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Women Bisnow
December 12, 2007

The Woman Behind America’s Promise

This issue of Washington Women is presented by
The Reznick Group:
"Building Business Value"

By Karin Tanabe

What is the secret to founding a successful public company? Join forces with Lamar Alexander and Captain Kangaroo.

Before serving in her current role CEO of America’s Promise, Marguerite Kondracke co-founded Corporate Family Solutions in 1987. Now known as Bright Horizons Family Solutions, the company was the first to bring childcare to the workplace. Kondracke convinced businesses they would get a return on their investment and a more productive, loyal workforce if parents and children were under the same roof.

It was wedding bells in for Marguerite and journalist Mort Kondracke in 2006.

“I have been deeply committed to the needs of children and mothers for 40 years,” says Kondracke. “I’m 61 now and I began volunteering at a teen pregnancy clinic right out of college.” A religion major at Duke, the Nashville native says she did not have a sense of career during her days as a Blue Devil. When she became a single mother, Kondracke began sprinting down the path she never strayed from, confirming her commitment to children and families.

Marguerite headed out to Appalachia to work for the Tennessee health department before being named to Governor Lamar Alexander’s cabinet as Commissioner of Human Services. When now Senator Alexander moved to Washington, he took Kondracke with him to serve as Special Assistant as well as Staff Director for the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families.

The America’s Promise Alliance grew out of a 1997 Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future. Many of the leaders present then are pictured here at the Alliance’s 10th Anniversary celebration. From left to right: Journalist Mort Kondracke, President Bill Clinton, Current Chairwoman Alma Powell, President George H.W. Bush, Marguerite, and the Alliance’s founding Chairman General Colin Powell.

Celebrating its 10-year anniversary in 2007, America’s Promise believes every young person needs five promises to be successful: caring adults, safe places, a healthy start, an effective education with marketable skills, and an opportunity to help others. “Two thirds of children in the country today do not have at least 4 of these 5 promises,” says Marguerite. “Clear evidence of that is the dropout crisis. Half the young people of color do not finish high school and one third of all young people do not, with most dropouts occurring in 9th grade. This is our number one priority.” Kondracke tells us the numbers are even more alarming in Washington.

Marguerite believes one of the main reasons dropout rates are so high is that 35 states allow teenagers to leave school at 16.

Earlier this year, America’s Promise enacted a five-year-plan to change the lives of 15 million disadvantaged young people. “We hope to bring these five promises to schools and make them more of a community resource – more after school programs, mentors, health clinics.”

In the realm of health care, Marguerite notes that nine million children do not have health insurance though six million are eligible for Medicaid and SCHIP.  America’s Promise hopes to begin enrolling children right through their schools. 

“I think it has crept up on us,” she says of the calamitous yet quiet crisis. “Children are not on the radar screen for our nation. Our elected officials don’t ever talk about them. I think it’s because children don’t vote or write campaign cheeks.”

Kondracke firmly believes that for the political will to change, the public needs to speak up. To turn the spark into a conflagration, America’s Promise in January will be announcing 50 dropout summits in all 50 states, and 50 more in the nation’s largest cities.  “We call this our Sputnik moment. It is like a cancer eating at the foundation of our country and we’re not paying attention.”

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