Terrance Keenan Institute: Leadership from Wherever You Sit

May 4, 2012, 1:00 PM, Posted by

By Jasmine Hall Ratliff, MHA, program officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation


In 2010 Grantmakers in Health, an affiliation of health funders across the country, launched the Terrance Keenan Leadership Institute for Emerging Leaders in Health Philanthropy (TK Institute) to commemorate the life and leadership of long-time Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leader Terrance Keenan. The TK Institute was created to nurture the next generation of leaders, build relationships among them, and connect them with established figures in the field.

Terrance Keenan, affectionately called Terry, created and led many RWJF signature funding programs that included the Nurse Faculty Fellowships, Community Care Funding Partners Program and the Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers Program (which later became Faith in Action). (You can read more about Terry here.)

I was fortunate enough to be nominated and then selected to represent RWJF in the inaugural class of the TK Institute. Other participants came from foundations in Massachusetts, Ohio, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Washington, DC and California; they worked at community, private and family foundations with assets across all ranges. Though we represented different regions and health priorities, we had many things in common: we were under the age of 40 and had a passion for moving philanthropy forward as a field.

We spent two days together discussing philanthropy challenges like transparency and adapting to an increasingly technological world, tried to imagine the field in 10 years and our own goals of leadership within our individual foundations and philanthropy in general. We also learned a tremendous amount from the Institute faculty: presidents and executive directors from leading health foundations across the country. Our faculty gave us honest and frank insights on their journeys in philanthropy, leadership and the current state and future of the field. We reflected on our own leadership styles and what we admire in leaders we’ve met or read about. Throughout all of this, we kept Terrance Keenan’s leadership teachings and actions in mind.

The Institute was both an energizing and reflective period of time for me. When I started my life in philanthropy in 2002 I didn’t plan on staying for long. My goal was to lead a community health center and I thought that working at a foundation would give me the experience of a grant maker that I could then take and become a successful grant-seeker. But over time I came to love working in philanthropy and thinking about leadership in this field. Foundations have the ability to convene, connect and influence social change by supporting organizations and leaders committed to health equity and healthy communities. Terrance Keenan understood that and lived it through the projects he funded and initiatives he created.

Terry died in 2009. I didn’t get a chance to meet him before he passed but between talking to RWJF staff members and learning more about him during the TK Institute, I have come to admire his quiet leadership and the legacy that he left behind. It’s one that I hope to follow both here at RWJF and in the field of health philanthropy as we continue to strive for improving the health and health care of all Americans.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.