A few months ago, Laurie Glenn, founder, president and CEO of Chicago-based international political and public affairs consulting firm Thinkinc., was checking her LinkedIn account on a Sunday when someone slipped in her direct messages asking her questions like, “Are you that Laurie Glen? Were you born on July 5th?
“I was like, ‘What is this: identity theft?'” Glenn recalled with a laugh.
The questions came from a representative of the Credit Agricole bank in New York ensuring that the good Glenn was contacted to be honored with the French National Order of Merit, an award which recognizes people for distinguished service and/or a connection returned to the French Republic for at least 10 years. The distinction is similar to the Legion of Honor, awarded to people from all fields of activity who have served France for at least 20 years.
Awarded by the President of the French Republic, the Order of Merit was created by President Charles de Gaulle in 1963 for “distinguished merit” in the service of France and the causes it supports. It is rare for a non-French citizen to receive this award.
Glenn is now on this list, joining honorees such as Quincy Jones, Toni Morrison, Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. She received her badge of merit – a blue enameled six-armed Maltese asterisk, suspended from a wreath of intertwined oak leaves – on June 2 at a reception in New York with diplomats, civic leaders and French nationals.
Fabrice Rozié, a former cultural attaché in New York and Chicago, nominated Glenn for the honor in 2019. According to Patrick Pagni, president of the American Society of the French Order of Merit, the pandemic prevented ceremonies from taking place until has recently.
“She’s one of the few to receive this,” Pagni said. “These are awarded for people who have done something important in their field and who have been instrumental in developing a high level of cooperation between France and the United States.”
The appointment stems from Glenn’s work with Rozié and the local French consulate to expand cultural ties between France and the United States. and 2019 also supported his nomination. Glenn facilitated workshops in 2017 and 2018 with Sorbonne Nouvelle University on using research as a tool to build power and influence on social policy issues.
Other projects Glenn has worked on with the French Consulate in Chicago and the United States Embassy in Paris include:
- “City/Cite: A trans-Atlantic Exchange”, a 2015 event where leading scholars, policymakers, researchers, community organizers, activists and artists from both sides of the Atlantic were in Chicago to explore inequality, race and the state of urban democracy in the United States and France. This program is still in effect.
- In 2009 and 2010, Glenn’s firm was retained by the United States Embassy in Paris to bring delegations to Chicago in response to Barack Obama’s election as President. think inc. organized a 10-day delegation of elected French Muslims from all political backgrounds to understand how he was elected and how to translate his victory into lessons learned for elected officials of color in France. The second delegation was brought to the city to train local leaders in community organizing as a tool for empowering local leaders.
- Glenn’s art arm, Th!nkArt, an international forum on art and politics featuring local, European and South American artists, held a joint exhibition in 2010 at the Richard J. Daley Center featuring the photography of 10 young people from Altgeld Gardens in Chicago and 10 young people. visit to La Courneuve in Paris. Th!nkArt’s mission is to take art from the canvas to a human-to-human conversation about art, philosophy, politics and the world at large. In 2009, Th!nkArt worked in collaboration with the French director Yamina Benguigui within the framework of an international human rights summit in Paris.
Pagni said fewer than 140 Americans have received the honor over the past 40 years, and that Glenn receiving the order is a well-deserved achievement.
“It really was a much bigger honor than I thought,” said Glenn, who has more than 40 years of experience working in social justice and public policy and working with marginalized communities. “Everything I learned from all the community organizers, all the groups I worked with in the United States, was the culmination of my work, and it made me a better person, a best human being. I’m so grateful to be recognized because you’re never a hero in your own hometown.
Glenn is already thinking about what’s next. She said she wanted to continue to be involved in people’s dreams in hopes of seeing the next generation of people come to power. With Thinkinc and Th!nkArt, she has already created a new company called ThinkHeart. She has not yet understood what path this effort will take.
“It’s so clear to me that it’s all about how we treat each other, that we come from a place of love,” Glenn said. “And that real institutional change, you have to engage people’s hearts and minds to bring about real systemic change.”
For Glenn, receiving the National Order of Merit is proof that you have to keep going. While most people think about retirement, Glenn says her work is something she will continue to do until her death because “it’s about humanity and building a progressive voice that allows inclusion”.
“My religion is social justice,” Glenn said. “I think there is nothing more important than people’s ability to have agency and make choices in their lives. I work with powerful community organizations in Chicago and France…to build democracy with the people on the ground, to help them, to give them the tools to amplify their voice, and to be strategic in understanding how to leverage and build power. My job is always to help a transfer of power from people who have too much to those who need more.