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Jill Ker Conway: From author to activist with a few big board positions along the way

  |  January 21, 2015

JANUARY 22, 2015 –  As much as she tries, Jill Ker Conway is not doing a good job of clearing her diary.

“I’m trying very hard to create another space in my life for reading and reflection,” says the Australian-American academic and business leader, laughing. “I’m still interested in writing, so time for that is also important. We usually start the week saying I’m going to take time off here and here, but things come in.”

We are sitting in Ms Ker Conway’s spacious apartment on Boston’s leafy Commonwealth Avenue. Her home since 1992, it also doubles as her office.

One of America’s most senior female corporate figures, she has “just gotten off endless boards” — from Nike to the John F Kennedy Library and Boston Museum. But her advanced years have not stopped her joining new ones.

Now 80, the long-time feminist has once again turned to activism. She is chairwoman of Community Solutions, a hard-hitting New York-based not-for-profit organisation set up in 2011 to help find permanent housing for homeless people across the US. “It’s very lively and innovative. I’m just so interested in how different groups with different backgrounds go about trying to improve this vast society” she says.

“The goal for Community Solutions has been to transform the language in which people talk about the homeless, to develop a sense of respect and change the expectation about what might happen if someone is helped to get shelter.”

As well as communications, her role centres on fundraising and running the board. In terms of the latter, the mainly young team could hardly have done better: Ms Ker Conway sat on Nike’s board for 25 years, Colgate-Palmolive’s for 26 and Merrill Lynch’s for nearly 30, among many others.