Ellen Irie, Informing Change’s CEO from 2006 to 2018, left a lasting legacy on our work, our culture, and our values. Ellen did the work of informing change because she truly believed in it. Using data and insights tapped her strength as a pragmatic optimist, eager to examine a challenge from all angles, to listen to her clients, and to support them in taking the best next steps.
Ellen’s story at Informing Change begins in 1999, when, upon completing her MPH at UC Berkeley, she joined our three founders—Jill Blair, Fay Twersky, and Paul Wisostzky—at then-dubbed BTW informing change. In 2006, Ellen acquired half of the firm and ran it in partnership with Jill Blair. In 2007, she took on sole ownership of the firm, and what had been started by three was now to be led by one. As President and CEO, Ellen invested both resources and courage into the firm she helped grow and made it her own by rebranding it to Informing Change. Over the course of her career at Informing Change, she fulfilled nearly every role at the firm, from Consultant to CFO.
Ellen was a true partner to her clients. Her compassion, paired with her clear eyed judgment and an uncompromising commitment to being of service, created opportunities for her clients to learn, ask questions, dig deeper, and do better. She compelled all of us—colleagues and clients alike—to think critically about the challenges we face and the solutions within our reach, always in service of a better, more just world. And she did so with a persistent faith in the good intentions of others. As one of our colleagues, Lee Draper of Draper Consulting Group said, “Ellen contributed so much to making philanthropy more thoughtful and compassionate in pursuit of a more just and equitable world. She gave so much to the nonprofit sector and to her colleagues and friends.”
Ellen led Informing Change with authenticity and humility; she never stopped learning. For generations of staff, Ellen was a mentor, a model and advocate for mothers in the workplace, and a friend. She was known for breaking up long meetings with stints in a headstand and could sprint from one end of the office to the other in 10 seconds flat. As a leader at Informing Change, Ellen cultivated a culture of teamwork, trust, and mutual reliance. From this culture, a community of current and past staff, clients, and colleagues has emerged. She would be the first to say that Informing Change is because of all of us, and not her. But hers was the vision that brought us all together.
Ellen stood firmly in Informing Change’s founding values. When she added the pursuit of social justice to that list, she made explicit a vision for what the world can and should look like when we work with intelligence, integrity, and compassion. In bringing social justice to the forefront of our work, Ellen recognized what’s at stake in carrying these values out, and sparked conversations at Informing Change that continue to this day about our visions for equity, inclusion, and belonging.
Ellen passed away on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2018. We miss her everyday but know that her spirit lives on in all of us and the work we do.