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The Commonwealth Club of California Celebrates 31st Annual Distinguished Citizen Gala

SAN FRANCISCO (Feb. 26, 2019)—The Commonwealth Club celebrates 116 years with its annual Distinguished Citizen Gala held at the Club’s first permanent home, 110 The Embarcadero, San Francisco on Friday, May 17.  A cocktail reception at 5p.m. and Award Ceremony at 6 p.m., in San Francisco’ s Ferry Building will precede the dinner and programs at Club headquarters, 110 The Embarcadero.  Opened in September 2017, the Club’s LEED Gold building sits right on the historic Embarcadero, with sweeping views of the Bay and Bay Bridge from every level. Those who attend will enjoy spectacular views on May 17 from the best spot on the Bay.

The Distinguished Citizen Award is presented to those who have devoted their lives to making the world a better place.  Every year, the Club celebrates honorees who provided strong and ethical leadership in their fields. This year is no different, as it lauds the achievements of distinguished citizens from various sectors, including government, technology, education and philanthropy. 

The 2019 honorees are:

  • Madeleine Albright, Former U.S. Secretary of State
  • John Hope Bryant, Founder Chairman and CEO of Operation Hope
  • Susan and William Oberndorf, Oberndorf Foundation
  • Salesforce, Distinguished Corporate Citizen
  • Suzanne DiBianca, Chief Philanthropy Officer, accepting on behalf of Salesforce

This year’s Dinner Gala Chair Tim Rice noted, “This will be a wonderful event!  There is no better place, with our new extraordinary vantage point from 110 The Embarcadero, to honor those who continue to make strides to help not only those in our community, but globally, as well.  We are living in extraordinarily challenging and divisive times.  So many of us are looking for leaders to remedy the myriad of problems that face us as individuals and as a country,” said Rice, a Senior Vice President and Wealth Management Advisor for Merrill Lynch Wealth Management,

The event cocktail hour and award ceremony will take place in the breathtaking San Francisco Ferry Building nearby at 6 p.m. After a quick stroll down the street, the evening will continue with an intimate dinner at 7 p.m. on each level of The Commonwealth Club’s state-of-the-art new building. Guests on each floor will dine in the company of an honoree and enjoy an engaging civic dialogue featuring the honoree in conversation with a fellow thought leader. Attending the gala is a powerful way to honor these exceptional individuals and support The Commonwealth Club’s year- round mission.  The Club’s gala is attended by hundreds of business, professional and community leaders from around the Bay Area and beyond. It is a lively social occasion and a great opportunity for individuals to host their families and friends, for companies to host their staff and clients and to enhance company branding, and for all to visit and network in a good cause. 

The benefit the Club provides to the community and broader society is recognized by the nearly 100,000 people who attend its live events every year, the one million people who listen to the Club’s broadcasts each week on 230 radio stations across the nation, and the listeners who download 4 million podcasts of the Club’s programs each year.  The Club’s videos also appear on the California Channel, C-SPAN,, and YouTube, where they have been viewed millions of times.  The Club offers all of this content and dialogue to the public for free or at low cost, thanks to generous contributions to the Club. The annual gala is the Club’s only significant fundraising event of the year and the primary opportunity to support the Club’s vital mission.

For the past century, the Club has fostered free speech and civic dialogue on wide-ranging topics, addressing key issues in society, culture, politics, the economy and more.  The Club is the nation’s largest and most active civic forum, which educates and enlightens the public through its programs and broadcasts. In 2018, the Club hosted 500 public programs including meaningful discussions with Sean Spicer, Maria Shriver, John Kerry, and Robert Reich, just to name a few.

Individual tickets are $1000 each. Table sales and sponsorship begins at $10,000. For more information about purchasing tickets or tables please contact (415) 597-6737.

31st  Annual Distinguished Citizen Gala location and logistics:

  • When: Friday, May 17, 2019
  • Where: 110 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94105
  • Time: 5 p.m. Cocktail hour, 6 p.m. Award Ceremony, The Ferry Building 7 p.m. Dinner, 110 The Embarcadero, 8:30 p.m. Dessert
  • For more information contact Kate Steffy (415) 597-6737,

Media interested in covering should please RSVP to

Please join us in paying tribute to:

Madeleine Albright, Former U.S. Secretary of State

Madeleine Albright served as the first woman Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton and was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. In 2012, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama.

She is currently chair of the Washington D.C. based Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy commercial diplomacy firm.  She also heads Albright Capital Management LLC, an investment advisory firm focused on emerging markets.  She is the Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy at Georgetown University and chairs both the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the Pew Global Attitudes Project.

As the 64th U.S. Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001, Albright became, at that time, the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government.  In her role, she reinforced America’s alliances, advocated democracy and human rights and promoted American trade.  From 1993 to 1997, she served as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and as a member of the President’s Cabinet.  Prior to that, she filled several high-profile roles including president of the Center for National Policy, member of President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Council and Chief Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Edmund S. Muskie.  Albright wrote five New York Times best-selling books including her autobiography, Madam Secretary: A Memoir.  She earned a bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College and master’s and doctorate degrees from Columbia University. 

