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Janet Froetscher


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About Janet Froetscher

The J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation is a private foundation committed to innovative strategies for solving society’s most challenging problems. As President, Janet Froetscher develops strategy and drives its implementation to create results supporting the Foundation’s priorities in early childhood development, healthcare and civil rights which are the three cornerstones of the Foundation.

Ms. Froetscher is the former CEO of Special Olympics, leading the organization in all of its functions to fulfill the mission of full inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities. She led a global team with operations and affiliates in more than 170 countries. During her tenure, Ms. Froetscher led the growth of the movement to more than 5 million athletes, holding more than 94,000 competitions annually, and including more than one million coaches and volunteers.

From 2008 to 2013, Ms. Froetscher was the President and CEO of the National Safety Council (NSC), an organization whose mission is to save lives and prevent injuries. Under her leadership, NSC created a new strategy and implemented initiatives which saved over 10,000 lives and prevented over 1 million injuries by focusing on issues such as workplace safety, as well as distracted and teen driving.

From 2003 to 2008, Ms. Froetscher was CEO of the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago where she led the merger of 54 United Ways into a single entity, the largest merger of a non-profit in the country. She also served as COO of the Aspen Institute where she also led the leadership development business and the strategic planning effort. Prior to that she was Executive Director of the non-profit consulting arm of the Commercial Club of Chicago bringing business expertise to City of Chicago government and the Chicago Board of Education generating enormous improvements in service and reducing costs by hundreds of millions of dollars. Her corporate experience includes account management, credit and syndications roles at Bankers Trust Company and First National Bank of Chicago.

Ms. Froetscher holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia and an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management of Northwestern University both with high distinction. She is a Board member of the Chicago Board Options Exchange (NASDAQ: CBOE) where she chaired the Nominating and Governance Committee, and a member of the Chicago Network and Commercial Club of Chicago. Ms. Froetscher is also a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute and a Member of the Board of Trustees at National Louis University.

Episode Overview

President of J.B. & M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation, Janet Froetscher, joins Alberto Lidji to discuss investing $1 Billion to achieve dramatic change; and why no one is interested in marginal change.


The J.B. & M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation was founded by J.B. Pritzker, who’s the current Governor of the State of Illinois, and his wife M.K.


The Foundation aims to invest $1 billion in the coming years to improve the realities in three key thematic areas. They have clear and highly ambitious goals for each one:


(1) Pritzker Children’s Initiative focuses on prenatal to age 3. The goal: in the next 5 years a million more children will have access to high quality services.


(2) Pritzker Community Health Initiative. The goal: in the next 5 years they’ll reduce the number of uninsured children in the City of Chicago by half; and will reduce unintended teen pregnancies by half in the next 5 years.


(3) Human and Civil Rights. The goal: in the next 7 years they aim to reduce the number of women in prison in the State of Illinois by half.


The Foundation is unequivocal in its pursuit of big, audacious goals. They aim to be catalytic and create long-lasting, dramatic change. They aim to partner up with others pretty much in everything they do, at national, state and local level, and across all of their thematic areas of focus.


When asked what advice she has for potential philanthropists who may be tempted to get involved but aren’t quite sure exactly how to go about it, Janet draws parallels between private business and philanthropy. Just like in business, you need to back opportunities where you have confidence in an organisation's CEO and believe in the organisation's strategy and expected returns.


This isn’t surprising considering Janet has an MBA from Northwestern and initially worked in the private sector before moving into the non-profit world.  She always knew she wanted to get into the non-profit world but, at the time of completing her MBA, she was advised to get into the business world first and, only then, explore the non-profit space.


Prior to joining the Foundation, Janet was the CEO of the Special Olympics International.  Running a foundation is very different than running a global NGO. The Special Olympics is active in 170 countries and as CEO you need buy-in from around the world.


She has a lot more freedom now, especially on the resource deployment side. The Foundation is very nimble and they can deploy resources quickly, as soon as an interesting opportunity is identified. Consequently, they’re usually the first funder to go in, and they’re the ones who usually entice new partners on board.


The beauty of philanthropy is that you can be catalytic – making a dramatic and concrete impact and achieving tangible, sustained change in a big way.  Recently, they’ve created the Child & Family Research Partnership at the University of Texas -- a centre that links research, policy and programs.


Janet’s key takeaway for listeners:  Think big. No one is interested in marginal change, frankly.  Investors aren’t; donors aren’t; government isn’t. Marginal change with the types of problems we’re dealing with will get us nowhere. There will always be excuses about why we can’t do it that big, and why it can’t happen that fast. And, you just cant’ accept that.  I don’t want to know why it can’t be done; I have no interest in knowing why it can’t be done; I can list for you why it can’t be done. Instead, I want to know how it can be done. The conversation I want to have is about dramatic change. How can we do it.

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Additional Resources


J.B & M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation

Pritzker Children's Initiative

Child & Family Research Partnership - University of Texas

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