Q&A with Susan Sorenson: Executive Program in “Ending Violence & Abuse in Relationships”

October 31, 2018
Programs & Research

The Center for Social Impact Strategy and the Ortner Center on Violence and Abuse in Relationships recently partnered to offer the Executive Program in Social Impact Strategy: Ending Violence & Abuse in Relationships launching in January, 2019.

CSIS sat down with Dr. Susan B. Sorenson (Executive Director, Ortner Center) to discuss the program.


What inspired you to launch the Executive Program in Social Impact Strategy: Ending Violence & Abuse in Relationships?

Sorenson: We’re expecting a big turnover of the pioneers in this field. Many of the women who founded rape crisis and domestic violence agencies in the mid-1970’s are nearing retirement. Some of these leaders have done a good job of developing their successors, of bringing others along, but others haven’t; It’s a ‘founders mentality,‘ not unique to this field. We are keenly aware of the need for people to take on strong leadership following in the footsteps of those who came before them.

We’re also seeing young leaders – emerging leaders – doing a remarkable job on college campuses and who want to transition into full-time roles in organizations they’ve founded. These emerging leaders know that they are really good at certain things, while lacking knowledge and skills in other areas. We’re here to help fulfill that need.


Why is now the right time for this Executive Program?

Sorenson: The events of the past couple of years have underscored the importance of powerful, strategic leaders who can address current issues around violence in relationships – from intimate partner violence, to sexual assault and harassment – so that we might all have a better future. Over the last two years, thousands of women have come forward. We’ve heard their stories. From Brock Turner to Access Hollywood, Billy Cosby to Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose to Louis C.K. … We could go on and on. Most of these people did not victimize just one person and there could have been opportunities to stop them. We need leaders who can help change norms to prevent this in the future. The timing of this program’s launch comes at a moment when these issues are in the public consciousness and on the political agenda.

What’s special about this program?

Sorenson: It’s the only one in the nation. There simply aren’t programs out there – except for this one – that focus on developing the knowledge and skills for people who are committed to ending violence in relationships.


Who should participate in this program?

Sorenson: I think of three different types of people. The first is someone who has been working in the field for a long time and wants to take their work to a higher level. They want to assume more responsibility, either within the organization they’re currently at, as part of a new organization, or by launching their own.

The second is a ‘re-tooler:’ This is someone who might be in another field, who’s been successful, and who wants to bring some of their knowledge and skill into this content area.

The third is an emerging leader: a young person who is very committed to addressing violence in relationships, and now needs to develop the necessary management and leadership skills to move their work forward.

What impact do you hope this program achieves?

Sorenson: Social change. I hope that we can build a confident and competent workforce – but it’s so much more than a workforce: It’s people who are visionary, who understand strategy, who truly see the long game. There are so many setbacks if we just look at this incident-to-incident, from event-to-event. We have to keep that long view in mind. This program will help to create a cohort of people who can turn to one another as resources as they progress through their careers and address these issues.


What advice do you have for people currently working on their applications?

Sorenson: Reach out to us! It’s really important to us that the program be a good fit. You can sign up for an upcoming webinar, and we’re also available for one-on-one conversations. Timing is important: This program might be of interest to somebody but they don’t have an idea formulated yet, and that can be okay. At the same time, the program probably would be more useful when someone is closer to the stage of taking action. Let’s talk about it.

Anything else you’d like to share about the Executive Program?

Sorenson: We’re focusing on leadership development and on the ability to work with a board, the community, and other people in the field. It’s really about social change. One can anticipate that there’s going to be personal growth – there often is through any educational endeavor – but personal growth is not the primary goal of this program, nor is the development of clinical skills.

At the Ortner Center we have great confidence in the ability to change the world to make it a safer and saner place for women and girls. We invite applications for the Executive Program from persons who share this vision.


About Susan B. Sorenson:

Professor Susan B. Sorenson is the Executive Director of the Ortner Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Sorenson has a unique interdisciplinary background in epidemiology, sociology, and psychology. Since 1986, she has taught a graduate course in family and sexual violence – the first violence prevention course in a school of public health in the nation. With nearly 150 publications to her credit, Professor Sorenson has published widely in the epidemiology and prevention of violence, including the areas of homicide, suicide, sexual assault, child abuse, battering, and firearms. In 1991, she co-founded the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles, a broad coalition of agencies and individuals which continues to this day. She currently is serving a second term on the Committee on Law and Justice for the National Academy of Sciences.