Nancy Davis of Race to Erase MS: “Leadership is identifying a problem and finding a way to solve it”

Leadership is identifying a problem and finding a way to solve it. You make a good plan, you have to stick with it, stay the course and keep your eye on the prize. Our prize is finding a cure for MS. As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I […]

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Leadership is identifying a problem and finding a way to solve it. You make a good plan, you have to stick with it, stay the course and keep your eye on the prize. Our prize is finding a cure for MS.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy Davis.

Race to Erase MS was founded by Nancy Davis in 1993 after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. After her diagnosis, she was determined to devote her time and resources to finding a cure. Nancy’s hope, courage and strength continue to inspire her to maintain a vibrant quality of life despite this chronic disease, but most of all, she remains positive, continues to live her life to the fullest and is tireless in her efforts to finding the cure for MS.

In the process of learning all she could about multiple sclerosis, she discovered that MS affects close to two million Americans primarily between the ages of 20 and 40, and three times as many women as men, Nancy Davis made it her deep personal commitment to help find the cause and ultimately the cure of this disease. In 1993 she founded the Race to Erase MS and held the first Race to Erase MS event — an intimate ski getaway weekend in Aspen, Colorado — that pulled in over 1.3 million dollars for the Center Without Walls Program. Since its inception, the Race to Erase MS has become an exciting star-studded gala. The foundation has gained the support of many key individuals in the fashion and entertainment worlds, including Tommy Hilfiger who has been a major sponsor since 1997 and who has a sister living with MS. The annual Race to Erase MS event has raised over 35 million dollars for multiple sclerosis research to date.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series Nancy! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was diagnosed with MS when I was 33 years old, and I was terrified, and I was told that life as I knew it was over. All I cared about was being the best mom to my daughters. I decided to go see other doctors to get their opinions, and was fortunate to be able to see some of the brightest doctors in the field. I was astonished to find out that they were doing the same exact research and I thought to myself “If all those doctors could be working together, then they could provide much faster results.” In 1993, after being diagnosed, I founded Race to Erase MS, an organization dedicated to the treatment and ultimate cure of Multiple Sclerosis. Funding research is the core focus of the Foundation and all funds raised support our Center Without Walls program, a selected network of the nation’s top MS research centers. This nationwide collaboration of physicians and scientists are on the cutting-edge of innovative research programs, working as a team on therapeutic approaches to eradicate MS. In addition to combating MS through research in a clinical environment, we hope to increase awareness by educating the public about this mystifying disease.

And I am proud to say now there are 21 drugs on the market to help MS. The world is completely different for someone who gets diagnosed with MS early on. This is not seen as an automatic death sentence, people now have immense hope to help have an amazing future.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Along the way I have met so many interesting people. When I first started, I was doing an event in Aspen, Colorado and I spoke for the first time publicly about MS. The next day, a mother with her daughter, who was in a wheelchair, came up to me and said that hearing me speak on the radio inspired her to put on clothes and earrings and embrace the day. Knowing my voice was able to help even just one person made me feel so good and I knew this was my calling. This woman lit a fire in me to keep inspiring others with my journey, despite the discomfort of telling your private story. It is so inspiring to see how many people have been able to turn around their quality of life.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The funniest mistake, or more of a learning experience, is not realizing the amount of time and effort it takes to put together the annual Race to Erase Gala. I didn’t realize all the moving parts and the amount of hours and manpower it takes to execute. But it is all worth it in the end and I am excited to announce the 28th Annual Event, Drive-In to Erase MS on June 4, 2021 at LA’s iconic Rose Bowl Stadium. The legendary Earth, Wind & Fire is our special musical guest this year and there will feature a Fashion Show from alice + olivia by Stacy Bendet, celebrating the strides we have made towards a cure for MS.

We are deeply grateful to all of our supporters who have continued to help us fund important multiple sclerosis research. This incredible evening under the stars will be an unforgettable night. We look forward to celebrating with you in your car in a safe and conscientious manner. To purchase tickets and for full details regarding logistics and safety precautions can be found here: https://www.driveintoerasems.org/ | https://shop.erasems.org/collections/tickets

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Over the last 28 years, the Race to Erase MS has raised 51,424,622 dollars in contributions. We have funded MS research grants and programs totaling 30,024,009 dollars. Since 1999, 72% percent of all Race to Erase MS funds have been spent on program activities, funding cutting edge research through our Center without Walls program, which is greater than the 65% benchmark recommended by the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance.

We want to help anyone and everyone, no matter who they are and who is affected with MS. We do studies all over the world and want to be inclusive of everyone. People with MS can now be more independent and live a higher quality of life.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

At a meeting a year and a half ago, a lady came to a meeting who was having a tough time walking. She was able to try a new medication that we have on the market and it was able to help her. She told me that she got to wear heels for the first time in so long and she would be at the event this year, dancing with a heel!

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

We need insurance companies and so forth to help people be able to afford the medication that they so desperately need. It’s a matter of the quality of life with these medications. It is not fair they are not able to get the medication they need.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is identifying a problem and finding a way to solve it. You make a good plan, you have to stick with it, stay the course and keep your eye on the prize. Our prize is finding a cure for MS.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

• I wish I knew how to be more organized.

• I wish I knew how much time every detail would take.

• I also wish I took a public speaking course. I quickly learned it is not as easy as people make it look.

• I wish I had the confidence to know everything would be OK in such an uncertain world.

• I wish I knew how great it felt to see others succeed

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

With Cure Addiction Now, a charity I started with my late son Jason Davis, our goal is to help people who are in trouble, and the importance of breaking down the misconception that all drug sellers are felons.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are probably right. What you think you can do is what you will! Your potential is endless and you just have to go for it.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

My dream would be to be able to sit down with Elon Musk or Anne Wojcicki, CEO and Co-Founder, 23andMe,… or both!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

To keep up with me and all the upcoming news and projects, follow me at @NancyPeaceandlove, @RacetoEraseMS | @CureAddictionNow

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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BEVERLY HILLS, CA - APRIL 20:  (L-R) Ken Rickel, Isabella Davis, Founder of Race To Erase MS Nancy Davis, and Mariella Davis attend the 25th Annual Race To Erase MS Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on April 20, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Race To Erase MS)
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