The Obama Foundation is hosting its first global summit on Tuesday and Wednesday with about 500 folks attending sessions in Chicago on a variety of subjects, with the emphasis on “active citizenship” more than the specific causes Barack Obama championed when he was president.
“We need you to move the world forward,” Obama said in a welcome statement to the summiteers. “I want this next chapter to be even more impactful than the last — and the next two days are just the beginning.”
There will be head-turning names at summit activities — Obama and former first lady Michelle; Prince Harry; and from show business, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chance, Common and Rashida Jones.
This will also be a gathering of major figures in the Obama administration: his ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy; U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice; senior advisers Valerie Jarrett and David Plouffe; top food policy adviser Sam Kass; plus domestic policy adviser Cecilia Munoz.
The event, announced in September, is designed for people deemed by the foundation to be rising or established leaders. They are from 60 nations and 27 states, with 102 participants from Chicago.
About 20,000 applied for the 500 slots. Many of the Chicagoans are from the South Side communities near the future Obama Center, to be constructed in Jackson Park.
The main venue is the Marriott Marquis, 2121 S. Prairie Ave., with a dinner Tuesday at the Museum of Science and Industry and a concert Wednesday night at the new Wintrust Arena near McCormick Place.
The projects Obama and his foundation will embrace as he starts his second post-presidential year in a few months is still a work in progress. The sessions in the summit are intended — among other things — to help inform Obama and his team on their future program goals.
The inaugural Obama summit comes as former President Bill Clinton in the first part of this week visits projects and partnerships established by his Clinton Foundation in Baltimore, northeast Florida and St. Louis, dealing with health, nutrition, the opioid crisis and STEM education for women and girls. These are subjects Obama devoted time and resources to when he was president — and will be touched on in his summit.
While discussing the summit with David Simas, the foundation CEO who was the Obama White House political director, I mentioned Clinton and asked if Obama was aiming for his foundation to actually run projects.
The Obamas for now are taking a different approach, Simas told me.
“The emphasis is not on a specific issue or even a set of issues,” Simas said. “It’s really about something deeper, broader, more fundamental, which is underlying engagement; how do you define active citizenship in the 21st century in the environment we have both in the United States and globally?
“That approach will then inform our programming,” he said.
The breakout topics range from the role of fiction, faith, play, podcasts and environmental action to the design of the Obama museum at the Obama Center, and brainstorming with Jarrett and others on the foundation digital outreach strategy.
Tuesday will be devoted to talking about problems. Wednesday will be a look at solutions to the world’s “most pressing” problems. Some titles of sessions:
• The adventure of civility
• Getting women in the room where it happens: Rice, Jones and farm labor legend Dolores Huerta are among the panelists
• Civic tech: What’s working and what needs to change.
• Building entrepreneurial ecosystems in emerging markets.
• Redesigning civic education for the 21st century, a forum with an emphasis on the Chicago Public Schools.
• Building the civic leadership pipeline with Kennedy, former Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Renzi and Pete Buttigieg, the Democratic mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
• Organizing and operating at scale with Plouffe, who managed Obama’s first presidential campaign.
On Tuesday evening, Prince Harry — whose girlfriend Meghan Markle is a 2003 Northwestern University graduate — will have a “conversation” with Mellody Hobson, the president of Ariel Investments and chair of After School Matters. Hobson, with her husband “Star Wars” filmmaker George Lucas, are major donors to the Obama Center.
On Wednesday, Michelle Obama will “discuss her sources of inspiration” and a life of public service with poet Elizabeth Alexander — a longtime Obama friend who read a poem at his first inauguration.