The past two months have been an exhilarating, rigorous, intensive, yet humbling and grateful experience. I had the opportunity to listen to words of wisdom and advise from Denis McDonough. McDonough served four years as President Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff. He presented at the 12th annual Eugene J. McCarthy lecture that took place at the Saint John’s University, his Alma mater. Before McDonough’s 2013 selection to the highest non-elected position in the White House, McDonough served as Obama's Deputy National Security Advisor, Chief of Staff to the National Security Council and head of the National Security Council's Strategic Communication division. In his role at the White House, McDonough managed thousands of White House employees and Cabinet Secretaries, provided strategic advice to Obama on the most pressing range of domestic and international issues facing the federal government and coordinated efforts to recruit and retain key talent to the federal government.
During his presentation and interview, McDonough expressed how he was hired by President Obama to be “candid and tell the truth” even during tribulations. He shared how difficult that was, and he expressed the relevance of having a mentor, his identified mentor was Tim Baker, former Chief of Staff for President Bush and President Reagan. The average term of a Chief of Staff is 18 months, but Dennis served four years, one of the longest serving Chief of Staff in America’s history. He shared the significance of diplomacy and how that is a better option compared to war. He stated the way to handle war is through diplomacy. Although he was critical of the current administration, he was quick to offer praise for some of their strategic diplomatic transaction with countries like North Korea. On a personal level, he mentioned “the fear of letting people down motivated him.”
Also, on 25th October 2018, I had the chance to listen to Dr. Manijeh Daneshpour, a colleague, mentor, and friend who is the system-wide Director and Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy in the Department of the Couple and Family Therapy at Alliant International University in Irvine, California. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) with over 20 years of academic, research, and clinical experience. She presented on “Social Justice Perspective in Honoring Differences and Understanding Similarities.” In her presentation, she focused on examining and understanding how we can solve our major existential dilemma about multicultural competency, and exploring and resolving quandaries related to providing multicultural psychotherapy. She shared about the importance of exercising empathy and drew similarities in America’s history comparing the migration of Jews to America during the Holocaust era to that of Syrian refugees entering America, and the fear, rejection, and lack of empathy people have towards them. She mentioned how some of these refugees strip of their liberties, titles, and freedom through the act of war and their gravitation towards satisfying the first order of need on Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which is safety. The role fear and propaganda were used during the Holocaust to promote negative agenda. She tasked us to be “advocates and educators ” and most importantly cultural brokers for these marginalized and underrepresented communities. One of the most touching aspects of her slides were pictures of mothers carrying their babies, men holding the hands of children and the elderly. You could observe the fear and uncertainty on their faces as they appear to run from the atrocities of war to seek safety for their families yet are sometimes labeled negatively.
Baabiitaw, our very own Bush Fellow and colleague invited me to the Mille Lacs reservation, Band of Ojibwe. It is an experience I will forever treasure and hold dear to my heart. First, it is imperative to state that Baabiitaw was a great host, tour guide and a dear friend. She made me feel at home, and the experiences I had was very similar to some of my traditions back home. I had the chance to meet some wonderful people doing amazing things in their respective communities yet also heard of the numerous challenges the Band of Ojibwe had faced. The breakfast experience, the traditional drumming and singing, the ceremonies and rituals and its historical significance. I can write a whole article on this experience, but I will continue to hold that experience to heart.
The Jugaad Leadership Program which I serve in the capacity as a co-founder and a current Advisory Board member commenced its piloted mentoring program for our “Emerging Leaders.” The Jugaad Leadership Program was developed in 2015 to empower the community to assume responsibility for positive social change. “Jugaad” is a Hindi and Punjabi word that means “innovation.” The 7-month leadership program is designed to provide people of color and other underrepresented community members with the knowledge, skills, and resources to become effective leaders. The program is supported by the City of St. Cloud, United Way, Central Minnesota Community Foundation (CMCF), Initiative Foundation, Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union, CentraCare Health, Bernicks, Metro Bus, Adom LLC, Wells Fargo Foundation, Marco, and Microbiologics.
This year we launched our piloted Jugaad Leadership Mentoring Program committed to enhancing and promoting personal development, professional excellence and success of our Emerging Leaders of color that are past graduates of the program through structured programs and activities that promote inclusion, equity, and positive retention in Central Minnesota. In research published in Harvard Business review, the study found out from interviews conducted with top executives that nearly two-thirds of the respondents had a mentor, and one-third of them has had two or more mentors. Executives who had a mentor earn more money at a younger age were better educated, more likely to follow a career plan and sponsor a mentee.
The Jugaad Leadership Program in its third year has received accolades and awards including the 2017 Rock-On- Award, presented by Mayor Dave Kleis and the City of St. Cloud, the 2016-17 St. Cloud Area School District 742 Board of Education- Partners in Education Award. These awards recognize individuals, groups or organizations that have displayed outstanding civic participation, leadership, and supported education respectively. The program won the 2016 Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation (GSDC) Innovation Award. The GSDC Innovation Award recognizes St. Cloud area for-profit and non-profit organizations employing innovation to solve problems and create opportunities.
An experience I will forever be grateful for is the ability to attend Harvard University through their Extension School program. I participated in the “Strategies for Leading Successful Change Initiative” at Cambridge, Massachusetts. David A. Shore taught the program, he has an impeccable mastery and experience on change management, and was recognized as professor of innovation and change, 2015 Top Thought Leader in Trust, delivered a TEDx Talk and consulted across six continents. He has provided consultations with visionaries like Steve Jobs and many more. I had the honor of networking with a cohort of dynamic leaders and visionaries from all over the world with extensive experience in their area of expertise. In his class, he shared about the importance of being a change agent and how that requires change makers to “build bridges” through empathy, relationships and most importantly trust. Learning to live with and leveraging ambiguity was a characteristic of a change agent. One significant takeaway from the presentation was that “all change is disruptive.” To initiate change we must accept the fact that it is disruptive, and will come with hesitation and challenges, and it is imperative for leaders to embrace them and work through it. People need to move from the “comfort zone” to the “discomfort zone” before they can change. As a leader, I must remind myself that we cannot forget about history but remember who we are as a person, where we came from, where we are going, and how all these factors are shaped and forged by history. We cannot change history. However, we can learn and influence the outcome of the future.
I had the privileged to present at the 3rd Annual Law Enforcement, and Social Services Conference focused on the theme “Strengthening Communities: The Intersectionality between the Community, Justice, and Mental Health Interventions” at St. Cloud State University. The conference explored the benefits of creating an opportunity for the police, social services and the community to work together while providing a better understanding of the work of law enforcement and how social services can aid in times of crisis and need. I presented on “Providing Mental Health care to Immigrants: Current Challenges and Strategies.” I continue to work with my Bush Fellowship Coach, Simonich Heather, who guides my thoughts, creates a sense of curiosity and vision for me to reflect and ponder over; challenging me to digest my goals and reminding me to maintain a physical, emotional and psychological balance. I constantly learn about the importance of engaging in dialogue; it is through dialogue and active listening that we can begin to engage in difficult conversations, it is through this medium that we can demystify ignorance and fear.