2021 Ascend Fellow Daniel Williams

Daniel Williams, Steelcase Foundation President, has been selected as a 2021 Aspen Institute Ascend Fellow. Daniel is among 19 individuals boldly leading change, working shoulder-to-shoulder with whole communities to co-design programs that give all children the opportunity to thrive, feel safe, known and loved.

Over the next 18 months, fellows will inspire, challenge, and support each other as they work across sectors that all impact the prosperity and wellness of families, from reinventing systems of care and learning and unlocking capital that opens doors for economic inclusion and justice, to breaking ground with research that changes the course for policies and practices directly affecting communities.

Daniel’s proposal is a long-term, systems-based and focused look at helping families in West Michigan “as they are beginning to emerge from below the poverty line, through ALICE (asset limited, income constrained, employed), and beyond.” The proposal is a multi-sector approach, designed to increase families’ access to opportunity and end the cycle that involves “sending people off to various agencies or organizations for various resources, depending on their most pressing needs at the current moment.

“I am proposing a network of partners from different sectors work together to ‘stack’ their services in a well-coordinated effort to support entire families holistically and beyond moments of ‘crisis,” says Daniel. His approach targets growth in the following essential areas: 

  1. Early Childhood & K-12 Education
  2. Social Capital, such as family and peer networks
  3. Post-Secondary and Employment Pathways
  4. Economic Assets, for example asset building and housing support
  5. Health and Wellbeing, such as ensuring access to mental, physical, and behavioral health services


“We consistently use symptom metrics as proxies for systemic change. That does not and will not work. I see the power of increased resources and attention to early childhood and K-12, to workforce development, mentorship programs, and more, and I could tell countless stories of individual successes. These interventions are vital, but often end prior to or are never connected to the other systems,” says Daniel.

“If this were to be successful, we would be uncovering a path much closer to actually addressing the root causes of the many symptoms in our community; a path to more equitable outcomes; a path to substantive change that combats the real root causes of our ills – racism, white supremacy, and patriarchy; a path to a more just community.”

“I truly see this as the Foundation’s opportunity to have a Fellowship designed to assist our larger plan. We can have support, to help push us, hold us accountable, and provide national networks, as we articulate a tent pole initiative that aligns with our vision.”

Congratulations, Daniel! We’re looking forward to following your journey as you continue to make impactful change in the West Michigan community.

The 2021 class joins more than 80 past Aspen Institute Ascend Fellows selected for their visionary leadership and readiness to make a quantum leap forward toward breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty for families in America. You can read about the fellows here: https://ascend.aspeninstitute.org/2021-class-fellows/