Our Sponsor, the WLI


The Wisconsin Leadership Institute (WLI) was created as an initiative of the Wisconsin Governor’s Commission on the Study of Administrative Value and Efficiency (the SAVE Commission), which conducted a wide-ranging study of strategies to enhance the performance of state, county, and municipal governments in Wisconsin.

After eighteen months of research and discussions within special task forces and existing groups all over the state, the Commission issued a report in 1995 which listed 21 problem areas and projects for improvement. The top priority was creation of an institute to develop leadership skills and values among public servants at all levels of government. The report on which the Commission based its recommendation for a leadership institute was written by Dr. Jack Christ, Professor and Director of Leadership Studies at Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin.

A broad-based steering committee chaired by Dr. Christ spent much of 1995 developing the Wisconsin Leadership Institute, which was formally incorporated in December, 1995, with headquarters at Ripon College. The first President of the WLI board of directors was Virginia Duncan (now Gilmore); the first Executive Director was Jack Christ. In 1997, the WLI entered into a formal agreement with Ripon College to maintain separate nonprofit identities but to collaborate on projects and on creation of educational materials for national and global distribution. In 1998, the WLI produced a series of four audio cassette programs collectively titled Transforming Leadership. The WLI achieved official nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization in 2000.

Also in 2000, the WLI created the Collaborative Leadership Network (CLN). As a qualified subsidiary of the WLI, the CLN changed the orientation of the WLI from service to leaders in Wisconsin government to educational projects and materials for youth. In 2002, the CLN initiated its first “Wisconsin Collaborative Leader of the Year” award, won by the WLI’s first board president, Virginia Duncan Gilmore. (A list of all winners is included below.) In 2008, after four years of research and development with support from the Sophia Foundation in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, the WLI published Leading Together: Foundations of Collaborative Leadership, a four-year curriculum for use in high-school classrooms and youth leadership groups.

  • WLI Mission: We aim to transform society and culture by providing aspiring leaders with opportunities for self-renewal and development of leadership skills, values, and behaviors.
  • WLI Vision: The Wisconsin Leadership Institute will be a primary resource for encouraging, supporting, and connecting aspiring leaders so they grow in capacity to lead and serve.
  • WLI Core Values: courage, compassion, continuous learning, service to others

In 2015, the WLI board created Our Better Angels as another qualified subsidiary to expand its mission in support of a wide variety of Good Causes, mostly but not exclusively nonprofit organizations.

Winners of the Wisconsin Leadership Institute “Collaborative Leader of the Year” Award

  • 2002 – Virginia Duncan Gilmore
  • 2003 – Jack Christ
  • 2004 – Laurie Frank, Carol Carlin
  • 2005 – Tommy Thompson
  • 2006 – John Stanley
  • 2007 – Carla Hacker
  • 2008 – Frank Cumberbatch
  • 2009 – Robert Kovar, Ernie St. Germaine
  • 2010 – Greg Giles
  • 2011 – The Green Lake Correctional Facility
  • 2012 – Jeff Smoller, Jack Palmer, Mike Richie for Rivers as Bridges
  • 2013 – Tom Thibodeau
  • 2014 – Richard Pieper
  • 2016 – The Near West Side Partnership – Milwaukee
  • 2017-18 – Diane Hendricks

Current Members of the WLI Board of Directors

  • Mark Zanoni, President
  • Mary Avery, Vice President
  • Terry Shelton, Secretary
  • Bill Schultz, Treasurer
  • David Sakrison
  • Jason Kauffeld
  • Dr. Jack Christ, Executive Director


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