Donald K. Ross Future Leaders Program

A unique initiative designed to empower and nurture our next generation of leaders – and honor the legacy of NYPIRG's first executive director.
Donald K. Ross

The Legacy of Donald K. Ross

Donald K. Ross passed away on May 14, 2022. One of the original “Nader’s Raiders,” Donald was the “father” of the Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs). It was Donald’s genius to see that a better world could be created by harnessing the energy, idealism, and smarts of college students. Not only could public policies be improved, but also the experience of civic engagement would make these younger adults better citizens. “Action for a Change,” a book co-written by Donald and Ralph Nader, offered a blueprint for college student activism, with a formula that focused on accomplishments, bite-sized policy victories that could cascade into fundamental changes in governance. His book soon led to the establishment of dozens of PIRGs in states across the country.
Donald’s vision soon turned into personal practical application when, in 1973, he became the first executive director of NYPIRG. From a handful of staff and dozens of student volunteers working on college campuses, he transformed NYPIRG into one of New York’s leading environmental and consumer advocacy organizations. His work taking on the nuclear power industry after the near catastrophic Three Mile Island partial meltdown put NYPIRG on the national stage, with massive rallies in Washington DC and New York City.
Among the many policy successes, Donald’s work touched the lives of hundreds of college students. For many of these individuals, Donald’s work led to life-changing career experiences. And as his vision was played out across the country, thousands of students’ lives were transformed. Essentially, NYPIRG became an “advocacy graduate school” for political organizers who went on to run state and national groups.
After he left NYPIRG in 1982, he went on to work at the Rockefeller Family Fund, helped establish the Environmental Grantmakers Association (which has grown to over 200 member foundations around the world), served as executive director of Tortuga Foundation, and partnered with the MacArthur Foundation. In these roles, Donald successfully advocated for philanthropic organizations to take a more active role in shaping policy – from protecting public lands in Alaska, to safeguarding drinking water, to reforming the juvenile justice system.
Donald also chaired Greenpeace USA, and founded the law firm Malkin & Ross, as well as M+RSS, a consulting firm that was instrumental in winning hundreds of policy victories over the years, helping nonprofits and communities successfully organize in the public interest against Big Oil, Big Tobacco, and other well-funded industry lobbyists. Donald’s work was prolific, and his work helped to launch or sustain hundreds of organizations across the globe. He was a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, creating a legacy of work that is surpassed by few. For those of us who worked with Donald, we owe more than we can express to him and his work.

Continuing Donald’s Work

Training future leaders to become effective advocates and agents of change in the public interest was central to the mission of Donald K. Ross’s life’s work. To honor this legacy of work, we are launching the Donald K. Ross Future Leaders Program. The goal of the program is to create a pipeline of well-trained civic leaders that will bolster American democracy. Students that go through the program will undoubtedly strengthen the non-profits, businesses, or institutions that they will ultimately join. Their keen understanding of how best to influence public policy as well as the adoption of successful traits (e.g., personal organization, preparation, programmatic analysis, participation in the public arena, all build the confidence necessary to take on the world) will enhance their future career prospects.
College students who participate in this unique and rigorous program (selected from a competitive application and interview process) relocate to Albany, New York for the duration of the legislative season, which typically runs from January to June. They work 40 hours per week and are assigned one or two public policy issues as their primary responsibility, along with a broad issue area in which to track relevant legislation. Program participants do high level advocacy work including: researching pending or proposed legislation; meeting with legislators and their staffs; tracking legislation in committee and on the floor; writing bill memoranda; drafting and researching reports, surveys, and newsletter articles; building coalitions among other interest and community groups; consulting with NYPIRG staff to gain technical and legal assistance; providing legislative updates for NYPIRG campus chapters; and holding speaking engagements on issue areas of expertise.
Program participants attend weekly workshops, seminars, and discussion groups that cover a wide array of topics on politics, advocacy, and organizing skills. Interns receive a stipend and academic credit. Participants come away with real work experience and the tools to be effective political and issue advocates.
Donald’s legacy as the “Johnny Appleseed” of the public interest spawned a generation of activists and hundreds organizations fighting for the public interest. The Donald K. Ross Future Leaders Program would continue his life’s work by churning out every year a new crop of public interest “warriors” ready to do all that they can to make a difference.
Please contact Diana Mihailovich at if you have any questions.
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News Archive
News Release: Youth, Faith & Environmental Groups Join with Legislators to Call for “Make Polluters Pay” Bill Requiring Big Oil to Fund Climate Crisis Costs to be Included in Senate and Assembly One-House Budgets Also: Check out NYPIRG's New Video Illustrating the Need to Make Corporate Polluters Pay
Video Release: Make Polluters Pay!
NEWS RELEASE: NYPIRG Releases “Small Claims, Small Changes: A Survey of Albany Small Claims Court 45 Years Later”
A NYPIRG report documenting a survey of litigants who participated in cases in the City of Albany Small Claims Court in 2021 shows the challenges facing consumers using the system.
NEWS RELEASE: NYPIRG Reacts to Governor Hochul's Budget Plan

