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Ross Community Remembers Focus: HOPE Founder Eleanor Josaitis

8/10/2011 --

Activist and social entrepreneur aligned with Ross students for two decades.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—The Ross School lost a longtime partner and friend Aug. 10 as Focus: HOPE co-founder Eleanor Josaitis succumbed to cancer.

Josaitis, 79, left a tremendous legacy in Detroit-based Focus: HOPE, which she established in 1968. Her goal was to create intelligent solutions to racism and poverty in the wake of the city's devastating riots. With her late co-founder, Father William Cunningham, this self-described "simple housewife" introduced food assistance programs, as well as education, training, and community development programs that prepared thousands of people to enter the workforce and participate in the financial mainstream.

"She was a social entrepreneur and a transformational leader," says Noel Tichy, professor of management and organizations and director of the Ross Global Leadership Program. As a consultant to several multinationals, Tichy made it a point to connect Josaitis with top executives to illustrate ways corporations and civil organizations can partner to net maximum social impact. He pointed to her success in his books on leadership, judgment, and ethics to illustrate both both her business acumen and management skills.

Tichy first introduced Josaitis to Ross students in the early '90s. For the past two decades, Focus: HOPE has hosted Ross volunteers during the school's annual Global Citizenship Day. In addition, Josaitis has been a regular presence at orientation since 1991, closing the Ross Leadership Initiative's Foundation Session with a rousing and memorable call to community service.

"She had amazing energy," says Adam Carver, MBA/MS '12. "By the end of her presentation she was crying, we were crying. The entire auditorium would have done anything for her."

Leadership expert Sue Ashford, Michael and Susan Jandernoa Professor of Management and Organizations, says Josaitis inspired thousands of Ross students to step up and make a difference in the world.

"She did so simply by telling her story of commitment, involvement, and passion for the cause of racial equality and justice," Ashford says. "We teach leadership in a variety of ways at the Ross School, but perhaps the most poignant lesson was delivered in that first week. Eleanor demonstrated the power of one individual to make a difference in this world. She will be sorely missed in the wider Detroit community but also closer to home, here at Ross."

In addition to orientation, Josaitis interfaced with Ross in a variety of ways. Focus: HOPE hosted a number of action-based learning projects through the school's Multidisiciplinary Action Projects (MAP) course, introducing MBA students to one of the most successful business models in the nonprofit realm. Josaitis also served on the Ross School Advisory Board.

Her memory will continue to influence the Ross experience, most notably through the Eleanor Josaitis/Valerie and William Hall Family Undergraduate Scholarship Fund, which supports business students who are graduates of the Detroit school system. University of Michigan alumni Valerie and William Hall endowed the scholarship in 2007.

"I'm grateful to the Halls for honoring Eleanor this way," says Dean Alison Davis-Blake, who joined the Ross School July 1. "She was integral in the school's efforts to create a culture in which business students have the desire to do good things in society—to play a critical role in issues like healthcare, jobs, housing, and education. She set a great example over four decades in the nonprofit arena. She had an incredible ability to ignite stakeholder support, raise capital, and build a vital organization that changed people's lives. Ross was lucky to be a part of that. I know she will be missed."

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat, (734) 647-1847,