May 13, 2021

Contact: Olivia Alperstein, (202) 704-9011


Washington, D.C.  — The Board of Trustees of the 58-year-old Institute for Policy Studies named its Board Chair, writer Tope Folarin, as the organization’s new Executive Director starting May 24.

Folarin, 39, is the son of Nigerian immigrants, a former Rhodes Scholar, and a graduate of Morehouse College and Oxford University. Folarin worked for six years as Special Assistant in the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. He is stepping down as Vice President for Content and Storytelling at the non-profit Local Initiatives Support Corporation, one of the country’s largest neighborhood reinvestment organizations.

Folarin first came to IPS as a year-long Newman Fellow in 2010, then joined the board in 2014, and he has served as the Board Chair since Ethelbert Miller vacated that position in 2017.  In April 2021, Folarin won the prestigious Whiting Award for Fiction for his debut novel A Particular Kind of Black Man.

“I am excited and humbled to lead IPS in our next chapter,” said Tope Folarin, incoming Executive Director of IPS. “It goes without saying that John Cavanagh has done a wonderful job as Director and has positioned us incredibly well for the future. IPS has long offered essential perspectives on several issues, including economic inequality, poverty, militarism, the environment, race, gender, and the various intersections among them. I look forward to maintaining our focus on these issues in the coming years while deepening our connections with partners in movements and elected offices both here in the U.S. and around the world.”

John Cavanagh, IPS Director for the past 21 years, said of Folarin, “I can think of no one who can better build upon IPS’s proud history of working with dynamic social movements to advance equity, racial justice, peace, and environmental justice. Tope’s mastery of the relationship between culture, politics, and resistance is essential to the global and national challenges of today.”

IPS Deputy Director Kathleen Gaspard added, “The IPS staff came together quickly and wholeheartedly to embrace Tope as our incoming director. Tope is an outstanding leader who brings a wealth of expertise and directorial abilities to bear as he joins our staff in this pivotal moment. His global connections will help guide our work with social movements and reinforce IPS as a leading center of public scholarship nationally and globally.”

Sarita Gupta, former director of close IPS ally, Jobs With Justice, and program director at the Ford Foundation, has been named interim Board Chair. Under Gupta’s leadership, Jobs With Justice teamed up with the National Domestic Workers Alliance to co-lead the dynamic Caring Across Generations campaign to advance the rights of millions of care workers in this country.  Gupta and Gaspard co-led the Transition Team that chose Folarin.

This leadership transition comes at a time when IPS is in a period of great strength, as its domestic and international policy programs engage in vital work to advance critical bold initiatives and policies around the nation and the world to meet the most urgent challenges of the moment and to build on opportunities afforded by a new U.S. administration and a new Congress.

IPS has a staff of 35, a budget of $5 million, endowment funds of over $7 million, and a diversified funding base of 35 foundations and over 2,000 individual donors. It currently serves as research arm of the Poor People’s Campaign, and it co-chairs the Policy Council of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center.

“As Chair of the 95-person Congressional Progressive Caucus and a lifelong organizer for working families throughout this country, I know that IPS plays an indispensable leadership role in putting together the research, policies, and coalitions necessary to enact transformative change that makes a real difference in the lives of people across America,” said Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-07). “Having worked closely with IPS, including on the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center’s Policy Council, I also know that we benefit from John’s expertise every day, and I look forward to having Tope on board in the pivotal months ahead.”

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, National Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and Director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice, noted, “Since we founded the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival we have had an important partnership with the Institute for Policy Studies, working closely on the Souls of Poor Folks audit, the Poor People’s Moral Budget and other projects. We appreciate John’s leadership and look forward to working with Tope.”

Over the past year, IPS has garnered widespread media attention for its vital research on the wealth of billionaires vs. essential workers during the pandemic. IPS experts found, for example, that the wealth of U.S. billionaires increased by over $1 trillion during the pandemic. Other widely quoted studies found that CEO pay rose by 29 percent, to over $15 million, during the pandemic, even while average worker pay declined.

IPS’s groundbreaking analyses are widely quoted on issues such as inequality and the impact of the pandemic on widening income gaps, militarism and military spending, Black workers and systemic racism, and environmental and climate justice. IPS reaches tens of millions in the heartland and around the world through its reports, commentaries, and websites:,,, and IPS has built programs to mentor the next generation of public scholars, with Fellowships and paid Next Leader internships that serve as a pipeline for diverse progressive leaders who represent communities of color, low-income people, and women and non-binary people.

Cavanagh, who served as IPS Director for 21 years after working at the United Nations and running IPS’s Global Economy program, will return to program work at IPS as a Senior Advisor.  Cavanagh will assist with the transition and will continue to play an integral role in IPS’s work with the Poor People’s Campaign, the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center, and IPS’s Trade and Mining project. He is the co-author with his wife Robin Broad of just-released The Water Defenders: How Ordinary People Saved a Country from Corporate Greed (Beacon Press, 2021).

Tope Folarin and John Cavanagh are available for interviews. Please contact Olivia Alperstein at or (202) 704-9011. 

About the Institute for Policy Studies 

For nearly six decades, the Institute for Policy Studies has provided critical research support for major social movements and progressive leaders inside and outside government and on the ground around the United States and the world. As the nation’s oldest progressive multi-issue think tank, IPS turns bold ideas into action through public scholarship and mentorship of the next generation of progressive scholars and activists.



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