JEFF LEITNER is a social innovator and pioneer in the design and engineering of social change.
As the inaugural Innovator in Residence at the University of Southern California in the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work (2014 - ), he facilitated design and development of the first professional doctorate in social innovation, the first graduate nursing program to emphasize both biomedical and social factors, a graduate fellowship in social innovation, and the field’s first academic roundtable on social innovation. He also contributed to breakthrough work in child welfare, arts and social change, expansion of the scope of social work, and the field’s national priorities.
As Bretton Woods II Fellow at New America (2015 - ), he developed the first sequence for achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals - based on a survey with the OECD of economists, political scientists and social scientists around the world. He is now partnering with data and AI scientists to develop the first machine learning application for determining the optimal order for addressing SDG targets.
As a co-founder and director of UX for Good (2011 - ), he launched the first effort to leverage experience design to solve social problems. Among its initial ventures were partnerships with the Dalai Lama Center for Peace + Education to advance social-emotional learning in public schools, with Aegis Trust to boost the impact of genocide memorials in Africa and Europe, and with the GRAMMY Foundation to raise the standard of living for professional musicians in New Orleans.
As a founder and managing director of GreenHouse (2014-17), he led development of Innovation Dynamics, the first systematic approach to social innovation and change - now taught in universities and the private sector. He managed most of the company’s consulting portfolio and contributed to the company’s work in training and education.
As Founder and Dean of Insight Labs (2010-14), he enlisted more than 600 scientists, artists, academics, and executives to rethink strategy for 45 governments, institutions and NGOs - including the U.S. Department of State, Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital, National Endowment for the Arts, Harvard Medical School, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, TED Conferences, Ashoka, NASA, United States National Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Community of Democracies. He co-founded and facilitated Law 2023, a partnership with executives in the U.S. legal industry to analyze trends in technology, economics, and demographics and their future impact on the business of law. He also designed and led development of the Greenhouse Fellowship, a partnership with the Foundations of East Chicago, Indiana to prepare the city’s next generation of civic leaders.
As Founder and Managing Director of Leitner Public Affairs (2003-09), he designed public affairs and engagement strategies for a dozen corporations, institutions and non-profits. Some of the resulting initiatives are still running, including a new national model for taxicab advertising, an alliance between businesses and community colleges in Michigan, and Job1 - a partnership between Rotary and the City of Chicago to provide jobs and job training for disadvantaged youth.
As Vice President of Public Affairs at Haymarket (1997-2003), he managed or consulted to more than 30 political campaigns - including those for U.S. Congressman, Illinois Governor, Illinois Treasurer, Illinois Supreme Court Justice, Illinois Appellate Court Justice, Cook County State’s Attorney, Cook County Commissioner, and Chicago Alderman - and more than a dozen public affairs campaigns on behalf of governments, universities, hospitals, corporations and nonprofits.
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He authored more than 1,500 bylined articles for Copley Newspapers, for which he covered government and politics in northeast Illinois.
He is co-owner and director of Schmaltz Delicatessen and Schmacon, named Innovation of the Year by the National Restaurant Association.
He lived and worked at Kibbutz Hazorea near Haifa, Israel, where he studied Hebrew and Middle East history and policy.
He was board president of Emerald City Theatre, during which time it grew to be Chicago’s fifth-largest theater company.
He earned his M.A. in journalism from The Ohio State University and B.A. in government from the University of Texas.