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CAMBRIDGE, MA—Leslie and Abigail Wexner, founding and sustaining donors of the Center for Public Leadership (CPL) at Harvard’s Kennedy School, announced today an additional gift of $3 million to the Center. Their gift, an extension of the couple’s longtime commitment to inspiring, preparing, and connecting tomorrow’s global leaders, brings the Wexners’ total commitment to the Center and HKS to more than $42 million.
Les Wexner built Limited Brands and now serves as chairman and CEO. He and his wife Abigail, an attorney, are among the nation’s leading philanthropists. Les Wexner’s alma mater, The Ohio State University, recently named its entire medical complex in his honor. Both Wexners are deeply engaged in numerous community activities in their hometown of Columbus, Ohio. In addition, they serve as cochairs of The Wexner Foundation, which promotes the vitality of Jewish communities throughout North America and is highly supportive of Israel.
The Wexners’ engagement with the Kennedy School began in 1989, when the foundation established the Wexner Israel Fellowship Program. This initiative has enabled more than 200 Israeli public leaders to come to the Kennedy School in pursuit of a midcareer master’s degree.
In August 2000, a gift from the Wexners launched the Center for Public Leadership, reflecting a longtime interest in leadership and history by Les Wexner. Since then, their ongoing counsel and generosity, underwriting core operating expenses, have enabled the Center to become recognized as one of the top university-based leadership institutes in North America. CPL serves a growing number of young, aspiring leaders at the Kennedy School and beyond through scholarships, workshops, field trips, and conversations with visiting leaders. More than 300 students are now alumni of fellowship programs that the Center has helped to create and run.
In announcing the gift, David Ellwood, dean and Scott M. Black Professor of Political Economy at HKS, said, “Throughout the years, the extraordinary vision, ideals, and support of Les and Abigail Wexner have been absolutely essential elements in helping to craft much of what is the best of the Harvard Kennedy School. Their generosity and their expectations have been both a model and a powerful incentive to make the Kennedy School and the Center for Public Leadership truly exceptional in public leadership.”
David Gergen, professor of public service and longtime director of the Center, noted, “The Wexners are the finest partners imaginable. They recognized long ago that business schools invest enormous efforts in preparing men and women to become leaders in the corporate world but no comparable effort is made to prepare leaders for the public arena—people who advance the common good through political life, nonprofits, or indeed in business. Thus the Center was born. In the dozen years since, Les and Abigail have been a steady source of wisdom, inspiration, and support—I am now privileged to count them as close friends and a rising generation will long be grateful to them.”
Abigail Wexner said, “As Les and I have thought about where we want to concentrate our time and resources, we are increasingly focusing on four main areas: our community in central Ohio, our Jewish faith, higher education, and the need for better leaders. The Center for Public Leadership and Harvard Kennedy School represent, we believe, critical institutions for advancing the quality of leadership both at home and overseas.”
Les Wexner commented, “From my own life experience and my reading of history, I have concluded that leadership is hard to teach but it can and must be learned. And clearly, the world sorely needs better leaders. That is why Abigail and I have been proud to invest in the Center and the Kennedy School. All of us engaged in this endeavor believe that the Center must continue to grow and we look forward to working with Dean Ellwood, David Gergen, and others in the years ahead.”
Harvard Kennedy School maintains an abiding commitment to advancing the public interest by training skilled, enlightened leaders and solving public problems through world-class scholarship and active engagement with practitioners and decision makers. The School offers the depth, reflection, insight, and excellence of ideas and teaching that can shape future leaders, affect public policies, and make an impact on people and their daily lives.
The Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School seeks to advance the frontiers of knowledge about leadership through research and teaching. It is equally committed to broadening and deepening the pool of leaders for the common good through cocurricular activities that include skill-building workshops, public service fellowships, and programming in leadership for social change.