Introducing our new Board Chair: Mary Lloyd Estrin

Ploughshares Fund is thrilled to welcome Mary Lloyd Estrin as our new Chair of the Board of Directors. A long-time board member, Mary is already deeply familiar with Ploughshares Fund. We sat down with her to get her sense of where she thinks the organization should be moving and why she continues to give time to address the threat posed by nuclear weapons. 

Ploughshares Fund: As a foundation leader and program officer, you’ve worked on human rights, economic justice and poverty issues. What got you interested in Ploughshares Fund and the elimination of nuclear weapons?

Mary Lloyd Estrin: Much of my experience working on human rights and economic justice issues has focused on building capacity and infrastructure at the grassroots level – where people can be empowered to make their voices heard around issues that touch their lives directly.

With nuclear policy issues, I doubted that I could make any kind of impact on policy so seemingly remote from my own life, no matter how pressing.

But then, I was introduced to Ploughshares Fund.

Ploughshares’ unique ability to aggregate citizens concerns and resources into a powerful voice in Washington began to change my mind. I could see that joining forces with likeminded individuals, combined with the strategic leadership that Ploughshares Fund brings to the field, could have targeted impact on nuclear policies that, while not a part of our everyday lives, have everything to do with our own well being in a nuclear threatened world.

Once I felt that my voice was being heard through the work of Ploughshares Fund – I knew I wanted to join the effort to make sure nuclear weapons are never used again, anywhere, against anyone.

PF: What is it about Ploughshares Fund that makes you give so much of your own time to ensure its success?

MLE: Two things: First is the compelling urgency to limit the possible use of nuclear weapons and materials that have a potential destructive capacity  we have never seen before – and that we do not fully even comprehend. Even a single nuclear episode of any kind would bring suffering and death to unimaginable numbers of people for decades to come. This is simply an unacceptable risk for us to take.

Second – is the unusual excellence of the work of the Ploughshares Fund. They are strategic conveners, thoughtful grantmakers, and run a very efficient, highly focused organization, where all the money raised goes directly into grants to the very best and brightest in the peace and security field. I haven’t come across many organizations as effective as Ploughshares Fund.

PF: As board chair, you will have significant impact on the overall direction and shape of Ploughshares Fund as it grows. What do you think are the most significant opportunities for the organization? Challenges?

MLE: President Obama has been a strong advocate for reducing the number of nuclear warheads in our arsenal and for a range of non-proliferation steps that the United States can take to make the world safer from nuclear threats. Ploughshares Fund has the opportunity to support the administration in moving forward with its nuclear agenda, both by organizing civil society groups to unify their advocacy for better policies, provide research to ground those policies, and by applauding steps the administration has taken. We have opportunities now to make things happen.

One of our biggest current challenges is interesting young people in nuclear issues. Many younger generations have no direct experience with nuclear threats and tend to think these Cold War weapons will never come back to haunt us. But, as we know, this is not the case. How do we connect Gen Xers and Millenials with these seemingly remote and abstract issues? We have got to find ways to do this, or nuclear policy will be determined by a small band of experts who may operate without listening to what the American public has to say.

PF: Your predecessor as board chair is Roger Hale. What will you miss about working with Roger on the Ploughshares Fund board?

MLE: Roger has an abiding passion about these issues. He has devoted much of his life to working on eliminating nuclear weapons, because he views it as one of the most critical challenges of our time. I will miss that passion and the unflagging energy he brought to the board.

And, of course, I will miss his wry sense of humor that never failed to get him out of a awkward moment, or to take advantage of an opportune ripost.

PF: If you could say one more thing to supporters of Ploughshares Fund, what would it be?

MLE: I would suggest thinking about your own families – siblings, children, grandchildren – and the kind of world you want to leave to them. Eliminating the threats that nuclear weapons present to future generations might be the most far-reaching gift we could possibly leave them.

Photo by Peter Fedewa