Seleznow: Strong leadership made Arizona 'Poor by Choice'
February 13, 2013
Poor by Choice: The Power of Leadership was the title and focus of a presentation by Arizona Community Foundation President & CEO Steven G. Seleznow, who addressed The Arizona Leadership Forum in Phoenix on Feb. 8.
The PowerPoint title's initial first word of “Great” was marked through and replaced by "Poor," reflecting Seleznow’s view that poor choices in recent years have resulted in our state’s stagnant economy, low educational status and uncertain future.
In his "Poor by Choice" slideshow, which is based on data from Arizona Indicators and other sources, Seleznow said there is ample evidence that Arizona’s woes can be attributed to "powerful leadership.”
“I tried to make the point throughout my ‘confrontation with the data,’ that our decisions and options as a state were not the function of the 2008 recession at all, but the result of a powerful set of choices made by the state’s leadership beginning around 1980 and continuing since to drive down investment in those areas that would have supported economic growth, reduced income inequality, and developed the state’s human capital,” Seleznow recalled.
“That Arizona leaders, through their decisions and policies, made conscious choices that worked in concert to increase rates of poverty and income inequality. That the brutal facts can lead you to no other conclusion, especially given the availability of economic data and piles of reliable and validated economic and social research that would have supported entirely different choices – if the leadership were interested in different outcomes.”
Steven G. Seleznow is President & Chief Executive Officer of the Arizona Community Foundation, a statewide philanthropy whose mission is to lead, serve and collaborate to mobilize enduring philanthropy for a better Arizona.
Founded in 1978, ACF has more than 1,200 funds and $550 million in charitable assets under management today, is one of Arizona’s largest statewide grant makers, largest private provider of scholarships to students, and among the nation’s largest 30 community foundations.
Headquartered in Phoenix, the ACF has made close to $500 million in charitable grants across its statewide network of 13 affiliate community foundations located throughout Arizona.
Prior to leading the Arizona Community Foundation, Seleznow served for nearly five years as deputy director for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s U.S. Program in Education, managing the implementation of a $2.5 billion investment portfolio and leading grant making for states, districts and networks throughout the country.
He previously served as partner and Chief Investment Officer at Venture Philanthropy Partners in Washington, D.C.
Seleznow spent the first 28 years of his career in public education, serving as deputy superintendent for the Montgomery County, MD, Public Schools and chief of staff and interim superintendent for the District of Columbia Public Schools, as well as in other administrative and leadership posts.
Seleznow earned a doctorate and master’s degree in administration, planning, and social policy from Harvard University, a Master of Arts degree from the University of Maryland, and is a graduate of Boston University.
Seleznow makes the counter-intuitive case that the Arizona we now have essentially is the Arizona that the state’s powerful leadership wanted, even though the end result was many residents, schools, businesses and social agencies suffering.
“Not all successful leaders produce greatness. … Some produce just the opposite. Because the values and outcomes are so bad, we often define the leadership as terrible or failed, when in truth it has been enormously effective and efficient. And I do think you can make this case here,” he said.
Seleznow closed his presentation, which was viewed by 700 community leaders who attended the forum, with the following points to consider:
- So then, what is the leadership we want to produce the outcomes we desire?
- We’re all leaders in this room, but we have to get out of our own “places” and siloed spheres of influence. We have to get comfortable, and are obligated to lead beyond our current boundaries if want to be great by choice.
- What are the new leadership coalitions that need to be formed among corporate, philanthropic, non-profit, private, government, political entities? What will you do to lead them?
Decisions by present and new leadership ultimately will shape Arizona’s future, as well as affect any change in status or direction for today, he said.
The Arizona Leadership Forum is sponsored by The Phoenix Philanthropy Group and other organizations and businesses.
The Arizona Community Foundation is a statewide philanthropy and a major sponsor of Arizona Indicators, an online data project managed by Morrison Institute for Public Policy.
View the PowerPoint here