A Tribute to Pablo Eisenberg

Posted in News Story

October 24, 2022

Pablo Eisenberg was best known for his passion for social justice and for speaking uncomfortable truths. He was revered and feared. Pablo believed so strongly in our collective ability to make the world a better place, which he expressed in extreme kindness on the one hand and harsh criticism on the other.

I’ve known Pablo since 2001 when I joined the staff of the Center for Public & Nonprofit Leadership (formally CSVOS) at what was then the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, now the McCourt School of Public Policy. Pablo was the Center’s Senior Fellow, and I was the new Director of Executive Education, a position that Pablo thought was bogus. When I became the Center’s Director a few years later, Pablo was my greatest champion and my harshest critic.

Whenever Pablo invited me to breakfast, I knew I was in for another one of our verbal jousting matches. While we ate our omelets and brioche, he would ream me out for whatever was on his mind at the moment: kowtowing to my funders or not participating in a student strike (which I should have). On the other hand, I would beg him to be a little more circumspect in his comments about the nonprofit sector as we prepared for the start of another executive program.

I will always remember how nonprofit practitioners experienced the first day of our Center’s Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate Program. After introductions, I would turn to Pablo to provide a brief history of the sector — no one knew it better than Pablo. He was always so eloquent. But what really captured the participants’ attention was his “Ten Points on the Crisis in Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector”. He would conclude by saying, “I know Kathy doesn’t want me to say that, but it’s true.” Heads would turn to me, not sure how I would react. The fact was, Pablo was often right.

Pablo challenged nonprofits and foundations to meet the high expectations society places on them as guardians of democracy. At Georgetown, he brought together academics, practitioners, and graduate students to discuss and debate critical issues facing the nonprofit sector and democracy. He worked tirelessly to raise money to cover the full tuition of one student in need every year and their stipend as a research and teaching assistant.

The gift that Pablo gave each of his students was an unwavering belief that they could be a leader and make a difference in the world.

In 2006, the Center established an endowed Pablo Eisenberg Public Interest Fellowship to develop the leadership of students committed to social justice, in every aspect of their lives. Twenty-five students have served as Eisenberg Fellows.

There have been, and will be, many tributes to Pablo, but one that I always go back to is the Princeton University’s Announcement of Pablo Eisenberg as the 2004 Honorary Doctor of Law Degree Recipient.

“After the towers of Princeton, the spires of Oxford and centre court at Wimbledon, Pablo Eisenberg could have settled into a life of privilege. Instead, he chose an unsettled, and unsettling, life, battling in the trenches for social justice and community change, and challenging the privileged and powerful to make sustainable investments in the underprivileged and the powerless.”

While there were times that I dreaded feedback from Pablo, I know how lucky I was to have him in my corner. It is impossible to be complacent with Pablo around and he always pushed me, and the Center, to be our best. Pablo is leaving a big hole that our students and the sector will struggle to fill. I will miss him.

Kathy Kretman, Ph.D.