CEO

Welcoming Cathy Casserly as the new CEO of Creative Commons

Lawrence Lessig, December 20th, 2010

As we come to the end of this year’s fundraising campaign, I asked the organizers to let me write you to tell you about an extraordinary birthday present that Creative Commons received on its 8th birthday last Thursday.

You probably know that for the past two years, Creative Commons has been incredibly fortunate to have the pro bono leadership of our CEO, Joi Ito. Joi is a successful internet investor. He has been at the birth of companies such as Moveable Type, Technorati and Twitter. For the past 7 years, he’s also been a key leader on our board. But by far his most important contribution began two years ago when my own commitments made it necessary for me to step down as CEO. With the organization in a pinch, he volunteered to take the lead, again, as a volunteer.

Everyone recognized at the time that this sort of sacrifice could only be temporary. Yet from the time he stepped up, my biggest fear was that when he could no longer make this sacrifice, we would have no one comparable to tap. Last Thursday, I was proven wrong.

One of the most important moments in the history of Creative Commons happened on the day the Supreme Court upheld (incorrectly, in my view, but let’s leave that alone) the Copyright Term Extension Act in Eldred v. Ashcroft. After reading the decision, I had my head in my hands, buried in sadness, when my assistant reminded me that I had a 10am meeting with two people from the Hewlett Foundation. This was exactly one month after we had launched Creative Commons. I was surprised a foundation as prominent as Hewlett even knew about us, let alone had an interest in talking to us. So I put aside my sadness, and walked down to the conference room at Stanford Law School, to meet with Cathy Casserly and Mike Smith.

Cathy and Mike had heard about the Supreme Court’s decision. They recognized I wouldn’t be in much of a mood to chat. So they launched right into the reason for the meeting: The Hewlett Foundation had decided to help launch Creative Commons with a grant of $1 million dollars.

I won’t say that after I heard that news, I forgot about the Supreme Court. But from that moment on, it was much more important to me to prove Hewlett’s faith right than to worry about what the Supreme Court had gotten wrong. And I was especially keen to get to know these two people who understood our mission long before most had even recognized the problem that CC was meant to solve.

Now eight years later, after completing her term at Hewlett and a stint at the Carnegie Foundation as well, I am enormously happy to announce that Cathy Casserly has accepted our offer to become the CEO of Creative Commons.

Cathy has an extraordinary reputation among foundations and the Open Educational Resources community. She has had extensive experience coaxing creators and educators into a more sensible and flexible manner for creating and sharing their work. That was her job at Carnegie and Hewlett. Before Hewlett, she was a program officer at the Walter S. Johnson Foundation. Before that, a teacher of mathematics in Jamaica. She has a PhD in the economics of education from Stanford, and a BA in mathematics from Boston College.

Joi will stay in the hot seat as Chair of the Board. But early in the new year, he will pass his CEO responsibilities to Cathy. Between him and Cathy, we will then have the very best leadership Creative Commons has known.

So then here’s my ask: Creative Commons has been enormously fortunate to have had Joi as an interim CEO, and extremely fortunate now to have found Cathy to fill that role permanently.

Let’s show them how happy we are about both.

We are in the last laps of a very difficult fundraising year, with just two weeks to go and still about $200,000 to raise. Please reach deep in your pocket, and click here to pledge whatever you can find. We have never needed the support of our community more than we do this year. And though I am happy beyond measure about our future, I am extremely concerned about the cuts we will have to make if we don’t meet our goals.

You have supported us throughout these 8 years. We need your support this year especially. Please thank Joi and welcome Cathy in every way, including a pledge to support Creative Commons again.

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