The 25 Most Influential People in Greater Madison
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When we undertook our Most Influential project, our staff wanted to identify people in the community who fly under the radar, in addition to those whose influence is rather obvious.
For this, our inaugural Most Influential presentation, we focused on more recent impact. A variety of nominees have demonstrated influence, in a variety of endeavors, over the past decade, or during the course of their entire lifetimes. But at the risk of sounding crass, this year’s approach is more about the following question: What have you done for us lately?
We thank the people who came forward with dozens of nominations. We chose only 25 people, but in truth you could make a strong case for virtually every person who was nominated. Nominations for next year’s Most Influential class will be accepted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With that, here is our first look at the Most Influential People in Greater Madison.
Ellen Barnard: Eatables Enabler
Ellen Barnard looks like the type of person who would (lovingly) admonish people to eat their fruits and vegetables, and she’s doing just that through the FEED Kitchens, a community resource that’s part commercial kitchen site, part food-business incubator.
The list of organizations, businesses, and food-service apprentices that stand to benefit from FEED (Food Enterprise and Economic Development) is long and growing, especially now that the incubator has moved into a larger facility in the Northgate Shopping Center.
Before establishing this foodie foundation, Barnard started her own business, A Woman’s Touch Sexuality Resource Center, in 1996 (it’s still going strong) and served as the co-chair of the Northside Planning Council. Barnard and the council championed the FEED Kitchens to support local food entrepreneurs and others. The facility features five industrial kitchens, available on a rent-by-the-hour basis.
Armed with a degree in social work from UW-Madison, Barnard can be confident that her contributions to society are only growing. Among those who are feeding off the new kitchen are local food pantries, schools interested in serving fresh fruits and vegetables to students, and others looking to serve healthy meals to disadvantaged populations.
Shannon Barry: Transformer
Shannon Barry is leading a transformation. Barry, executive director of Domestic Abuse Intervention Services, has made it possible for DAIS to deliver on a new facility that will not only result in a sizable expansion, but also represent a new day for local domestic violence services.
Barry now runs the smallest domestic violence center per capita in the state of Wisconsin, but she doesn’t serve the smallest city. Her fundraising prowess was put to the test by DAIS’s new $5.6 million Fordem Avenue facility, but she passed with flying colors. When completed, the 35,000-square-foot facility will allow DAIS to nearly double its 24-member workforce, expand its services, and provide twice as many beds for domestic violence victims.
The current facility has 25 beds, but the number of people on a nightly waiting list who are in imminent danger of being seriously harmed or killed by their batterers is nearly three times as large. Barry believes six other core programs — including help-line support groups, legal advocacy services, and face-to-face crisis response — can reduce the need for shelter.
By helping to make this new public space a reality, she demonstrated the kind of creativity and pragmatic leadership that serves her staff, the community, and people in abusive relationships.
Zach Brandon: Business Advocate
Throughout his career in the public and private sectors, former Madison alder Zach Brandon has noted the link between sustainable progressivity and strong business activity. And now Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, is building on the growth foundation of his predecessor, Jennifer Alexander.
In Brandon’s case, past is economic development prologue. As a former director of the Wisconsin Angel Network, an early-stage investment organization, he helped build the state’s network of angel investor groups. As a former deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, now the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., his focus was on global trade and business development.
With the GMCC, he’s applying his past experience as part owner of three business startups to advocate for 1,300 chamber members. When an energy-benchmarking proposal was introduced last year, the chamber was a leading voice in pointing out the business impacts of a mandated approach, and its sponsoring alders have gone back to the drawing board. The result could be a program based on education and incentives.
More recently, the chamber joined forces with Accelerate Madison to further develop a vital business cluster — information technology. Partnering with an organization dedicated to advancing the role of digital technology in economic development is perfectly aligned with Brandon’s focus on entrepreneurship and innovation.
Kaleem Caire: Reformer
He’s no longer president and CEO of the local Urban League, but anyone who doubts Kaleem Caire’s lingering influence should take note of a pledge. That pledge, made by the Madison Metropolitan School District, is to improve educational outcomes of African American students and economically disadvantaged students in general.
Caire had tried to advance the ball through the Urban League’s Madison Preparatory Academy proposal, but Madison Prep was shot down by the Madison School Board. The idea behind Madison Prep was to bring the kind of transformative change that its supporters believe is needed, but it was too much change for Madisonians to embrace.
But the board’s controversial decision didn’t take the school district off the hook; it ratcheted up the pressure to close the educational attainment gap between white and non-white students. The tenure of Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham will be judged on that and other goals.
Caire not only offered a solution, he also shined a bright spotlight on the achievement gap and inspired a legion of advocates who won’t let it be dimmed anytime soon, especially now that he’s reportedly considering another try at a minority charter school.