I’m Looking Forward to the Baker Institute Gala This Fall — Here’s Why

Franci Neely
4 min readAug 22, 2023


I have been affiliated with the Baker Institute for Public Policy for many years. I feel it’s an organization that’s doing vital work as a nonpartisan think tank for innovative solutions to remedy some of the planet’s most pressing problems from climate change to health care to the economy.

I’m counting down to the Baker Institute’s 30th-anniversary gala on Oct. 26. I’m in good company with friends Ann and Karl Stern, as well as Sheridan and John Eddie Williams Jr., co-chairing with me. This year will naturally be even more special since it’s a milestone anniversary.

We have an impressive lineup of esteemed guests such as former U.S. Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, James A. Baker III, and Hillary Rodham Clinton. This trio of political leaders will engage in a fascinating discussion on a variety of crucial issues while CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell moderates.

Anytime you can see three seasoned politicians debate is bound to be fascinating and informative. And it will be wonderful to have James speak again in the very establishment that bears his name. When the institute was being created, James expressed that he wanted it to become a hub for “statesmen, scholars, and students” to bring together new ideas and strategies to carry out those plans — and boy, did his dream come true.

He is such a highly accomplished man who served as the former secretary of state for President George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1992. He was also secretary of the treasury from 1985 to 1988 for President Ronald Reagan, and in 1975, he was undersecretary of commerce to President Gerald Ford. In addition, he’s a Marine Corps veteran and a fellow attorney.

Every gala requires a dedicated team of people behind the scenes — and of course, attendees to enjoy the event and financially support it. So much preparation and planning goes into making these gatherings happen. We are fortunate to have an incredibly dedicated team and many devoted supporters of what the Baker Institute is accomplishing.

I was proud to serve as a co-chair for the 25th anniversary gala, which drew then-President Barack Obama. That evening, Obama complimented Baker for “the extraordinary work that’s being done at the institute.”

This year’s event will follow a similar format of year’s past with cocktails, a delicious dinner, and a panel discussion. In addition, I imagine there will be many meaningful conversations convening at all the tables.

While it’s an evening designed for fun and celebrating Baker Institute’s 30 years of thought-provoking research and approaching projects with intention, it will also be a prime opportunity for the community to come together and look at some of the larger issues happening around the world and throughout America.

It feels like yesterday that my friend Ambassador Edward Djerejian, founding director of the Baker Institute, introduced me to the fantastic work this group is doing. He was at the helm of the Baker Institute for over a quarter of a century before retiring. It was a pleasure working with Edward and now a joy to work with Ambassador David Satterfield, who succeeded him and is doing a fabulous job in this position.

This year’s gala theme is “Raising a Meaningful Voice.” I think speaking out about issues that are important to you has never been more crucial than it is right now. There is a misconception that one person can’t make a difference, but I’ve seen repeatedly how untrue that is. Use your voice. Be heard.

One of the best ways to get a sharper perspective on how to approach foreign and local issues is to get a better understanding of the situations others are facing. There are infinite challenges occurring all over the world and the Baker Institute is offering out-of-the-box solutions to some of these matters through its more than 200 experts.

I have seen the rigorous work the Baker Institute conducts from domestic to international issues including religion, public policy, drug policy, and even a space policy that uses the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math. It also advances and hosts international student exchanges, seminars, and lectures covering the universe of space-related topics. George W.S. Abbey, the former director of NASA‘s Johnson Space Center in Houston, is spearheading that program.

In June, the Baker Institute tackled the mental health crisis currently affecting youth through its podcast “Baker Briefing.” From Latin American energy issues and politics to how peace came to Northern Ireland, it’s a podcast sending a powerful message alongside the other work the Houston-based group is doing.

If you are not familiar with the Baker Institute, I urge you to visit bakerinstitute.org and see some of the current projects for which it’s troubleshooting solutions. You never know what ideas it could spark. We’re all in this together and I believe we really are better united.