Over 300 Business, Civic, Environmental, and Youth Groups Call on Governor Hochul to Modernize State Returnable Container Law (“Bottle Bill”)

Groups Urge Inclusion in the State Budget Due to Need for Enhanced Enforcement and Immediate Action to Increase Current Redeemed Beverage Container “Handling Fee”

NYPIRG Statement on the Passing of Sidney Wolfe, MD, Founder of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group
Today, a coalition of elected officials, youth leaders, and community organizations led by NYPIRG called on Governor Hochul to include the Climate Change Superfund Act in her upcoming budget. The Climate Superfund assesses the largest oil companies for the state's mounting climate-related expenses and does so in a way that protects the public from increased costs.
RELEASE: Another Storm, More Costs to NY Taxpayers: Will Governor Hochul Make Big Oil Pay? A coalition of groups today called on Governor Hochul to make the oil companies pick up the tab for the costs of NY's climate damages after another deadly storm that caused widespread damage to New York State.
NYPIRG and a coalition of environmental organizations and local elected officials today released a review of the climate costs facing New York City and called on Governor Hochul to make the biggest oil companies – not local taxpayers – pay to cover climate damages
NYPIRG Celebrated Its Five Decades of Victories and College Student Empowerment
Author and Activist Jane Fonda, Community Service Society’s David Jones, State Senator Liz Krueger, U.S. Sen. Schumer’s State Director Martin Brennan, and New Deal Strategies’ Camille Rivera Received NYPIRG's “changemaker” Awards
Climate Superfund News Conferences: Taxpayer Tally of Climate Costs Since 8/2022 is $2.7 Billion
NYPIRG Statement on the Death of Ryan Thoresen Carson
The biblical rains that are devastating parts of the state are fresh evidence that the costs of adapting New York's infrastructure to the world climate’s "new abnormal" will be staggering. Legislation -- approved by the Senate (S.2129A) -- would require the largest oil companies to help pick up the tab and do it in a manner that will stop them from passing the costs on to consumers. Read NYPIRG's statement on downstate's devastating floods.
Advocates and Business call on Governor Hochul and DEC to release grant funds to struggling Bottle Redemption Businesses
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NYers face hundreds of millions of dollars in climate costs while big oil racks up huge profits, nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars over past 30 months
NYPIRG 50th Anniversary, Celebrating Five Decades of Victories and College Student Empowerment, Will Be Held on October 13th in NYC – Author and Activist Jane Fonda, Community Service Society's David Jones, State Senator Liz Krueger, U.S. Sen. Schumer's State Director Martin Brennan, and New Deal Strategies' Camille Rivera to Receive NYPIRG's "Changemaker" Awards
New York’s “New Normal” Not Normal at All: Frequent Climate Disasters, Staggering Costs — Governor Hochul Leaves New Yorkers on the Financial Hook for Billions of Dollars in Climate Damages and Extreme Weather Emergency Preparedness While Letting Big Oil off the Hook
NYPIRG Has Updated Its 2023 Legislative Session Review, Including the New York State Assembly Actions
Reports & Features Archive