Note from Jen: Leadership in context

February 27, 2018

One of the most fun parts of my job is meeting Bush Fellowship finalists when they come to our office to interview. Always an impressive and inspiring group, this year I was struck to see that more than a third of the finalists were immigrants or refugees to the U.S.

Whether someone is an immigrant or refugee is not a factor we consider when selecting Bush Fellows. There are no bonus points. There is no quota. We do, however, intentionally favor determination. And adaptability. And drive to make the world better.

We are looking for extraordinary people. And we assess whether an applicant is extraordinary based on whether they have made the most of the opportunities they have been given. We evaluate people in context. Here's what I mean:

On my resume, my high school degree doesn't tell you much about my character. I was born to well-educated parents and was raised with the expectations, support, and stability to all but guarantee I will get a high school diploma. If, on the other hand, I had grown up in a war-torn country or in a refugee camp, and came to America as a teenager unable to speak English, earning a high school degree would be a significant accomplishment.

It's the same credential, but it signifies something very different. Context matters. A lot.

Our Bush Fellowship applicant pool is chock full of incredibly accomplished and impressive people. Understanding each applicant in their context helps us look beyond just conventional credentials to more truly assess talent and those qualities like determination and adaptability and drive that are so important for great leadership.

I have no reason to believe that immigrants and refugees are disproportionately gifted with extraordinary talents. And besides, blanket statements about groups of people are rarely true or helpful. I do believe, however, the experience of overcoming enormous personal challenges can bring out the extraordinary in all of us. It can make us more determined, more adaptable and more driven to change the world.

Given the Bush Foundation's focus on inspiring and supporting problem solving to make our region better for everyone, I see the benefits of a growing pool of determined, adaptable leaders who are driven to change the world. These are leaders who will shape the future for all of us.