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Figlar named new Birmingham Foundation executive director


Last updated 7/5/2022 at 8:15pm

The Birmingham Foundation's Board of Directors has announced Michelle Figlar, an accomplished champion for early childhood learning in Pennsylvania with deep personal and professional connections to Pittsburgh as the third executive director of the 25-year-old independent community-focused foundation.

In its approval of Ms. Figlar' appointment, the 16-member board drew on one of its own from past membership ranks. Ms. Figlar has served as a director on the foundation's board since 2015. Since 2016, she has served as Vice President of Learning at The Heinz Endowments where she leads grantmaking focused on education of young children and family and community health.

In announcing the appointment, Board President Terry Wirginis cited Ms. Figlar's extensive experience in early childhood education and her deep ties to the neighborhoods the foundation serves as key factors that made her the top candidate for the Selection Committee.

"Michelle's clear dedication to working for quality education for all, her extensive regional and state-wide leadership in the sector, and her love of the neighborhoods we serve make her an excellent match for the Birmingham Foundation," said Mr. Wirginis.

Ms. Figlar will succeed Mark Bibro, who is retiring after 22 years at the Birmingham Foundation, serving the past 14 years as its leader. Mr. Bibro will continue his affiliation with the foundation by advising on its mission-related investments in real estate development in Pittsburgh's Hilltop.

Mary Phan Gruber, who recently announced her retirement as Executive Director of the Jefferson Regional Foundation, was the foundation's first Executive director.

During Ms. Figlar's tenure at The Heinz Endowments, she led her team in establishing a comprehensive strategy for the learning area; launched the endowments' funding to support prenatal-age three children and their families; established a place-based grantmaking strategy in Hazelwood focused on children and families; and partnered with other foundations to establish both the Early Childhood Education apprenticeship program at Carlow University and the Pittsburgh Scholar House. She co-chaired Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald's Children's Fund Working Group that led to the creation of the Department of Children's Initiative.

Before joining The Heinz Endowments, Ms. Figlar served as Deputy Secretary of the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning. She previously served as Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC), since renamed as Trying Together.

Throughout her career in government, the nonprofit sector and the classroom, Ms. Figlar has been a advocate for young children, their families, and the caring adults in their lives. She currently serves on the board of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania State Board of Private Academic Schools, and the Pennsylvania Early Learning Council.

Ms. Figlar is a native of Pittsburgh's Hazelwood neighborhood and lives in the city with her husband, entrepreneur Greg Quinlan, and their children Grady and Tilly.

André Heinz, board chairman of The Heinz Endowments, said, "Michelle has devoted exceptional service over the past six years, contributing significantly to our organization's positive strategic and structural realignments while overseeing the successful development of our Learning program.

"Most notably, she has earned deserved recognition for ways that she has championed the needs of early childhood education and development, and the wellbeing of families. It is fitting that this will continue to be her major focus in her new role at the Birmingham Foundation, and she departs the Endowments with our congratulations and very best wishes. Michelle will be missed by all of us at the Endowments."

Ms. Figlar said while she valued her work at The Heinz Endowments, the Birmingham Foundation position presented an opportunity to lead a foundation that focused on issues central to her career.

"At PAEYC and OCDEL, I had the honor of leading those organizations, so I was particularly interested in this opportunity to bring my full leadership abilities to philanthropy." said Ms. Figlar. "My recent work with the national Early Childhood Funder's Collaborative has drawn me to issue-focused philanthropy. This new role provides a platform to attract investment, national attention, and pilot programs to benefit children and families in South Pittsburgh."

Ms. Figlar said the foundation is well positioned because of what the organization and board have accomplished under Mr. Bibro's leadership.

"Under Mark's stewardship, the Birmingham Foundation found new focus and impact by concentrating our efforts on early childhood care and education in South Pittsburgh," she said. "He has guided the organization to intelligently invest in program-related initiatives and investments, and in relocating their office to the geographical center of where the work is. I know I can rely on his ongoing mentorship as we continue to build better futures for children and families in South Pittsburgh."

Ms. Figlar will transition to the Birmingham Foundation in September, while completing her work at the Heinz Endowments through October on a limited basis.

Ms. Figlar's appointment concludes a review of 25 candidates by six -member Search Committee co-chaired by Board Vice President, Judge William Simmons. The other members were President Terry Wirginis, Betty Kripp, Dr. Max Harleman, Cary Harris, and Tara Matthews.

The search committee looked for candidates who had experience in philanthropy, knowledge of South Pittsburgh, the ability to bring groups together, and an extensive knowledge of early childhood education. Looking ahead, it is important that the foundation continues to be a change agent, a catalyst for growth through grant making, sharing of resources, and community collaboration.


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