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Jennifer Pope Baker '89 sits on a railing on campus

Jennifer Pope Baker ’89: Making noise about quiet problems

For 23 years, Jennifer Pope Baker ’89 has done the serious work of lifting women out of poverty and intimate violence. So every once in a while, she ventures off-script, and dives into a volunteer gig in sports.

“My heart is really in the work I’m doing with women and equity,” she said, “but I love sports. And so that feeds my soul and gives me something else to do.”

As president of the Women’s Fund of Central Indiana, she oversees its grant-making to organizations and projects that support women involved in caregiving of children or the elderly; experiencing intimate violence; or struggling with economic security. In the last several years, the fund – which is part of the Central Indiana Community Foundation – also has supported work to enhance mental health and emotional well-being and has been more intentional about ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion in its work, she said.

Baker didn’t plan to go into women’s advocacy or philanthropy. At DePauw, she was a communication major involved with WGRE student radio and occasionally the student newspaper.

“I thought that maybe I would do something like that, but I didn’t have a concrete plan,” she said. Her parents urged her to find meaningful work during school breaks, and United Way in Cleveland provided a position throughout her college years and upon graduation.

She later participated in a training program that enabled her to interview with United Way agencies around the country. A position opened in Indianapolis, “and I thought, ‘oh, my friends from college are there.’” She moved and worked three years at United Way there, made a couple other stops and then, in 1998, was hired as the only staff member of the two-year-old women’s fund, which was in the “interesting notion phase,” trying to raise money and home in on the work it ultimately would do.

“There are still new things to do. And I think that as long as there are new things and I’m challenged, it’s the right fit for me.”

“We were very careful to say that we were going to do things other people were not paying attention to,” Baker said. Leaders “wanted to look at the quiet problems, the ones you don’t say out loud, the ones that happen to ‘those people,’ other people.”

More than two decades on, she still enjoys the work. “I still have new challenges,” she said. “There are still new things to do. And I think that as long as there are new things and I’m challenged, it’s the right fit for me.”

Brian Payne, CICF’s president and chief executive officer, said Baker “is a great connector of people and ideas. She generously opens up her network of smart, committed and charitable people that will get you the expertise or advise you need to go from plateau to breakthrough.”

Baker finds respite from her day job in volunteering for sports events, such as serving as vice chair of the Indiana Sports Corp and as NFL team liaison for the 2012 Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. When the NCAA announced in January that its entire March Madness basketball tournament, not just the Final Four, would be played in a controlled environment in Central Indiana, Baker took a leave of absence to chair the local organization and coordinate the massive logistics of hosting 68 teams playing 67 games.  

“Jennifer,” said Rick Fuson, the sports corp chair and the president and chief operating officer of the Indiana Pacers, “is a pragmatic problem-solver, someone who truly lives the principle that anything is possible when we do not worry who gets the credit.”  



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