Learning from Students & Leading Through Change

Leadership Lessons from the Next Generation of Global Leaders

In finding my stride as OneWorld Now!’s new Executive Director, I have noticed parallels between what we teach through our leadership curriculum and the skills and attitudes I use to lead OWN. I’m not thinking of organizational management or strategic planning; instead my mind turns to intangible qualities that are often overlooked in traditional definitions of what it takes to be a successful leader. These include a mindset that emphasizes possibility, a healthy identity and sense of belonging, and an understanding of global interconnectedness.

While there are many qualities and endless takeaways from OWN students, these three qualities are pivotal in defining my role at OWN and how I think about the future.

Embrace Possibility

While so many around us tend to stress what doesn’t work, or what can’t be done’, it is absolutely vital – for me as an individual and OWN as an organization – to emphasize opportunity over obstacles. When OWN student Fatuma Mahmud spoke at a recent event, she emphasized how she was continuously amazed at how ‘the impossible became possible’, I was reminded that life must be viewed through the lense of infinite possibilities.

Indeed,OWN’s track record over the last decade opens up many opportunities to build on. We have a vast network of supporters who believe in our work, an impressive list of alumni achievements, a highly committed and professional staff, a wealth of dedicated longtime volunteers, a solid partnership with Seattle public schools, and broader interest to see OneWorld Now! expand to other schools and districts.

Sense of self and community matter

Another thing I’ve learned is that a healthy social identity and a sense of belonging is necessary for an individual and a community to thrive. Having lived abroad for most of the past two decades, returning to Seattle and rejoining the OWN family makes such a transition all the more smooth. OneWorld Now! sets out to be a positive and safe journey for social identity development in an intercultural space rich in diversity. It is not uncommon to hear OWN staff, board, alumni and current students refer to their OneWorld Now! family.

This sense of belonging and community has been key to the success and longevity of the organization, based on memorable transformational life experiences. Though likely much less intense, rediscovering my identity as a Seattleite after many years runs parallel to the current discovering and shaping of social identities among our students, as teenagers in today’s fast-paced global world. As we come to understand ourselves in this world, we can depend upon the support of our community in unsure times.

Celebrate & foster interconnectedness

In leadership we stress the interconnectedness between local and global, as well as past, present and future. This is the common thread that strings humanity together, connecting us within our local communities, across the globe and our diverse cultural beliefs, from our past, present and into our shared future. As we develop the vision of OneWorld Now!’s trajectory into the next decade, I believe that emphasizing and building on our interconnectedness will be the source of our strength and our greatest resource. OneWorld Now!, together with its partners and supporters, is creating a global village, connected through a shared purpose of developing competent and thoughtful young people who will lead us into the future.

In reflection, it has been wonderful to rediscover that our work with students is still valid for any adult in today’s world. Imagining and living from the perspective of infinite possibilities opens new doors of unexpected opportunity. With a healthy sense of identity and belonging to a community, we are better positioned to support others, to be empathetic to their situation and to be confident in our own life decisions. By realizing that we are all interconnected, we can also feel the strength of a movement that is constructive, positive and unifying in what often feels like a violent and divided world.

By Jennifer Tanaka, OneWorld Now! Executive Director

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