Among Jo Ellen Parker’s most prized possessions is The Gift, a 4-foot-high sculpture of a Buddhist monk holding an empty space between outstretched hands. “The space he offers—the gift he carries—is pure potential,” explains Parker, the 10th president of Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, who considers it her primary role as leader to seek out those sweet spots of potential where collaboration is both natural and game-changing. “Holding a space,” as she describes it, “where bright and engaged people come together and find where their passions and priorities overlap.”
Early on, the savvy educator-turned-CEO followed her passion for literature all the way to a doctorate in English. But after a number of years as a professor and college administrator, her focus shifted to nonprofit entrepreneurship. This led her to assume CEO roles at the Great Lakes Colleges Association, a consortium of 13 liberal-arts colleges, and then at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education—little more than a series of grant-funded projects until Parker turned it into a sustainable nonprofit serving nearly 150 colleges in the United States and abroad. For the past five years, she’s served as the much-admired, enterprising president of Sweet Briar College in Virginia. All three leadership stints reflected her impassioned determination that nonprofits—including museums—must earn their place in a tenuous economic future by being more mission-driven, collaborative, and entrepreneurial. “These are tough times for nonprofits,” she notes. “I’ve believed for years that collaborations between nonprofits with similar missions can keep those organizations strong and extend their reach.”
(description by Betsy Momich in Carnegie Magazine)
Jo Ellen is a member of the Remake Learning Council.