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  • U.S. former President Barack Obama pauses and looks on during an event.

    U.S. former President Barack Obama pauses and looks on during an event. | Photo: Reuters

Published 21 January 2017

Thought the foundation passes itself off as a vehicle for regular citizens to submit project proposals, it seems unlikely its corporate leadership will cast a wide net.

Former U.S. president Barack Obama unveiled that he will continue his work shaping “what it means to be a good citizen in the 21st century” through the Obama Foundation—and its board is stacked with corporate power players.

The Audacity of Obama's Farewell Address

The foundation is described as “a living, working start-up for citizenship” that will “advance our mission”—not specified—as it runs a museum that tells the Obama story and a library that holds the presidential archives. The Center will be housed in the heart of the now-gentrifying Jackson Park of Chicago’s South Side.

The man leading the operation, Martin Nesbitt, founded private equity firm The Vistria Group and serves on the boards of charter school and global real estate groups. A privatization expert, Nesbitt’s Vistria Group invests in companies at "the nexus of the public and private sectors" like education and health care.

Real estate and finance exec Robbin Cohen will serve as executive director, former Democratic National Committee fundraiser Jordan Kaplan will be chief development officer and Walt Disney “corporate citizenship” expert Michael Strautmanis is vice president of public engagement.

The board members—three out of eleven of them women—hold similar resumes. On it are the foundation’s president Kevin Poorman, CEO of a private investment firm and realty group; venture capitalist John Doerr who has worked with Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO, and Larry Page, co-founder of Google; Texaco and Coca-Cola veteran Deval Patrick who now runs Bain Capital Double Impact; Obama advisor-turned-Uber senior vice president David Plouffe; McDonald’s Corporation board member John Rogers; UBS and drone entrepreneur Robert Wolf and a handful of other business leaders and consultants.

While the foundation’s website lets users submit ideas for projects in Chicago and abroad, the leadership’s portfolio suggests it may not be by and for the people as advertised.

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