Lubbers in awe of Sagamore’s vital work serving the state and nation

President Teresa Lubbers on first year in role

"The question I ask is: If Sagamore doesn’t provide this action-oriented work, then who will? I love what Jay Hein says: We don’t admire problems; we admire solutions.  We are in the solution business. So, we take ideas, we look at the innovations that are taking those ideas to scale, and then we invest in those innovations.  The approach of ideas to innovation to investment is where Sagamore really needs to be focused even more in the future."

Q&A With Teresa Lubbers

What stands out to you in terms of lessons learned about leading the organization in the past year?

I thought I knew a lot — and I did know more than most people would know — about Sagamore, but what I had to come to grips with was how much I didn’t know about the breadth of offerings that we have and the ways in which we are engaged in important work, or the ways in which we’re not a traditional think tank.


So, I spent a lot of time during the first months learning as much as I can about the culture and the mission and the priorities of Sagamore. I am in awe of how much important work is being done here. We now need to make sure that we can do more of that by ensuring that people understand the value of the work.


I’ve often said there’s nothing broken at Sagamore, but we need the opportunity to amplify our good work. So, we need to tell our story better. I really have tried to build the brand that we are Indiana’s think tank. There is no other think tank in Indiana except Sagamore. And so, what are the things that we can uniquely do? And how can my leadership help us to expand into those areas?

You had a distinguished career in public service, as a state senator and Indiana commissioner of higher education, before joining Sagamore. How does this role extend your past work in helping to strengthen Indiana?

The thread that runs throughout my career has been my commitment to providing more opportunities for people through education and by growing the state’s economy. And that’s more important now than ever.


I’ve been informed by my personal experience of growing up on the east side of Indianapolis when per capita income in Indiana and in that neighborhood exceeded the national average. And then the auto industry changed, jobs changed. We used to say to people if you work hard, you can have a good middle-class life, and then all of a sudden, you could work hard and still be poor.


So, for me, it’s really been a commitment to upward mobility for people through education, and increasingly the relationship between the education you get and the career relevance that it provides.

One of the projects you’ve initiated is Workforce 2040, which will help inform state and local leaders as they make decisions about how to prepare for a changing economy, a changing educational landscape, and for the jobs of the future. It seems as if 2040 is far off. Why do we need to start preparing for that future now?

Workforce 2040 will be developed in keeping with the template that was used for Workforce 2000 and Workforce 2020. Thinking about the future has been a part of the tradition first at the Hudson Institute and now at Sagamore.


When Workforce 2000 was written, in the late ‘80s, the word workforce wasn’t really used. It was referred to as manpower. So, think about the changes that have taken place in our nation and the world since then.


The speed of change now is like nothing we’ve ever seen. And so often during recent months when I’ve been building the support for Workforce 2040, the response has been, “How can you even think about what the world would look like in 2040?” We didn’t want to lose the brand of Workforce 2040, but we now refer to the project as Workforce 2040: A Roadmap to the Future of Working and Learning.


It’s not a body of work that will say: This is what the world will look like in 2040. It is a body of work that will be developed and updated throughout this period of time, with changes and adjustments made as new realities emerge.


We have as our North Star thinking about how we build personal prosperity for Hoosiers and how we can meet Indiana’s economic needs from now until 2040.


The project is an example of what a think tank can do and what no one else really can do because that’s not their mission. As someone who was in government for decades, I understand that elected leaders are bound by election cycles and current needs. Taxpayers want you to take care of today’s problems, and as we should. Business is understandably concerned about the bottom line. Now, we have seen business leaders increasingly engaged in discussions about talent, because they have to be and want to be, but they also have a responsibility to be profitable now. Philanthropy has an important role, but it’s usually built around a particular sector.


So, what is it that Sagamore can do? Sometimes it is to lead, sometimes to convene, sometimes to partner. How do we build the value proposition of Sagamore by leading, convening and partnering better?


I think Workforce 2040 will be a signature body of work that will exemplify what Sagamore does and can do.

