Careers at the Aspen Institute
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Aspen Institute employees come from a wide range of backgrounds and possess a unique blend of education, skill, and policy experience. We recognize that our people are our vital resource and we value their knowledge, enthusiasm, and commitment. At the Aspen Institute we offer competitive salaries and a wide variety of benefits to our employees and their families.

If you would enjoy working in a dynamic environment and are looking for an opportunity to become part of a stellar team of professionals, we invite you to apply online today.

Assistant Director, Leadership Innovation and Systems Change

Department: ASCEND
Location: Washington, DC

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Since its founding in 1949, the Institute has been driving change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most critical challenges facing communities in the United States and around the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners.

Ascend at the Aspen Institute is the national hub for breakthrough ideas and collaborations to build family economic prosperity and well-being. Ascend embraces a two-generation approach – focusing on children and the adults in their lives together – and is committed to centering gender, racial equity and lived experience in our work. We believe that early childhood learning and care postsecondary education/employment pathways for parents, economic assets, social capital, and health and well-being are the core elements that enable families to achieve their full potential. As a leading model of social innovation, Ascend has been on the forefront of advancing policies, systems, practice, and community solutions. We have built an ecosystem of diverse leaders and multi-sector organizations through a highly selective national fellowship program and national 2Gen Network active in all 50 states, DC and Puerto Rico in addition to leveraging network and various collaborations with other Aspen Institute programs. Ascend engages the perspectives, strengths, and resilience of families with low incomes to inform program design and policy development.  The Ascend theory of policy and systems change follows the methodology of lived experience and expertise + research and data + best and promising practice with the power of leadership to co-create and advance solutions.

The Ascend Fellowship is our signature leadership program focused on leaders with bold ideas who are positioned to take a quantum leap and move the needle on economic and social mobility pathways for children and their families. Fellows bring entrepreneurial drive, intellectual depth and curiosity, commitment to justice, and a mindset of generosity and equity. Ascend Fellows are established leaders with high potential for greater impact and influence as they catalyze significant policy, systems, practice level change through their individual action plans that will create field or national level change and/or innovation. Selection is highly competitive, and expectations for change are high.  

Ascend’s successful track record of impact and influence success is driven by three primary levers/strategies, including investing in values-based leadership to accelerate and amplify policy and systems change and innovation across sectors; to incubate, innovate and spread “Big Idea and High-Impact” solutions; and leveraging the power of convening and radical collaboration to bridge divides and build field momentum.


The Assistant Director, Leadership Innovation and Systems Change is a new position that reports to a senior leader on the Fellowship team and works closely with the Executive Director and Managing Director on strategy and program development with a priority focus on the Ascend Fellowship program and, specifically, the individual and collective impact the Ascend Fellows have on their organizations and spheres of influence to advance the well-being of children and families. You will work as a coach, strategist, and program designer, with a keen eye toward ensuring the scalability of our impact. You will contribute to curriculum enhancements and identify new opportunities and models to accelerate our Fellows’ work. In this role, you will lead our continuous improvement efforts, strategic expansion/scalability, and work to assess and increase the impact of Fellows and our leadership development model as well as support fellows to leverage the power of our national two-generation network. You will support, accelerate, and assess Fellows’ individual action plans and collaborative projects, both in the context of their Fellowship and as alumni. The Assistant Director, Leadership Innovation and Systems Change will also explore ways to further deepen Ascend’s impact in the field and leverage the work of the Fellows for policy and systems level change, amplifying existing strategies and creating and testing new pathways of policy influence. You will also contribute to planning for Ascend’s 10-year field impact strategy. You will have the active support of a program manager (and will subsequently hire a program associate in year one), manage a significant budget, and leverage the broader Ascend team to ensure Fellows have the comprehensive support they need to lead successful initiatives.

The ideal candidate is a policy, innovation, and systems change expert, particularly at the state government level, and ideally within Ascend’s focus areas of family prosperity and economic and social mobility solutions for children and families. You will also have some experience in full-cycle program management (design, implementation, evaluation, etc). You are grounded in the importance of gender, racial equity, and lived experiences. Finally, the successful candidate will bring strong writing and analytical skills to contribute to Ascend’s strategic communications about the impact our Fellows are having across the nation. 

Program Strategy, Learning, and Scaling

  • Contribute to the design and codification of the Fellowship experience, including recruitment, curriculum design, alumni engagement, etc., particularly related to areas of system thinking and policy change;
  • Serve as a coach, trusted advisor, and convener for Fellows, providing technical assistance to strengthen and accelerate Fellows’ vision/action plans and collaborations (including strategic guidance, research, document review, connection to expertise and other resources, recommendations for innovation and/or scale, etc.);
  • Represent Ascend as a senior leader in presenting to Fellows’ organizations and boards, at national convenings, and other external engagements;
  • Maintain and strengthen an evaluation and learning framework to continue to assess and improve Fellows’ action plans, accountability, and impact, consistently enabling fellows and the Ascend team to scale what works;
  • Identify and build partnerships with content experts, faculty, and others to expand the knowledge base, partnerships, intellectual leadership, and effectiveness of the Fellowship; 
  • Contribute to Fellow identification/selection, building a diverse cohort with the potential to make real change for families’ economic security; and
  • Work closely with program and communications staff to capture and promote Fellow and field learnings and impact, particularly related to gender, racial equity, lived experiences and inclusion as well as program outcomes overall;
  • Collaborate with program staff to design and deliver Fellowship forums and other strategic convenings in support of Ascend’s goals.

Accelerate and influence systems change

  • Develop strategic relationships with national and state policy, practice/program, research partners and on the ground innovators;
  • Ensure Ascend Fellowship is integrated and aligned with other Ascend strategic priorities, including the Ascend Network, policy agenda, strategic communications, and women’s economic security portfolio;
  • Lead implementation of innovation and/or research topics and publications that generate new ideas and opportunities to make 1+1=5;
  • Develop and execute strategies and models that amplify Ascend Fellows’ impact and expertise with strategic audiences of policymakers, funders, and media;
  • Serve on design team for first Leadership Impact Forum, convening Fellows, alumni, and funders around future for children and families at the Aspen Institute campus; 
  • Develop strategic philanthropic, education, and engagement strategies related to our Fellowship/leadership framework; 
  • Identify new potential funders, contribute to funder reports and proposals; and
  • Contribute to team-wide knowledge management and continuous improvement.


  • 7-10 years of progressive leadership experience in policy, innovation, and systems change experience;
  • Experience and intellectual depth in at least one or more of the core components of Ascend’s two-generation approach is a strong plus: e.g. early childhood learning and care, postsecondary education/employment pathways, economic supports/assets, social capital, and health;
  • Ability to effectively work with diverse audiences and stakeholders, bringing a deep commitment to racial and gender equity, understanding lived experiences, social justice and to embedding equity and inclusion into our work;
  • Experience in systems thinking, innovation, implementation science, rapid cycle prototyping and methodologies, and/or other best practice models is a plus;
  • Experience and savvy in developing and delivering technical assistance that ensures solutions scale and spread with clear results and discipline; 
  • Entrepreneurial acumen and drive, ability to see and respond to opportunities to strengthen and/or course correct to increase impact and drive systems change;
  • Experience navigating the intricacies of supporting and managing cross-sector stakeholder groups and partnerships at local, regional, and state levels 
  • High emotional intelligence, humility, and ability to develop deep relationships and respect with diverse leaders, organizations that cross sectors, geographies, class, power, and race and ethnicity;
  • Strong writing and editing skills, track record of effective communication that engages audiences from public, private, and nonprofit sectors;
  • Proven ability to manage and motivate teams;
  • Thrives in big picture strategy and can hold details needed for strong execution
  • Ability to influence both internal and externally, across diverse teams and levels, as well as in understanding how to create change and inspire action in others; and
  • Willingness and ability to travel (may be up to 25% of the time).

Visit our career page at Work at the Aspen Institute | The Aspen Institute and follow the instructions for uploading your cover letter, sample of your work or writing, and resume. All interested applicants must submit all three: cover letter, work sample, and resume. The cover letter should highlight applicant’s qualifications and share why this exceptional opportunity is a strong fit. The work/writing sample is an opportunity to for candidates to show us their work. The sample can be a relevant article, case study, interview, video, or surprise us. 

Applications without resume, cover letter, and sample of work will not be considered. 

The Institute has implemented a mandatory COVID vaccination policy for all employees who will work at one of our physical locations, attend any of our in-person events or travel on behalf of the Institute. Staff unable to be vaccinated may request an exemption under certain circumstances. 

 The Aspen Institute is an Equal Opportunity Employer and complies with all District and federal laws. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or protected veteran or disabled status and will not be discriminated against. 

Candidate must have the ability to work under pressure and handle stress. Candidate must also have the ability to meet the regular attendance policy of the Aspen Institute. 


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