Meet Our 2021 John W. Gardner Leadership Award Recipients – Dr. Gail C. Christopher and Professor john a. powell

During this difficult time when we’ve all had to double down to meet the extraordinary challenges posed by the pandemic and racial unrest, Independent Sector is doubly proud to announce the two exceptional recipients of our 2021 John W. Gardner Leadership Award – Dr. Gail C. Christopher and Professor john a. powell.

Since 1985, IS presents the annual award to visionaries who exemplify the leadership and ideals of John W. Gardner — 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, an award-winning social change agent with expertise in the social determinants of health and well-being and in related public policies, is known for her pioneering work to infuse holistic health and diversity concepts into public sector programs and policy discourse.

Professor powell has written extensively on 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 has authored several books, including his latest, Racing to Justice: Transforming our Concepts of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society.

Calling out the demand for strong nonprofit leadership in the face of these difficult times, IS President and CEO Dan Cardinali congratulated the awardees on their  extraordinary contributions toward the vital importance of holistic health and the identification and elimination of barriers to an inclusive, just, and sustainable society. He notes, “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.”

Dr. Christopher and Professor powell were honored both to receive and share the 2021 Gardner 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, chair of the 2021 John W. Gardner Leadership Award Committee, and President and CEO of PolicyLink, also 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.”

You can get to know Dr. Christopher and Professor powell better when they formally accept the Gardner Award during the Upswell Summit, October 20-22. Powered by Independent Sector, the Upswell Summit is an annual gathering of changemakers collectively pursuing a healthier and more equitable society where all people can thrive. Find out more at

Types: Blog
Global Topics: Civil Society
Focus Areas: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion