Tag Archives: Jackson Leadership Fellows

Putting Human Rights First

The Foundation was fortunate to host a dynamic speaker straight from the turmoil of Washington, DC this week, with several events featuring Rob Berschinski, Senior Vice President for Policy at Human Rights First, one of the Foundation’s grantees. Rob was most recently serving in the Obama Administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. He previously served under Ambassador Samantha Power at the UN.

Current and alumni Fellows Engage with Rob Berschinski

Rob spoke with our Jackson Fellows about his unusual career path, which began as an intelligence officer in the Air Force and subsequently an Iraq War veteran. He came to understand the U.S. role in human rights as integral to America’s national security and fundamental values, a position close to the heart of the Jackson legacy. He spoke to the Fellows of wanting to make a difference in that arena and finding policy making in Washington as the outlet for his convictions. The young professionals were particularly interested as to how Rob tries to be effective in a polarized political environment. In Human Rights First he found an organization – and a role – where he can champion a bipartisan, reasonably centrist viewpoint, crossing both sides of the aisle, “working with folks on a quiet basis.” He acknowledged the challenges: “This is the most fractured U.S. foreign policy in recent memory,” he said.

The Traditional Group Shot with the Fellows

Rob and I also had a discussion in partnership with the World Affairs Council, to a packed room of interested community members, students and retired military leaders. Russia came up a lot — both with the current focus on Russia’s role in Europe and the United States, stirring up trouble and meddling in elections, but also with the influence of Russian President Vladimir Putin on other right-wing leaning states in Europe and elsewhere. “He is empowering and supporting other strongmen who are modeling themselves after him,” Rob said.

The Jackson Foundation and Human Rights First have been working together for several years to bring attention to Russia’s negative influence on a democratic Europe and its efforts to rile up social and political divisions in our own country, something of which we are now well aware. “Russia’s weaponized info-war – disinformation and hate speech – is undercutting values that we thought were well-established in post-War Europe,” he warned.

The Trump Administration, the enfeebled and demoralized State Department, and the lack of American political leadership also came up often, particularly in the questions Rob fielded throughout his two days in Seattle. “This administration doesn’t place a premium on diplomacy,” he lamented.

Rob speaks with students and faculty at the Jackson School

We are grateful that Rob could also meet with students and faculty at the University’s Jackson School, where despite being the first week of classes, the audience was eager to get an overview of pressing human rights concerns such as the Rohingya Muslims killings in Burma and the ensuing refugee crisis, the Saudi bombing in Yemen, and the many other hotspots and humanitarian flashpoints that crowd today’s front pages. In all his appearances, the question of human rights at home came up again and again.

Rob acknowledged a growing activism at the state and local level and urged his audiences, young and old, to stay engaged and committed to American democratic values. “The world has always looked to us for leadership,” he concluded. Let us hope that will continue in these challenging times.

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director

Leadership Lessons from a Community Innovator

Shot with DxO ONEThe Jackson Leadership Fellows 2016 Class was fortunate to have an informal discussion with long-time Seattle community leader, Martha Choe, last week.  Martha has held a remarkable and diverse list of jobs– from serving on the Seattle City Council, where she chaired the Transportation Committee and the Finance Committee – to her role as Chief Administrative Officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Her career also encompassed the private banking sector and a position as Director of the Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development  in Governor Gary Locke’s cabinet.  Our Fellows were eager to hear her thoughts about her approach to leadership and what she’s learned from her many challenges along the road of her career.

Martha made a few key points to the Fellows:  first, she said “It’s not about you.”  She explained:  “You need to create the ownership of ideas among your team members, and know how and when to get in front of an idea, and when to let others shine.”   Second, she stressed the importance of candor and vulnerability, noting that it was okay to admit “I don’t know” and indicate that you will start asking the right questions to find out the answers.  Listen to your audience, she counseled, and face up to your weaknesses.  “Vulnerability can convey empowerment.”  She also spoke about the need and often “the courage to make unpopular decisions.”  This is part of a good leader’s responsibility, she reminded the Fellows.

Shot with DxO ONE

Over the course of her career in different sectors of our community, Martha said she came to realize that “leadership involves people, not just org charts and boxes.”  Gaining an understanding of the needs of the people around you – and whom you are managing– will make you a better leader.

She also emphasized one of the key Jackson leadership attributes – the importance of doing your homework.  “Learn, listen and understand different perspectives.”  She predicted:  “You will need vision and reality for the hard and lonely work of leadership.”

In response to a question about the different leadership challenges facing the public and private sector, Martha underlined the integral role of consensus building in achieving results.  She concluded with a powerful message to these young leaders in the making  – “if you take risks, you will sometimes fail.”

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director

Inspiring Young Leaders

Many of you have heard by now of the Foundation’s exciting new initiative – a young leadership program called the Henry M. Jackson Leadership Fellows.  We’ve just launched the inaugural class of this 9-month program, which will include leadership training, mentoring, networking, and substantive work on individual projects.

As we showcased in an earlier message, the class is outstanding.  The word “inspiring” may sometimes be overused – but in this case I can honestly say that interviewing the 35 fellowship candidates filled me with hope for a time when our civic life will again ring with bipartisan discourse and engaged, active citizens.  As one of the Foundation’s Vice Presidents, Craig Gannett, put it in welcoming remarks to the Fellows, “listening to all of you gives me optimism for the future.”

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2016 Fellows with Anna Marie Laurence, Secretary of the Board, and John Hempelmann, President, in front of the Jackson bust in Everett, Washington outside the Jackson home.

While we eventually chose only eight fellows, a few bright spots came through during the interview process.  First, the candidates showed a tremendous interest in leadership – in all its facets – and a strong desire to learn the skills and attributes of great leaders.  Second, they hunger to engage outside of work spheres and to connect more deeply with new colleagues and novel ideas.  Third, these young professionals want to involve diverse aspects of our community into their work – both professionally and in their volunteer pursuits.  Finally – and perhaps most heartening – they believe that Senator Jackson’s life and achievements can speak to this next generation.  While many of the candidates did not previously know of Senator Jackson, they came to the interviews inspired by what they had read about him, especially in The Nature of Leadership book that we make available on our website.

The Foundation embarked on its new Fellowship program in part to reach out to the next generation and inculcate them with the Jackson values.  The year has just begun – and yet it is already clear that those values – and the man behind them – remain relevant today.

We hope you will join us at some of the many events this year in which the Fellows will be involved.

Lara Iglitzin

Executive Director