John Hope Bryant, Founder Chairman and CEO of Operation Hope

John Hope Bryant is an entrepreneur, author, advisor and an empowerment leader. He is the founder, chairman and CEO of Operation Hope and the Bryant Group Companies and is one of the top-selling African-American business authors in America. He is also the founder, chairman and CEO of The Promise Homes Company, the largest for-profit minority-controlled owners of institutional-quality, single-family residential rental homes in the U.S. Along with Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and Professor Pekka Himanen of Finland, Bryant is also a co-founder of Global Dignity. Global Dignity is affiliated with the Forum of Young Global Leaders and the World Economic Forum. Bryant’s Operation HOPE, founded in 1992, has raised over 500 million dollars toward its goal of empowering under-served communities by providing aid from private sector resources. Operation HOPE attempts to “bridge the gap” between minority communities and mainstream resources by way of social investment banking. In so doing, communities benefit from access to economic resources along with numerous social benefits.   Bryant also served as Chairman of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability and is the author of several books including The Memo: Five Rules for Your Economic Liberation.

As a 26-year-old upstart at a thriving local business firm, Bryant realized his life’s mission as he witnessed the Los Angeles race riots in 1992. Since then, Bryant has been recognized as a preeminent African American activist and his speeches have inspired countless people. Bryant’s personal philosophy aims to help everyone become a better leader by using love and respect. In 2008, President George W. Bush appointed him vice-chairman of the President’s Council on Financial Literacy. 

Bryant was raised in Compton, California, and graduated from Santa Monica High School. On May 8, 2004 he received an Honorary Doctorate of Human Letters from Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Texas.

Susan and William Oberndorf, Oberndorf Foundation

Susan and William Oberndorf are long time active philanthropists, focusing on education, health care, and other public policy issues. In addition to serving as chairman of the UCSF Board of Overseers, William is chairman of Oberndorf Enterprises, LLC, his family’s holding corporation. Susan is president of the Bill and Susan Oberndorf Foundation and serves on numerous nonprofit boards.

William currently serves as chair of the UCSF Foundation, which raises money to support the University of California San Francisco’s mission of advancing health globally.  In 2016, Susan and William gave an unrestricted $25 million commitment to UCSF to advance basic research in psychiatry and the behavioral sciences.

The husband-wife duo launched their private Oberndorf foundation in 2011. They have contributed funds for the privatization of education, the Center for Education Reform, the Brighter Choice Foundation, All Children Matter, Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the George W. Bush Foundation, and the Philanthropy Roundtable, amongst  other organizations, largely based in the Bay Area.  William Oberndorf also co-founded and is the Chairman Emeritus of the Alliance for School Choice, a non-profit group that promotes the school privatization agenda via the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It is affiliated with the advocacy group the American Federation for Children. Oberndorf is also on the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Excellence in Education

The Oberndorfs have also donated generously to political candidates and causes at state and federal levels.

In March, 1991, Oberndorf co-founded and has since been serving as Managing Director of SPO Partners & Co., a privately held hedge fund sponsor company, launching and managing hedge funds for its clients. 

Raised in Cleveland, founder William Oberndorf graduated from Williams College in 1975 and received his M.B.A. from Stanford Business School in 1978. Susan Oberndorf studied at Stanford University. 

Salesforce, Distinguished Corporate Citizen

Salesforce is a cloud-based software company headquartered in San Francisco whose emphasis is customer relationship management (CRM.)  They also offer enterprise applications focused on customer service, marketing automation, analytics and application development. Salesforce is best known for their customer relationship management which includes Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Commerce Cloud, Analytics Cloud, IoT Cloud, App Cloud, Health Cloud, Financial Services Cloud,, and Chatter. Unlike other applications, theirs do not require IT experts to manage their products.  Their clients merely log in and are able to connect to their customers directly.

The company was founded on three principles: a new technology model in cloud computing, a pay-as-you-go business model, and a new integrated corporate philanthropy model. They were named one of Forbes’s “World’s Most Innovative Company” eight years in a row and #1 on FORTUNE’s ”100 Best Companies to Work For” List in 2018.

The company was founded in 1999 by former Oracle executive Marc Benioff who still serves as its CEO.  Parker Harris, Dave Moellenhoff, and Frank Dominguez then joined Benioff forging a company specializing in software as a service.  In June 2004, the company's initial public offering was listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the stock symbol CRM and raised US$110 million.  Early investors include Larry Ellison, Magdalena Yesil, Halsey Minor, Stewart Henderson, Mark Iscaro, and Igor Sill of Geneva Venture Partners, as well as Nancy Pelosi.   

Salesforce say their vision is to “play a meaningful role in creating a sustainable, low-carbon future by: -Working toward 100 percent renewable energy for our global operations -Continuing to deliver our customers a carbon neutral cloud and operate as a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions company -Pursuing green building certification and other innovative green office initiatives Leveraging our people, technology and resources to help environmental causes around the world.”  Through they provide nonprofit and educational organizations with technology, community engagement and strategic grants. 

Suzanne DiBianca, who is receiving the Award on behalf of Salesforce, is their Executive Vice President of Corporate Relations and Chief Philanthropy Offices.  She is responsible for stakeholder strategy which encompasses corporate giving, community relations and sustainability efforts.  Before this she was co-founder and president of the Salesforce Foundation and  She initiated Salesforce’s 1-1-1 model of “integrated corporate philanthropy which commits 1% of their equity, employee time or product back into the community.”  They are considered exemplary for corporate social responsibility with many other companies following their lead.  DiBianca was named one of Inside Philanthropy’s “Most Power Women in Philanthropy.”   She was also named one of the “Most Influential Women in  Bay Area Business” by the San Francisco Business Times.  She serves on several boards including, and the Classy, Inc.  Before working at Salesforce, she led mergers, acquisitions and technology implementations for Fortune 500 Companies at CSC Consulting.  Prior to this, she worked as marketing and program director for Partners for Democratic Change.  Dibianca graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder.