'More than an education': Emerging leaders graduate from local program


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On his trip to the United Kingdom, President Barack Obama addressed an audience of young people filled with 500 youth leaders in a town hall meeting in London. The President called on the young leaders to reject pessimism and interact with those who have different beliefs, he said “Seek out people who don’t agree with you, and it will also help you to compromise.” The President continued to say: “Progress is not inevitable, it requires struggle, discipline and faith.” He also said “Not to say your generation has had it easy, in a time of breathtaking change, from 9/11, 7/7 … and during an age of information and Twitter where there’s a steady stream of bad news.” The town hall meeting also included a question and answer session for attendees to speak with the President.
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A new generation of movers and shakers step into the professional world Friday evening, crossing the stage as graduates of the Jugaad Leadership Program.

The St. Cloud-based leadership program, which focuses on students in high school and college as well as young professionals, is in its second year of “training, placing and connecting the next generation of leaders,” according to board member Emmanuel Oppong. 

“We are focused on giving diverse community members the knowledge, resources and skills they need to connect with boards and businesses in the area,” Oppong said. 

Students in the program come from at least seven countries, according to Oppong. 

“We have students that are both local and international. We have students and leaders from Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, Malaysia, Nigeria, and the Bahamas,” he said. “It’s a really diverse group of students.” 

“Jugaad” is a Hindi word that means “innovation.” Oppong said the notion of innovation is a core value of the group. 

“‘Jugaad’ is the idea of using what you have to get what you want,” he said. “Maximizing the limited resources that you have is the basic idea of the Jugaad Leadership Program.” 

Jonathan Wong, 24, is one member of Jugaad’s 2017 graduating class. Originally from Malaysia, Wong said that he enjoys St. Cloud and is grateful to the “great education opportunity” provided to him by the Jugaad Leadership Program. 

“I would say that the engagement (aspect of the program) has greatly impacted my personal life,” Wong said. “It really does expose you to different parts of St. Cloud, the community and businesses and different boards.” 

After graduation, Wong said he plans on being “even more involved with the community” in St. Cloud.

“I feel safe in this community,” he said. “I feel that this community gives a lot of opportunities for you to learn and grow, and to be yourself.” 

READ MORE: Program trains and encourages local diverse leaders

Founder and board member Eunice Adjei said that another concept central to the Jugaad program is advocating for minority voices on advisory boards.

“The program, in a nutshell, is to connect minorities and other underrepresented members of our community,” Adjei said. “One thing that this program has fulfilled in our two years is having access for minorities to be on boards in this community.” 

Gabriel Johnson, 25, moved to St. Cloud from Chicago several years ago, and joined the Jugaad Leadership Program because he “needed that push, that wake-up call, to be pointed in the right direction at all times.” 

Johnson works with Mayor Dave Kleis at the Central Minnesota Driving Academy and was nominated by Kleis for the program, which he describes as “phenomenal.” 

“It’s one thing to have a group of emerging leaders and put them together in a room once or twice, but when you have a monthly requirement to not only network, but to get up early in the morning and go to class and surround yourself with your peers and better yourself, and to have someone established there to guide you, it’s absolutely life-changing,” Johnson said. 

After graduation, Johnson plans to finish his business degree at St. Cloud State University while simultaneously earning his real estate license. He then intends to start a small business which he hopes to “eventually turn into a non-profit; we’ll start a small contracting business buying abandoned and foreclosed properties, renovating them to help clean up the community and offer homes to underprivileged families who maybe can’t afford a mortgage.” 

Johnson credits the program with “(opening his) eyes to a whole new world of networking (he) wouldn’t have seen” on his own. 

“This is a class that is only going to benefit you personally,” Johnson said. “This education was more than an education.” 

Follow Alyssa Zaczek on Twitter @sctimesalyssa, email her at azaczek@stcloudtimes.com, or call her at (320) 255-8761. 

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