his own lessons and from other communities who participate in the network helped the group understand that even though we might be struggling with an issue another community might have developed something to share that could help. That was very hopeful and energizing.

Q5: What was the biggest take away from that interview for the Executive Committee?

Ellen: Jeff’s interview underscored the fact that we are not only on the right track but are one of the leaders in the country in the work we are doing together and the progress we are making. While we all recognize that this is hard work, it’s not impossible. Communities across the country are making significant differences in the lives of kids and with everyone’s full commitment, involvement and engagement, and a laser-like focus on identifying “bright spots” that work for kids, we can accelerate our progress.

Q6: What are the most important key points from the retreat? What will change for the Executive Committee as a result?

Ellen: There were a couple of key takeaways. First, every member of the Executive Committee made a personal commitment to use their influence and the resources at their disposal to advance the goals and strategies of Milwaukee Succeeds. Everyone took that very seriously. We shared our commitments with each other at the end of the day and we will hold ourselves and each other accountable for them.

Circling back to the beginning, the purpose of the retreat was for our Executive Committee to individually and collectively commit to and “own” the goals of Milwaukee Succeeds. Milwaukee Succeeds goals are our community’s goals. As community leaders we have committed to working together to achieve them. Our children are counting on us.

Going forward the Executive Committee will re-structure its regular meetings. We proposed a redesign to use our time together differently, changing the content of our meetings, how the pre-work gets done, what the agenda looks like, how are the decisions made. I think we will see changes in the way our Executive Committee operates that is more collaborative, strategic, and action oriented, implementing some of the lessons learned from the strategic action session.

Q7: What does this mean for Milwaukee Succeeds?

Ellen: The institutions represented on the Executive Committee and their ability to work together to achieve the goals of Milwaukee Succeeds is critical to long-term success for Milwaukee’s children. Success for every child in every school is fundamental to the future of this community.

For five years these leaders have remained committed and engaged, committing their time, talent and institutional resources, building a shared vision and coming together to help all our kids succeed. The retreat helped clarify and renew that important commitment.


Ellen Gilligan
CEO and President
Greater Milwaukee Foundation

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