We have just welcomed our 12th Rising Professional member to the Public Diplomacy Council! One PDC member recently asked me why I am so excited and investing so much effort in this new membership category. Three main reasons come to mind.
First, the category came about through a series of group discussions among graduate students, other young colleagues, and several Board members committed to engaging the next generation of PDC practitioners and academics. These focus groups helped us all better articulate the mission and programs of the PDC as well as understand the capabilities of current members and needs of potential younger members.
I strongly believe that good leadership is giving ownership to the maximum number of people in any situation. During these wide-ranging conversations, our young colleagues chose the name and decided on details. For example, they concluded that for membership to be a meaningful addition to a resume, they wanted Rising Professional members to be nominated by current members, just as required by other categories.
They stressed their need for mentors and the concept of “reciprocal mentorships” took shape. To illustrate, I served as a sounding board for one grad student as she planned a special project in one of her classes and she taught me the basics of Instagram.
They spoke of needing networking and volunteer opportunities that enable them to meet with knowledgeable older colleagues. Some of you have already interacted with Katie Conti, one of our Rising Professional members who works at Meridian International. She is serving as a “host” of the First Monday Forum events with her technical skills and grace clearly in evidence. Aaron Franke, Presidential Management Fellow at SBA, another member of the focus group, has volunteered to welcome and be in communication with all new Rising Professional members.
Secondly, boards of professional associations often reiterate the need to attract younger members. On some level they realize that this is an existential imperative. I believe that the issue is broader than merely engaging youth although that is a top priority. Effective NGO leaders engage youth and draw in younger members because the most successful organizations embrace multigenerational leadership. They nurture members from each generation, help them see the value of what each brings to the table, and inspire them to work together to achieve the mission of the organization.
Finally, while many PDC members are very active in a variety of endeavors, I believe that, as a group, our talents and skills developed over decades are remarkable assets that should be utilized more fully. This observation inspired the title of this blog – Mr. Rogers Gift. Thanks to the 2019 movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks, many people, even those who did not grow up watching that educational TV show that aired from 1968 to 2001, are familiar with Mr. Rogers. In a 2002 Commencement speech at Dartmouth College, television icon Fred Rogers asked the graduates some fundamental questions:
Well, what is essential about you? And who are those who have helped you become the person you are? Anyone who has ever graduated from college, anyone who has been able to sustain good work, has had at least one person and often many who have believed in him or her. We just don’t get to be competent human beings without a lot of different investments from others.
Then he told them that he was giving them an invisible gift: “a silent moment to think about those who helped you become who you are today.” We should all accept Mr. Rogers’ gift, not just at graduation but frequently throughout our lives. As I reflect on Mr. Rogers commencement message, I am struck by the mentors who encouraged me and taught me so much over the years – and the need to pay it forward. I trust that PDC’s new rising Professional members will benefit from the mentoring of more experienced members. It is a gift to have a mentor. It is a gift to be one. The learning generated will be relevant and reciprocal.
Sherry L. Mueller, Ph.D. is the President of the Public Diplomacy Council. She serves as Distinguished Practitioner in Residence at the School of International Service (SIS), American University, Washington, D.C. She teaches an undergraduate course and a graduate Practicum entitled Cultural Diplomacy and International Exchange. Dr. Mueller provided leadership for the National Council for International Visitors (now Global Ties U.S.) since 1996, first as Executive Director and then as President until September 30, 2011.