The Institutions That Shape Us

Dr. Ken Gladish, President & CEO, Seton FoundationsDr. Ken Gladish
President & CEO
Seton Foundations

May 1, 2015 - Reflecting on his upbringing in suburban Illinois, Dr. Ken Gladish recalls many times when influential mentors entrusted him with the co-creation of his community through acts of service. The local YMCA director recruited him to act as the youth spokesperson for a capital campaign, a role that placed him in front of Rotary clubs, churches, and public ministries throughout his community. One of his high school teachers led him and a group of classmates to found the Lawndale Tutoring Project, a service that matched underserved high school students with tutors and other resources to supplement their education. It seems he was always actively engaged, as well, in fundraising for any number of causes at his schools, YMCA, or church. Of the major influences on his life, Dr. Gladish identifies four key institutions: family, church, school, and community-based membership organizations.

However, Dr. Gladish sees these institutions under stress and strain in today’s society. "The amount of time people self-report about being with their children is on the decline, almost without regard to financial situation," he points out. "There is a substantial decline in financial support, participation, and attendance in churches. We used to talk about civics in school, but testing has taken over. With the focus on fundamentals and testing, the attention on civic life and community life is under stress." Dr. Gladish also describes a precipitous decline in children’s participation in community-based membership organizations such as the YMCA and Scouting as compared to previous times. In terms of cultivating a culture of philanthropy and generosity, the question for Dr. Gladish is, "What will take the place of these declining institutions?"

This summer, Dr. Gladish seeks to answer that question and others through his course, Perspectives of Philanthropy, Civil Society, and American Life. He will begin the course by guiding students through a personal inventory of the nonprofit and philanthropic organizations that have impacted their lives. "Our political way of life is just as much dependent on the social sector as it is on the government, economic, and family sectors", argues Dr. Gladish. Students will examine the relationships among these sectors and their functions in society at large. Each weekly session of the 10-week course will feature a guest appearance by a central Texas nonprofit leader. "The RGK Center has benefited from the expertise and generosity of Dr. Gladish in countless ways over the years," said RGK Center Director David W. Springer. "I am delighted that Ken will be back in the classroom, where students will benefit from his wealth of experience and knowledge as they work together to generate thoughtful responses to complex questions about sustaining a civil society."

As president and CEO of Seton Foundations, Dr. Gladish is responsible for inspiring donors, engaging volunteers, and building endowments for the Seton Healthcare Family. This network of more than 100 clinical locations across Central Texas is dedicated to the mission of serving the poor and vulnerable. Indeed, over the last 10 years, Seton has donated $2.5 billion in care and $2 billion in projects and programs that benefit the community. Seton Foundations also deploys 4,000-5,000 volunteers and is responsible for raising $50 million to build and equip the new Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas, to open in 2017.

Dr. Gladish is a member of the RGK Center Advisory Council and a regular adjunct faculty member at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. Immediately prior to joining Seton, he served as president and CEO of the Austin Community Foundation. Dr. Gladish’s career includes service as president of the YMCA of the USA and various academic leadership roles in Michigan and Indiana. He served as a distinguished professor of Nonprofit Studies and director of the Grantmaking School at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership and as visiting scholar at the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy. Read more about Dr. Gladish.