Independent Sector Names Recipients of 2021 John W. Gardner Leadership Award

Dr. Gail C. Christopher and Professor john a. powell Receive Honors From National Membership Organization That Brings Together Changemakers, Nonprofits, Foundations, and Corporations

Washington, District of Columbia, UNITED STATES

Washington, Aug. 11, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Dr. Gail C. Christopher and Professor john a. powell have been named the recipients of Independent Sector’s 2021 John W. Gardner Leadership Award. Dr. Christopher is Executive Director of the National Collaborative for Health Equity. Professor powell is Director of the Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.

Since 1985, Independent Sector has presented the John W. Gardner Leadership Award annually to visionaries who exemplify the leadership and ideals of John W. Gardner (1912-2002), American statesman, educator, author, and IS founder. The award honors extraordinary social sector champions whose collective work has transformed the nonprofit community and mobilized and unified people, institutions, or causes to positively impact the ability of all Americans to thrive.

Dr. Christopher is an award-winning social change agent with expertise in the social determinants of health and well-being and in related public policies. She is known for her pioneering work to infuse holistic health and diversity concepts into public sector programs and policy discourse. In her role as the Senior Advisor and Vice President at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), she was the driving force behind the America Healing initiative and the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation effort. In 2015, she received the Terrance Keenan Award from Grantmakers in Health. She chairs the Board of the Trust for America’s Health. Dr. Christopher is also a Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and Senior Scholar, George Mason University, Center for the Advancement of Well-Being.

Professor powell has written extensively on a number of issues including structural racism, racial justice, concentrated poverty, opportunity-based housing, voting rights, affirmative action in the United States, South Africa and Brazil, racial and ethnic identity, spirituality and social justice, and the needs of citizens in a democratic society. He is the author of several books, including his most recent work, Racing to Justice: Transforming our Concepts of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society. Professor powell also founded and directed the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota.

“The formidable challenges facing our country at this time demand the strong nonprofit leadership to help our country achieve the transformative change that is required to create a healthier and more equitable country where all people can thrive,” said Daniel J. Cardinali, President and CEO of Independent Sector. “With their extraordinary contributions toward the vital importance of holistic health and the importance of identifying and eliminating barriers to an inclusive, just, and sustainable society, I cannot think of two people who are more deserving of this highest recognition by the sector. We could not be more pleased to honor both Dr. Christopher and Professor powell with the 2021 John W. Gardner Leadership Award.”

“I am honored to share this award with Professor john a. powell and have long admired his leadership. I consider him a kindred spirit in this vital work for healing, equity, and racial justice,” said Dr. Christopher. “The life and work of John W. Gardner and the institutions he created have been an inspiration to me for my entire career. This recognition holds special meaning to me as I view our sector, especially nonprofits and Independent Sector, as the connective tissue of our democracy, touching, protecting, and mobilizing every essential aspect of society. It is critically important that this organization continue fostering and amplifying collaborative, unifying work in communities across America.”

“I’m honored to join Dr. Gail Christopher as one of the two recipients of Independent Sector’s 2021 John W. Gardner Leadership Award, as well as being associated with the incredible honorees of the past,” said Professor john a. powell. The sector's collective focus on racial justice and health remains so critical to fostering structural change and greater belonging and could not be more urgent. We need more collaborative leadership on these goals – especially among women and men and from nonprofits, philanthropy, universities, government, and civil society.”

Michael McAfee, a member of the IS Board of Directors who served as chair of the 2021 John W. Gardner Leadership Award Committee, praised the selection of this year’s recipients. “Dr. Gail Christopher and john powell represent what is possible in America. Their work is at the leading edge of the equity movement and invites us to see each other’s humanity, and design a world that works for everyone. John Gardner once said, ‘One exemplary act may affect one life, or even millions of lives. All those who set standards for themselves, who strengthen the bonds of community, who do their work creditably and accept individual responsibility, are building the common future.’ Because of Dr. Gail Christopher and john powell, America’s future is bright,” said McAfee, President and CEO of PolicyLink. 

Dr. Christopher and Professor powell will each formally accept the Gardner Award during the Upswell Summit, October 20-22. The Summit, powered by Independent Sector, is an annual gathering of changemakers collectively pursuing a healthier and more equitable society where all people can thrive. Learn more at




Independent Sector is the only national membership organization that brings together a diverse community of changemakers, nonprofits, foundations, and corporations working to strengthen civil society and ensure all people in the United States thrive. Learn more at


Media Contact for Aug. 11, 2021:

Debra Rainey