Ambassador to lead Annenberg trust

By Justin Chapman, The Daily Trojan, 9/29/2016

Following a nearly yearlong, nationwide search, Ambassador David Lane has been chosen as the next president of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands. Lane previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies in Rome. He succeeds USC Annenberg professor Geoffrey Cowan, who stepped down in June after serving six years as the inaugural president of Sunnylands.

“Sunnylands has the potential to bring people together across ideological boundaries,” Lane said. “People are willing to let down their guard, put aside some of their assumptions and biases and be more open. The goal is to link the great experts and evidence and research that’s out there and help ensure that it’s being translated into policy.”

Sunnylands is the sprawling, 200-acre desert estate in Rancho Mirage, California, which served as the winter home of Ambassador Walter Annenberg and his wife Leonore, after whom the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism is named. Following their deaths in 2002 and 2009, respectively, the estate’s board of trustees established the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands, a retreat center for government officials and private sector experts. Dubbed “Camp David of the West” by Cowan, and in the spirit of the Annenbergs’ vision for the estate, Sunnylands has hosted several high-profile meetings, including a 2013 summit between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, a 2014 meeting with Obama and King Abdullah II of Jordan and the 2016 U.S.-ASEAN Leaders Summit featuring Obama and leaders from 10 nations. Countless retreats featuring Supreme Court justices, congressional leaders, filmmakers, musicians, artists and experts in various industries have also taken place there.

USC has maintained a relationship with Sunnylands through Cowan, Annenberg, the School of Cinematic Arts and other USC-Sunnylands hybrid employees such as Geoffrey Baum, who served as managing director of the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy for many years and currently serves as the chief communications and marketing officer at Sunnylands. Lane said he will maintain that institutional relationship.

“We will continue to collaborate with the various Annenberg institutions, as they make a natural fit,” Lane said. “It’s less that anything formal is necessary, but more that there’s already a rhythm of collaboration with USC that has certainly served Sunnylands well and, I assume, has served USC well.”

Lane said he wants to continue Sunnylands’ reputation as a place to bring people together, particularly congressional leaders.

“It’s no surprise there hasn’t been a great congressional convening over the last few years, because that piece of our government especially has been so broken in terms of bipartisan cooperation,” Lane said. “These may be famous last words, but I at least intend to try to do something there. We can start with some initiatives where there’s bipartisan support and try to model what cooperation looks like.”

As ambassador, Lane led strategy-setting and governance of six multilateral agencies focused on food security, agricultural development, poverty alleviation, development finance and rule of law promotion. He advocated for inclusion of a “justice and accountable governance” provision in the UN’s recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals aimed at fighting poverty, inequality and climate change through 2030. Before being appointed ambassador, Lane served in the White House as assistant to the president and counselor to the chief of staff. Before that, he was president and CEO of the ONE Campaign, the non-partisan organization co-founded by singer Bono to fight extreme poverty and preventable diseases.

“David Lane was an exceptional ambassador to the UN Agencies in Rome,” said José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, in a statement. “His optimism regarding our ability to reach common objectives on eradicating hunger, reducing poverty and sustainably managing our planet’s resources was a compelling influence among member countries. This helped greatly in building consensus and confronting our shared challenges.”

From 2001 to 2007, Lane led public policy and advocacy efforts at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. During the Clinton administration, he served as chief of staff to the Secretary of Commerce and executive director of the National Economic Council.

“David is a bridge builder,” Melinda Gates said in a statement. “He brings people together to find policy solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges. He knows the policy backwards and forwards, but he’s also creative about getting things done.”