Finding and Developing Good Ideas • Dr. Cecilia Conrad, CEO of Lever for Change


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What would you do with $800,000 that came with no strings attached? This actually happens to about two dozen MacArthur Fellows every year.

Or better yet, a grant of $100 million, like MacArthur gave away in its 100 and Change program? It sounds exhilarating, but what if getting the money depended on you having a good idea for how to use it?

Dr. Cecilia Conrad's work is finding and developing good ideas, formerly as the Managing Director of the MacArthur Fellowships, and now as the CEO of Lever for Change, an affiliate of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In these roles, she's led the effort to: find and support the most creative people in the US, fund and support the organizations making big impacts on the world, and change how big philanthropy is done today.

In this episode we'll learn Dr. Conrad's insights from the secret selectors of MacArthur fellows, what it's like being one of the few Black women in Economics, and what it was like growing up in Dallas during the height of the Civil Rights movement. Most of all, we'll learn about the how to find and develop the overlooked great ideas that waiting to be discovered.

About Our Guest

Cecilia A. Conrad, Ph.D. is Senior Advisor, Collaborative Philanthropy and MacArthur Fellows and CEO of Lever for Change.

Dr. Conrad was formerly a Managing Director at the MacArthur Foundation, where she led the Fellows program and steered the cross-Foundation team that created MacArthur’s 100&Change—an athematic, open call competition that periodically makes a single $100 million grant to help solve a critical problem of our time. She continues to manage the 100&Change competition.

Before joining the Foundation in January 2013, Conrad had a distinguished career as both a professor and an administrator at Pomona College in Claremont, CA. She held the Stedman Sumner Chair in Economics and is currently a Professor of Economics, Emerita. She served as Associate Dean of the College (2004-2007), as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College (2009-2012), and as Acting President (Fall 2012). From 2007-2009, she was interim Vice President and Dean of the Faculty at Scripps College.

Before joining the faculty at Pomona College, Dr. Conrad served on the faculties of Barnard College and Duke University. She was also an economist at the Federal Trade Commission and a visiting scholar at The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

Dr. Conrad received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Wellesley College and her Ph.D. in economics from Stanford University.

Useful Links

The MacArthur Fellowship Program

The Lever for Change Foundation

The 100 & Change program

Dr. Conrad explains the MacArthur Fellows program at MIT (YouTube)

Wikipedia's list of all MacArthur Fellows

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22 episodes