Before committing to a cause or an organization, Frank Clark asks: Will it have an impact that outlasts me? He serves as chair of both the RAND Social and Economic Policy Advisory Board and the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research because he believes that with RAND he can make a difference.
November 10, 2020
Frank Clark doesn’t have to look far to see where RAND research can make a difference. He’s a guiding force in the leadership circles of Chicago, a self-made man who’s built a second career out of giving back. His commitment to RAND—and especially to its work on social and economic justice and effective gun policy—grew from there.
“If you know Chicago, you know it’s a wonderful city—beautiful, really—but there are aspects of it, parts of the city, that need help,” he said. “It’s associated with poverty, with poor education, with people who didn’t get a fair shake in life. I got involved with RAND in the simple belief that we will make a difference. It really is as simple as that. This is a place where you think that you’re getting something done.”
Clark got his start in the mailroom of the local electric company, Commonwealth Edison, in 1966. Over the next 40 years, he worked his way up the ranks while also attending night school to earn his college and law degrees. By the time he became the company’s first Black president in 2001, ComEd was one of the largest utilities in the country. He retired in 2012 as the chairman and CEO.
He has devoted his time and energy since then to some of the most important civic institutions in the city: the Chicago Symphony, the Adler Planetarium, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Chicago Community Trust. The son of a public school teacher, married to a school psychologist, he served until recently as the president of the Chicago Board of Education.
He jokes that people always assume he can’t say no. In reality, he said, he asks himself one question before he commits to a cause or an organization: Will it have an impact that outlasts me?
That’s what brought him to RAND. He was at another board meeting when a friend, tech titan Ellen Hancock, told him about the research she was seeing as a member of one of RAND’s advisory boards. Intrigued, he started digging into RAND’s work on social and economic policy. In its research on the criminal justice system, in particular, he found objective, fact-based ideas to address the unequal treatment he saw all too often in Chicago and across the country.
He was sold. “It was this idea of being a part of something that will make a real change in the lives of people, that will affect our policy, that will hopefully make the lives of people better and more affordable,” he said.
He now serves as the chair of the RAND Social and Economic Policy Advisory Board. The board provides strategic guidance and philanthropic support to research programs covering everything from climate change to economic disparities to criminal justice reform.
He also chairs the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research, a philanthropic fund established after RAND researchers highlighted a profound need for high-quality research on effective gun policies. The fund, administered by RAND, has awarded millions of dollars for scientific research on gun policy. It is, Clark said, “an extraordinary effort to develop real, impactful policy guidance.”
“These are issues that mean a lot to me, whether they’re environmental issues, social and economic issues, or looking for ways to respect people’s rights but also quell some of the gun violence that takes place in this country,” he said.
“It boils down to trying to make a difference in life and leaving this world a better place than you found when you entered it,” he added. “The research I see at RAND will not just benefit Chicago, or Illinois, but people throughout the United States and, I think, throughout the world.”