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February 2013 President’s Message

From October through December 2012, I was very fortunate to take a Weingart Foundation supported sabbatical that included a significant amount of travel, as well as a great deal of personal reflection. I want to share some of the things we learned during this time. I say “we” because it was not only a great learning experience for me, but also for the Weingart Foundation.

Speaking very personally, after 40 years of fairly intense service-related work, the time off gave me an opportunity to step back and reflect on what I want to do with the rest of my life. I was guided by the thought that we should live life with purpose and without regret. For me, that means taking advantage of the time we get, professionally as well as personally, to make this world a better place for all.

I am driven by the fact that our world is not very equitable. The chasm between the rich and poor is ever widening, which makes our work in philanthropy all the more important. I have always believed that smart investments in people and organizations grappling with our society’s biggest problems can make a difference. Rested and recharged, I am more committed than ever before to our work at the Weingart Foundation.

Well-planned sabbaticals can also be an effective tool for building organizational capacity. During my absence, key staff was given the opportunity to step into new roles with increased responsibilities. When I returned, we didn’t immediately start with the typical briefing session. Instead, initial conversations with our management team centered on such questions as:

  • What did you learn about your work and the work of the President that needs to change?
  • What responsibilities do you think you should keep?
  • Are there changes in our organizational structure that we should consider?

We also asked our Board members and staff to be candid about how things were different during the sabbatical, and what recommendations they had as a result of the experience.

And although I am still some time away from retirement, the sabbatical also jump-started the succession planning process within the Foundation. At our upcoming Board Planning Conference, we will devote time to discussing what we learned through the sabbatical process that might improve current and future operations and guide our succession planning at various levels within the organization.

I come away from this experience convinced that a thoughtful sabbatical program can provide personal rejuvenation as well as overall leadership development. As with so many other things, the key is in the planning and development of shared purpose and goals. In our case, we agreed that I would not have ANY work-related contact for the three months I was gone. And to no ones surprise, everything worked just fine! The confidence, respect, and learning we all gained through this experience will certainly have lasting effects.


Fred Ali
President & CEO