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Encouraging individuals and organizations to think bigger and think differently

Bush Fellowship Program encourages lifelong learning

I am passionate about lifelong learning.  Perhaps its importance goes without saying during these days of rapid and significant change, but when I began my work with Government Training Service (GTS) back in 1977, lifelong learning wasn’t a given for individuals in state and local government.  In fact, GTS was created (out of a conference, no less) as a public, joint powers organization to address the need for consistent educational opportunities for elected and appointed officials—recognizing that they should be as informed as possible since their decisions would have long-term impacts on the well-being of their constituencies.  GTS board and staff strongly believed in our mission—helping those who provide services to Minnesota citizens and communities meet current needs for knowledge and skills, plus anticipate and prepare for changes to come.  

Fast forward 35 years:  The challenges facing public sector leaders are greater than ever: revenue shortfalls and budget cuts, crumbling infrastructure, aging baby boomers, prisons full beyond capacity, mismatch of available jobs and people with the skills to fill those jobs, political gridlock, etc.   At the same time, our lexicon has expanded to include government redesign, lean government, multi-sector and intergovernmental collaboration, community engagement, as well as the “new normal.”  And GTS is now a nonprofit doing business as GTS Educational Events

Most elected and public officials choose public service because of their desire to make a difference.  I have great admiration for those willing to work with the constraints, diverse stakeholders and fishbowl environment that come with their position.  It’s possible but not easy to initiate change (as my sister Ember Reichgott Junge, who was a Minnesota state senator for 18 years, can attest).  

As key leaders in their communities, elected and government officials in policymaking positions have an unmatched opportunity to work toward solutions to these tough problems. That’s why I’m delighted that these potential changemakers can now apply to the new Bush Fellowship Program, which is designed to foster courageous leadership to mobilize communities to find solutions to tough problems, through a partnership between the Bush Foundation and GTS.  

The Bush Fellowship Program offers an exceptional opportunity for individuals to enhance their leadership skills through seminars, personal assessments, and one-on-one coaching to deepen the understanding of their strengths, as well as development needs.  Up to $75,000 is available to support their efforts over two years to bring their ideas for community vitality to fruition.  

The communities can be local, regional, statewide, tribal, federal or a specific constituency within Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota or the 23 Native nations that share the same geographic area.  There are specific eligibility requirements (age, type of position, minimum income, etc.).  See complete details at

If you are an elected or public official with a vision that hasn’t yet been realized, are undeterred by tough problems, value input (both pro and con), and would welcome the chance to increase your capacity for leadership, you sound like someone who shares my passion for lifelong learning.  You also sound like a Bush Fellow!  I urge you to apply.  The deadline is November 20.     

Helene Johnson serves as the executive director for GTS and its board of directors.  Her background includes positions as education director for the St. Paul YWCA and administrative fellow in Continuing Education and Extension at the University of Minnesota, as well as with the City of Robbinsdale (MN) and the Minneapolis Radisson Hotel. 

Talk Back to Bush
What challenges do elected leaders in your community face? Are there elected or public officials in your community who you’d recommend for the Bush Fellowship Program? We want to know what you think.

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