2021 Spirit of Service Award

Laurene Powell Jobs

A leader committed to systemic social change.

As founder and president of Emerson Collective, Powell Jobs has leveraged a broad range of tools, including philanthropy and advocacy, to make a societal impact. She has supported entrepreneurs, leaders and organizations focused on issues such as education, immigration, the environment, hunger and racial injustice. 

In her 2021 commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania, Powell Jobs said she founded Emerson Collective to address a “multitude of interlocking injustices.” She continued, “At Emerson, we work in the realm of ideas, design, and action. We know that system redesign often requires policy redesign, and we work on that as well. But overriding everything is a recognition that humanity is bound together, and we realize our own potential only by caring for each other.”  

Powell Jobs believes that complex systemic failures require flexible approaches, new models and improved governmental policy to advance and scale solutions for a wide range of pressing social and economic issues. Real impact, Powell Jobs has said, can come when the social and private sectors work together in combination with governmental initiatives. 

Over the years, Powell Jobs has embraced issues that mirror broad public concerns and that are in sync with governmental goals to create a more just and equitable society.  

Powell Jobs, for example, founded CollegeTrack, an organization that helps low-income, often first-generation students succeed in high school, college and beyond. She is also the co-founder and board chair of XQ Institute, the nation’s leading organization dedicated to rethinking the high school experience so that every student graduates ready to succeed in life. Additionally, she is a founding member of the Climate Leadership Council, a climate coalition that promotes carbon dividends as the most cost-effective and politically-viable climate solution and seeks to bridge the gap between conservationists and corporations.  

Her organization helped incubate Elemental Excelerator, which focuses on scaling equitable, market-driven solutions to climate change; Chicago CRED, an effort to curb Chicago gun violence by counseling and training young men and women; and E Pluribus Unum, which cultivates and empowers courageous leaders who are building a more just, equitable and inclusive South.  

Powell Jobs also co-founded America’s Food Fund, which raised over $45 million for leading organizations combating food insecurities among children and families across the country during the pandemic.  

In addition, she has focused on the importance of journalism as a cornerstone of civic engagement and democracy, holding the majority stake in The Atlantic and supporting nonprofit organizations such as Pro Publica, The Marshall Project, Texas Tribune and the American Journalism Project. In a 2019 speech to the Committee to Protect Journalists, she called journalism “an instrument of enlightenment,” adding, “There can be no progress without the information to advance it, no sense of shared community or values without the stories that bind us together.”  

A key part of Powell Jobs’ philosophy centers on the belief that “we don’t have to accept the world that we’re born into as something that is fixed and impermeable.” And building on that belief, she has focused Emerson Collective on what she has described as a dual obligation of society. 

“We must rely on ourselves and we must rely on each other,” Powell Jobs has written. “By helping individuals to achieve their dreams, we unleash the full force of the world’s most powerful resource: human potential.”