Johnson Institute Names 2021 Exemplary Leader Awardees

Gisele Barreto Fetterman and Leah Lizarondo in side-by-side photographsTwo women who have made their mark on the Pittsburgh community by working to address neighbors’ basic needs in sustainable ways are being honored with the Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership’s 2021 Exemplary Leader Award.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Johnson Institute, part of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, recognizes individuals who are committed to the highest standards of professional leadership, integrity, accountability and stewardship through its Exemplary Leader Awards.

Gisele Barreto Fetterman and Leah Lizarondo will be recognized in a virtual event at 11 a.m. on Friday, March 26. Registration is free and open to the public. The event will include a Q&A session with the audience.

Barreto Fetterman, currently the Second Lady of Pennsylvania, is the founder of Braddock-based Free Store 15104.

She and Lizarondo were inspired to create 412 Food Rescue based on this nonprofit founded to eradicate food and clothing insecurity by redistributing surplus and donated goods to those in need. 

Barreto Fetterman, a native of Brazil, also is co-founder of For Good PGH, a nonprofit that works to advocate inclusion and inspire kindness.

Lizarondo is CEO and founder of Food Rescue Hero and CEO and co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, which use innovative technology to fight hunger and reduce food waste by mobilizing volunteers via an app to distribute surplus food to organizations and individuals who can use it.

Developed in Pittsburgh and now operating in 12 cities in North America, the Food Rescue Hero platform has facilitated the recovery of more than 40 million pounds of food that otherwise would have gone to waste.

Under Lizarondo’s leadership, 412 Food Rescue expanded its operations in 2020 to address critical needs brought on by the pandemic, through home food delivery to the elderly and other vulnerable communities. It distributed nearly 8 million pounds of food—the equivalent of 6.6 million meals—to 829 nonprofit organizations in the region and partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to distribute fresh food to over 12,000 local households.

a woman in a black and white blouseLizarondo, who was born and raised in the Philippines, received her graduate degree in public policy and technology from Carnegie Mellon University.

“Through their individual leadership as social advocates and entrepreneurs as well as their collaboration on 412 Food Rescue, Barreto Fetterman and Lizarondo both demonstrate a strong commitment to social justice and the power of innovative thinking to meet critical challenges in our community and beyond,” said Julia Santucci, director of the Johnson Institute and senior lecturer in Intelligence Studies.

“We could have honored either individually, but we chose to honor them jointly because their work together on 412 Food Rescue is an example for all of us of the power of collaborative leadership. Their identities—both women, both women of color and both immigrants—also serve as an example to all of us, but especially for the members of our community who identify with those groups,” Santucci said.

“Reflecting on the unprecedented times in which we are currently living, it is more important than ever before to seek out ethical leaders like Barreto Fetterman and Lizarondo who can guide us through this era of change to create healthier, safer and more equitable communities.”  

The awardees were selected from a list of nominees developed by GSPIA students. “We decided as a team that we wanted to honor someone whose leadership addressed the tremendous challenges that emerged during 2020, such as health inequity, food security, systemic racism and injustice, or poverty,” Santucci explained. 

“During the fall semester, our students spent months researching potential honorees who demonstrated transformative leadership in addressing these challenges, and who live up to the values the Johnson Institute seeks to promote: empathy, accountability, integrity and service. Everyone on that list was extraordinary, but Leah Lizarondo and Gisele Baretto Fetterman stood out as truly exemplary,” she said.

As Exemplary Leader awardees, Barreto Fetterman and Lizarondo join a diverse cohort of transformational leaders who have demonstrated effective leadership with integrity and a commitment to public service.

As part of the program, case studies are created as a vehicle for learning more about the awardees’ leadership characteristics and how other leaders might apply them in their own lives. View the series via links in the “Our Research” section of the Johnson Institute’s website

The Johnson Institute established the annual Exemplary Leader Awards in 2009 and added the Emerging Leader Awards in 2014. Moving forward, the institute plans to present one award each year, alternating between the Emerging and Exemplary Leader Awards.

Past awardees of the Exemplary Leader Award

Coleen Rowley, FBI whistleblower; Kathleen Hower, co-founder and executive director, Global Links; Thad Allen, US Coast Guard Admiral (retired); Bill Drayton, CEO and founder, Ashoka; Mark Nordenberg, Chancellor, University of Pittsburgh; Bill Strickland, CEO, Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild; Sandra Taylor, CEO, Sustainable Business International LLC; Susan Collin Marks and John Marks, Search for Common Ground; Dr. Jim Withers, founder, Operation Safety Net and Street Medicine Institute; Paul O’Neill, U.S. Treasury secretary and CEO, Alcoa; and Grant Oliphant, president, The Heinz Endowments, and Maxwell King, president and CEO, The Pittsburgh Foundation.

About the Johnson Institute

The Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership’s mission is to produce professionals with the highest standards of ethics and accountability. Through rigorous teaching, research and outreach—and by creating opportunities to engage in disciplined debate, reflections and inquiry—it develops and celebrates outstanding leaders for all sectors. Through its programs, it cultivates the leadership skills of highly motivated and talented students, giving them opportunities to govern an organization, engage with distinguished leaders and acquire cutting-edge skills needed to lead today’s complex enterprises.