NEIL D. STEINBERG, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, recently received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the New England Institute of Technology during the college’s commencement ceremony in Providence. Steinberg, the former chairman and CEO of Fleet Bank who became the nonprofit’s top executive in 2008, and his team regularly offer financial assistance to nonprofits across the state and work with leaders to build up the economy. Rhode Island Foundation was one entity to help New England Tech establish the Shipbuilding/Marine and Advanced Manufacturing Institute to train students as welders. He also started “TogetherRI,” a conversation tour program, where Rhode Islanders can gather and engage in civic dialogue. The program held these discussions in 20 different cities and towns across Rhode Island during the spring.
What drove you to change your career path from the banking industry to philanthropy? After a long and productive banking career, I had the opportunity to learn something new, use my experience and give back to the community.
How has the state’s nonprofit base grown under your guidance? Rhode Island’s nonprofit sector is large and vibrant. It’s filled with creative, passionate people who serve the community with humility and resourcefulness. We are fortunate to have top-notch organizations providing critical services to people most in need and offering exceptional programs in education, the environment, the arts and more. Our job is to support and, hopefully, strengthen the sector’s work with grants, capacity-building and leadership.
What was the purpose behind creating the TogetherRI program? People were telling us they felt like they were not being heard. We responded by creating opportunities for them to get together face-to-face for a civic and civil dialogue over a neighborly meal all around the state and they all responded. The goal was to enable people to actually talk with each other and listen to each other regarding the strengths of Rhode Island, the opportunities in Rhode Island and the issues in their community. We expect to release an analysis of the input people shared this summer.
What is your message to those who want to become leaders in the community? Leaders are not anointed; opportunities to lead are created in the void and at all levels. If you see an opportunity, step up, stand up, listen up and speak up.
What new programs or plans do you have in the works at the foundation? In line with our strategic priorities, we will continue to promote educational success, healthy lives and economic security. In education, we will be looking at a long-term, 10-year plan for K-12 education in order to improve equitable student learning experiences and achievement. We will be encouraging long-term planning in health care, too, in order to support system reform to provide accessibility and achieve better patient experience, population health and reduced costs. Supporting inclusive workforce development and expanding resources for small businesses will drive our economic-security work.