Doing Better at Doing Good

Doing Better at Doing Good: Program provides unique study abroad opportunity

July 20, 2013 

Editor’s Note: For the month of July, Christopher Gergen has been teaching in Prague. The following column includes contributions by his students.

In classrooms just downriver from the renowned Charles Bridge, students from 14 countries gather to discuss how to lead in a complex, global environment. Woven into the conversations are debates about what makes up a good life, how to put bold ideas into action for positive change and the kind of leadership needed for the 21st century.

These students are part of the Global Leadership Program offered by Leadership exCHANGE, a 14-year-old study abroad program founded by Heather McDougall, who now lives in Durham (and whose husband, Jason, helped start HQ Raleigh with Christopher Gergen).

Today, Leadership exCHANGE offers programs in Prague, Rome and Panama City for students from more than 80 countries and boasts more than 1,100 alumni. The goal of the program: provide emerging leaders with the skills, context and relationships to be change-making leaders and global citizens.

Given the rapid pace of globalization, we can’t expect to lead effectively without a broader understanding of cultural nuance and historical context. Indeed, one of the most transformative experiences for these students seems to be the relationships they are forming with one another.

According to the Partnership for 21st Century Schools (to which North Carolina belongs), critical skills for next-generation leaders include the ability to “learn from and work collaboratively with individuals representing diverse cultures, religions and lifestyles in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue in personal, work and community contexts.”

As SAS co-founder and CEO Jim Goodnight says, “Innovation comes from all corners of the world. In order for the U.S. and North Carolina to stay competitive, it is vital that we give our students the best tools, technology and education, and an international perspective to help them understand, participate and succeed in the global economy.”

Take, for example, Jenny Tracy from North Carolina Central University. Intrigued by the opportunity to expand her horizons, she applied for a GLP scholarship through the business school and can’t believe the impact the experience is having on her. “Putting 45 individuals together from around the world in a vibrant historic city is bound to reap results,” she said. “The program lights the fire of passion and innovation in all of us, and the connectedness the students feel to each other and their learning environment is the perfect breeding ground for both inspiration and action.”

Putting inspiration into action seems to be the unwritten mantra of Leadership exCHANGE. Expose young, open minds to different cultures in a dynamic city. Challenge them to dream big while providing concrete business-building skills.

Watch what happens.

Virginia Campo of Cali, Colombia, and Veronika Jemelikova from the Czech Republic met through GLP in 2008. The two hatched a plan to launch “Hecha y Derecha” back in Panama City, where Virginia was a student. Named for women who have reached their “full developmental potential,” Hecha y Derecha’s mission is to “break the poverty trap that limits many women in their development.” Supported by GLP, the organization was a semi-finalist for the Dell Social Innovation Challenge.

Geraud Staton also joining GLP from NCCU seems to be on this same high-impact track. He hopes to launch a program for kids in Durham who have limited professional development opportunities but bright entrepreneurial ideas of their own.

“It’s time to make this happen,” Staton said.

Potential impact

Programs like GLP have a transformative impact on both participants and their communities. Yet by some estimates, while four out of every five first-year college students aspire to study overseas, only about 2 percent do – primarily because of mindset and cost.

Australia and Europe have created financial scholarships and incentives to encourage studying abroad.

Other schools, such as Queens University in Charlotte (with 94 percent of students studying abroad – one of the nation’s highest rates) place a premium on the experience and help make it financially feasible by keeping prices reasonable and offering scholarships and loans.

What would it look like if we could do this for more students through a combination of public and private investment? In today’s flattening world, a global education is a must for our next-generation leaders.

And imagine the potential impact for our state and the world.

Students Joey Weed, Elizabeth Herlon, Bharathi Rajan Panneer Selvam, Sukhjit Khalsa, Sammi Gollub and Natasha Sumners contributed.

Christopher Gergen is founder of Bull City Forward & Queen City Forward, a fellow with Fuqua’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University, and the author of "Life Entrepreneurs." Stephen Martin, a director at the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership, is author of the forthcoming book "The Messy Quest for Meaning" and blogs at They can be reached at and followed on Twitter through @cgergen.

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