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Jill Ker Conway
Purpose Prize Fellow 2013
Smith College’s first female president, Conway co-founds a data-driven program to house the homeless — at age 76.
Born in the Australian outback, Jill Ker Conway ventured to the United States for an illustrious academic career capped by her appointment as Smith College’s first woman president. But she wasn’t done yet. In 2011, at age 76, she embarked on an encore career as a social entrepreneur. With co-founder Rosanne Haggerty, she launched Community Solutions, an innovative, evidence-based program to find homes for the nation’s most vulnerable homeless people.
Taking a public health approach, working closely with physicians, Community Solutions created a person-specific registry of a community’s homeless population to identify those most in need of help. With a survey tool called the Vulnerability Index, those likely to be frequent users of hospitals and emergency services are identified and connected with individuals and families who can provide stable homes. Besides helping homeless individuals, the program saves community resources by reducing use of emergency room care.
In just two years, Community Solutions has become the largest operation of its kind, and attracted national media attention, including 60 Minutes. Headquartered in New York City, the organization works with 89 communities around the country, and so far has housed 40,000 people.
Says Conway: “It is particularly satisfying to me to work on creating a new language for how we can and must operate differently, beyond organizational lines, to solve the complex problems facing our communities in the 21st century.”