Home ♃ Recent Stories ☄ Birmingham’s Melanie Bridgeforth Chosen for Prestigious Aspen Institute Fellowship

Birmingham’s Melanie Bridgeforth Chosen for Prestigious Aspen Institute Fellowship


By Carla Davis

Alabama NewsCenter

Melanie Bridgeforth said her leadership journey has led her to the chance of a lifetime. As a newly selected Aspen Institute Ascend Fellow, she is joining hands with other change-makers across the nation who are focused on taking action to improve the lives of families and communities in the United States.

The Aspen Institute’s 2021 Class of Ascend Fellows includes Melanie Bridgeforth from Birmingham. (contributed)

Bridgeforth, president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Alabama (WFA), is among 18 leaders selected by the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C., for its 2021 Class of Ascend Fellows. For 18 months, these group members will work side by side to break down barriers and redesign systems to build stronger economic and social conditions for communities.

“It is definitely humbling to be considered as one of the thought leaders in our nation working to solve critical issues that affect communities and families,” Bridgeforth said. “To be in a room of leaders from all corners of the country – each and every person at the top of their field – with a shared vision and commitment to reinventing systems and public policy to shape a brighter future for all is inspiring.”

In just three short years under Bridgeforth’s guiding hand, the Women’s Foundation of Alabama has expanded its strategic direction and footprint, nearly doubled its philanthropic investments and reach, and added a robust legislative arm that has secured three legislative wins advancing economic opportunity for women. The foundation is positioned as the one organization focused solely on representing the voice, power and philanthropic engine for women in the state, she said.

As an advocate for women and communities, the WFA works to shape public policy that will bring long-lasting, systemic change – a mission supported by the Alabama Power Foundation, as well as many others statewide.

Along with taking steps to improve access to child care and education, the WFA was the driving force behind the 2019 passage of Alabama’s first Equal Pay Act.

“The mission of the Aspen Institute is to elevate ‘big ideas,’ and I am living my big idea every day, building an organized movement – leveraging philanthropy and activism – to create pathways of economic opportunity for women and, by extension, all,” Bridgeforth said.

“As president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Alabama, Melanie has boldly advanced equity across Alabama by fighting for historic statewide policy wins for women and their families,” said Anne Mosle, vice president of The Aspen Institute and founder of both Ascend and the Forum on Women and Girls at the institute.

“As the leader of Alabama’s only philanthropic foundation that invests with a gender focus, Melanie addresses the unique needs of women and girls so that entire families and their communities can thrive. Melanie exemplifies the vision of the Ascend Fellowship, and we’re grateful we’re able to partner with her and witness the meaningful impact she’s able to create for children and their caregivers,” Mosle said.

A native of Athens, Bridgeforth earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Alabama. Before taking the reins of the WFA in 2018, she was executive director of VOICES for Alabama’s Children, Government Relations director for the American Heart Association and Policy Fellow for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Bridgeforth and the other fellows will meet quarterly during the 18 months, challenging, inspiring and encouraging one another as they work to implement change in their own spheres of influence.

“This thoughtfully curated experience crafted by one the most prolific think tanks on the globe, and the opportunity to co-create solutions with some of the brightest minds in the country, is beyond important – it is life changing,” Bridgeforth said. “For me, the fellowship is also about honing my vision of impact and getting deeply in touch with my personal leadership journey and what that journey means to how I choose to leverage my ideas and gifts to change the world around me. And more than that, it is how my vision connects to a shared vision for how our fellowship cohort can tackle our respective communities’ most challenging problems.”


This year’s class members join more than 80 previous Aspen Institute Ascend Fellows selected for visionary leadership and willingness to do their part toward stamping out poverty and improving lives across the country.

“I am committed and thrilled to be on this journey with my colleagues and developing our shared North Star,” Bridgeforth said. “Together, we are this beautiful tapestry of leaders from diverse backgrounds, educational training and lived experience. We are bringing all of that to bear as we work to shape a society that we want to see for generations to come.”