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SNF grant supports civic engagement at the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago

Jun 22, 2023

Building further on its extensive commitment to creating thriving hubs of civic life open to all, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) will make a $26 million grant to the Obama Foundation for the forthcoming Obama Presidential Center. The majority of the grant, $25 million, will support a physical space to facilitate community convening and inspire civic participation, the Democracy in Action Lab (DIAL). The remainder, $1 million, will support the Obama Foundation’s Leaders Program to inspire, empower, and connect regional cohorts of changemakers to accelerate positive and lasting change in their communities and around the world.  SNF’s support for DIAL figured into the keynote conversation between President Barack Obama and SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos on how to strengthen our democratic culture and the importance of investing in the next generation of leaders that took place in Athens as part of SNF Nostos 2023, an annual event hosted by SNF at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC). The SNFCC also recently hosted events as part of a convening of the Obama Foundation’s Leaders Program that brought together more than a hundred leaders as the culmination of their participation in the five-month program.

“It will take imagination and courage to create the truly public spaces for dialogue and civic engagement this era of polarization and disruption demands,” said SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos. “We need to ensure that those spaces are welcoming and inclusive. The Obama Presidential Center is thoughtfully doing this work, imagining a new paradigm for what a public forum for civic engagement and civil discourse can look like on the South Side of Chicago, and SNF is proud to be a part of the effort.”

Thanks to the generosity of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), we are establishing a permanent home on the South Side of Chicago for young leaders to come together as part of the Obama Presidential Center,” said President Obama. “The Democracy in Action Lab will serve as a global community center, where young people from all over the world can put their idealism to work. Because progress depends on having leaders committed to the values that are vital to preserving and improving democracy.

“The Democracy in Action Lab will represent the best of what we do at the Foundation—moving people from hope to action in support of building and strengthening democratic culture around the world,” said Obama Foundation CEO Valerie Jarrett. “We are grateful to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for their partnership to support the Foundation’s leadership programming and look forward to continuing our commitment to investing in the next generation of leaders.”

DIAL will host community gatherings, workshops, talks, and other events while serving as a meeting point for emerging leaders in the neighborhood and from around the world. The space will be designed to flexibly accommodate a wide range of configurations to suit various uses.

In recent years, SNF has given support to a cluster of projects aimed at facilitating civil discourse across societal divides, incubating the habits of active citizenship, and fostering global leadership. The SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University brings together experts from political science, psychology, philosophy, and other disciplines to foster open and inclusive discourse by engaging a wide public. The SNF Paideia Program at the University of Pennsylvania seeks to imagine a new approach to educating students as whole people and citizens. The SNF Ithaca Initiative at University of Delaware Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy & Administration inculcates foundational skills that help students become engaged citizen-leaders and participants in civil discourse. With support from SNF, the Tällberg Foundation seeks to identify leaders addressing the real, urgent problems people face and create platforms for them to share their ideas, including the Tällberg-SNF-Eliasson Global Leadership Prize.

Other major projects SNF has recently supported have sought to create the sort of open, inclusive public commons the Obama Presidential Center promises. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Public Library (SNFL), the New York Public Library’s remade central circulating branch, welcomes all New Yorkers into a beautiful public space for discovery, growth, and collaboration. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation-Lincoln Center Agora Initiative has aimed to reimagine how urban public space can better serve an inclusive public. And the SNFCC in Athens, given to the people of Greece in 2017, has created an interdisciplinary public destination in many ways akin to the Obama Presidential Center—including in the presence of a public library. The SNFCC, created through one of SNF’s largest grant initiatives to date, comprises the National Library of Greece, abundant public green space, the Greek National Opera, and venues for civic events of all sorts.

SNF believes that the Obama Presidential Center will be a place visitors can truly make their own, one that inspires them to the higher purpose of democratic participation. The Foundation has seen this happen firsthand at the SNFCC, including in moments like Barack Obama’s speech there during his last international trip in office in November 2016.