The Bryn Mawr School presented Polly Donaldson ’75 as the inaugural guest speaker in the Leadership in Action Speaker Series on Wednesday, November 11, 2021. The conversation was moderated by Christina Peay '04, Director of Philanthropy and Communications at Housing Up.

Leadership in Action is Bryn Mawr’s distinctive character, curiosity and community-building program for all pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade students which brings together personalized leadership development for each student, community engagement experiences and social impact opportunities. The Speaker Series provides opportunities throughout the year to hear from and engage with inspiring leaders to help foster active engagement and responsibility to the broader community. Featured speakers are invited to focus on one or more of the Leadership in Action program’s core values — compassion, courage, collaboration, responsibility and ingenuity — and share their personal and professional insights, knowledge and experiences. 

As the Director of the DC Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) since 2015, Polly Donaldson ’75 is leading the charge of revitalizing underserved neighborhoods across DC. She oversees 180+ employees, 14 program areas and manages an annual operating budget of over $250 million to preserve and produce rental and homeownership opportunities for District residents. Ms. Donaldson has more than three decades of experience in nonprofit experience, including in homeless services, affordable housing and international community development.

As she previously shared with the school, Ms. Donaldson’s interest in government and public service started at Bryn Mawr, nurtured by the opportunities she had as a student. She remembers volunteering, which, she says, “encouraged me to see beyond my world.” She was also a member of the early Model United Nations club, and she participated in travel abroad opportunities. Donaldson fondly remembers the arguments and debates she had with her classmates over various political issues during her time as an op-ed writer for The Quill. “I learned in the classroom, I learned on the playing field, and I just treasured those days,” Donaldson reflects. “Bryn Mawr gave me confidence to be myself, and also gave me the skills early on to do all the things I do now.”

“Polly’s impressive career in the nonprofit sector and her passion for community development embody the qualities of leadership we want to inspire within Bryn Mawr students,” said Sue Sadler, Head of School. “We are delighted to feature Polly and her work in Bryn Mawr’s inaugural Leadership in Action Speaker Series event and look forward to sharing her story and path.”