Sagamore in the past year has identified three pillars that will shape its research and other work: Opportunity, National Security and Citizenship (or civic health and engagement). Let’s talk about opportunity first. How is Sagamore working to help more Hoosiers overcome obstacles to securing a strong education and landing a good job?

We’ve been involved in education in the past, as a scholarship granting organization, for example. What became clear, however, is that we wanted to stand up a center for talent and opportunity to look at the obstacles that stand in the way of people living their best lives. Often, those obstacles involve education and training.


If you are looking for a metric that measures success in this area, I would say it’s upward mobility.  Increasingly, the path for upward mobility involves helping people to gain skills and to reskill to meet changing job needs. We can help to ensure that Indiana has the talent it needs, and that people have opportunities for upward mobility. That’s what the center for opportunity will focus on.

The second pillar is national security. That may seem like an unusual area of focus for a think tank based in Indiana. What is the foundation for Sagamore’s work on issues of national security?

If you look back at the creation of Sagamore, Dan Coats (who co-founded the institute) has served as a U.S. senator, an ambassador, and as director of National Intelligence. So, national defense certainly has been a part of Sagamore’s ecosystem.


Let me give you an example of what we’re doing in this space. We’re looking at the idea of building up defense technology based on Indiana’s strengths with Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center in southern Indiana to Purdue’s renowned role in space exploration to Indiana industries’ work in national defense.  At Sagamore, we also have fellows such as Alan Dowd who are experts in national security.


Indiana can help keep America safe. And at the same time, increasing Indiana’s role in national security can generate jobs.  With defense technology, you need all kinds of new talent.


And so, Sagamore has a history of work on national security, and we have scholars and policy experts. We also now have new initiatives focused on defense and workforce. We are focused on Indiana, but this effort has national reach.


Sagamore Institute produces insights into sticky problems and emerging solutions through thought leadership, convening, and applied research. Commonwealth helps to sustain new ideas and innovations through strategic philanthropy and enterprise. Learn more about our model here.

The third pillar involves citizenship – we might also describe it as civic engagement and civic health. How is Sagamore helping to restore and strengthen civic health and engagement in Indiana and beyond?

When we look at the area of civil society and active citizenship, the conversation is often around the negatives. People talk about broken politics and say they don’t want anything to do with it or say that it really doesn’t affect them. To which I say, let me tell you all the ways in which either government actions or citizens’ lack of engagement has impacted your life.


Too few people understand the beauty and enduring qualities of how this country was established. If you don’t understand our shared history, it makes it much more difficult to build consensus around big ideas.


A lot of people and organizations are working on election reforms or specific issues. That’s important, but we focus on building knowledge so that voters have a better understanding of issues. Our annual conference on citizenship is an example of our work in this area. A few years ago, we focused on mental health. Last year, it was focused on how Indiana can help keep America safe. This year, we probably will focus on talent and workforce development and issues related to the economy.


We say that the preservation of democracy depends on the engagement and education of the individual. And that’s what we’re committed to promoting.

Sagamore is approaching the 20th anniversary of its founding by Sen. Dan Coats and Jay Hein. What is the vision for Sagamore as it moves into 2024 and beyond?

 It’s to build on our legacy, but to acknowledge that the world is changing.  How do we maintain a commitment to enduring values while developing strategies for change? Let’s take the work that we’re doing with Workforce 2040. No one could argue with the fact that talent needs are very different now, and that if you’re going to deal with income disparity and making sure you don’t leave people behind, which is one of our goals, then you have to do it in a 21st century kind of way.


Our next 20 years will build on the values and the good work that’s been done, and by casting a vision for the role of a think tank in helping to ensure a better future for Indiana and our nation.


The question I ask is: If Sagamore doesn’t provide this action-oriented work, then who will? I love what Jay Hein says: We don’t admire problems; we admire solutions.  We are in the solution business. So, we take ideas, we look at the innovations that are taking those ideas to scale, and then we invest in those innovations.  The approach of ideas to innovation to investment is where Sagamore really needs to be focused even more in the future.