Friednash: CiviCO is developing the leaders of tomorrow across Colorado

Summer has arrived in Colorado, and perhaps the warmer temperatures have given me renewed optimism amidst the barrage of fake news stories and scandals spewing from our nation’s capital.

Maybe, just this once, I want to share a gratifying story about civic engagement in Colorado. A story about the CiviCO Leadership Foundation that is fighting the tide of political toxicity and winning in the name of good government, citizenship and cultivating our next generation of leaders.

CiviCO’s chairman and benefactor is Ryan Heckman. I got to know him during my time working with former Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Heckman loves Colorado. He grew up in Granby, competed in two Olympic Games as a skier, went to the University of Colorado, worked as a private equity executive for 15 years and then was the CEO of a Denver-based healthcare company that grew from 22 employees to 500 employees. Heckman sold the business and tried to retire.

Fortunately, his retirement attempt failed.

He wanted to build something more meaningful and lasting. Five years ago, Heckman volunteered to run CiviCO when it was a sleepy networking organization called Quarterly Forum. His vision: to promote community leadership, especially among young leaders who could someday fill the shoes of the great ones, leaders like former Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, Dan Ritchie, and former Supreme Court Justice Jean Dubofsky.

Under Heckman’s leadership, CiviCO has exploded into a national model of what is still right about our democracy here in Colorado. A place where doing good and doing well are not mutually exclusive, a place where unity and civil disagreements go hand in hand, and a place where each of us can be the best version of ourselves.

Consider what this fierce team at CiviCo has created in the last five years.

Through an executive order and with the support of all the living governors, CiviCO established Colorado’s version of the Presidential Medal of Freedom — beginning with Hickenlooper and now Gov. Jared Polis, CiviCO awards medals made by a silversmith in Leadville to the citizens among us who have made a significant contribution to our rich history. It has become a big deal to win one of these medals.

CiviCO established a program called the Governors’ Fellowship Program and has graduated over 100 superstar business and community leaders who study the issues, understand what good government looks like and are committed to serving the public during their bright futures. It’s non-partisan, too.

After graduating from the program, Mike Hartman left his banking career to become the executive director of the Department of Revenue under Hickenlooper. Another graduate, Crestina Martinez, became the chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera.

CiviCO created a first of its kind museum exhibit at the Colorado History Center that opens in October to showcase Colorado’s unique leadership values — it is designed to inspire middle school students to think bigger.  The concept of exhibiting our values was so provocative that Colorado’s own famous band, the Lumineers, have made this project a priority and will use their Colorado story, among others, to promote impact through the arts, athletics, innovation, commerce and, yes, civic duty.

Meanwhile, CiviCO, along with former Gov. Bill Owens and Hickenlooper, have launched a statewide leadership program to unite our state’s best and brightest from the public, private and social sectors — imagine school superintendents, mayors, entrepreneurs, foundation leaders and Fortune 500 executives from the far corners of our state all learning together to become powerful community leaders. It could prove to be an instrumental, innovative response to the rural plight that inflicts our nation.

This week, CiviCO will honor its 100-plus 2019 graduates — a venerable Colopalooza with Polis and Owens leading the evening’s celebration together.  These leaders have invested their time in making Colorado a better place. That’s the Colorado way.

CiviCO Admin