09/12/2012 10:55 am ET Updated Nov 12, 2012

Why "We're All in This Together" Makes More Sense Than "You're on Your Own"

My favorite part of President Bill Clinton's Democratic National Convention speech was his mandate for America to continue to advance equal opportunity and economic empowerment.

"Because poverty, discrimination and ignorance restrict growth. When you stifle human potential, when you don't invest in new ideas, it doesn't just cut off the people who are affected; it hurts us all," Clinton said.

He noted that a "We're all in this together" philosophy is far better than a "You're on your own," philosophy.

This summer, nearly 50 global students, including many Americans and representatives from more than 20 different countries abroad, gathered at the University of Pittsburgh for the annual Hesselbein Global Academy for Student Leadership and Civic Engagement Leadership Summit. The participants were diverse, and they were all in it together.

Luis Miranda, a 2012 Academy scholar, was born in the United States, but grew up as part of a Spanish diaspora in a war-torn and poverty-stricken region in Guatemala. At age 14, Luis and his twice widowed mother moved back to America, where they lived in poverty in Utah. "These experiences empowered in me a desire to question the roots of our problems, to understand the intricate global society we live in, and to formalize arguments for sustainable change in our societies," says Miranda, an undergraduate student in Philosophy and Peace and Justice at Utah Valley University. His education has led him to become fluent in four languages (English, Spanish, French, Russian) and allowed him the opportunity to live and study in France and Russia.

Although the Academy by nature attracts student leaders who have been involved in a range of campus and community programs and service-learning, it was interesting to learn exactly why values-based service and leadership development was attractive to each participant.

Jessica G. Hartung, founder and chief executive officer of Integrated Work--a company dedicated to providing professional development tools to leaders striving to create positive impact--served as a professional Mentor and Leadership Action Plan Coach at the Summit.

"Through conversations with the students, I learned that their commitment and desire to help others stemmed from themselves being helped in a similar way. For instance, when I asked, 'Why are you interested in helping at-risk youth?' I received the response, 'Because I was one.' Or, when I asked 'Why do you want to help girls develop their leadership potential?' the answer was 'Because that's what made the biggest difference for me,'" recalls Hartung.

To give students--who are passionate about helping others, as they have been helped--the opportunity to strengthen the essence of their leadership skills and ultimately promote interconnected leadership, while respecting racial and cultural diversity is an opportunity the Hesselbein Institute and the University of Pittsburgh are thrilled to provide.

First generation high school class valedictorian and 2012 Academy scholar Carla Elena Echeveste witnessed the devastating reality of her parent's poverty-stricken roots in Leon, Guanajuato as a teenager. This experience sparked a personal desire for an education, and a commitment to empowering others. Now the President of the Hispanic Women of Alverno, at Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Echeveste tutors other students in Sociology, Accounting, and Spanish. "It is through these opportunities that I have blossomed and found my own empowerment and the satisfaction of empowering other students," says Echeveste.

According to Linda McGarvey, Ph.D. and Chief Academic Officer of Envision EMI, LLC, students need two sets of skills to succeed as leaders: cognitive intelligence (how they think) and social/emotional intelligence (how they act). "Social and emotional intelligence is a different kind of intelligence that guides both how they think and act in ways that make them the best at what they do. Most importantly, we know this type intelligence can be learned, and that hands-on experience is the best way to do it," says McGarvey.

In study of the corporate perspective on the readiness of new entrants into the U.S. workforce, The Conference Board cites that many employers consider real-world problem-solving an important part of education today.

Academy scholar Xuan Feng, (known as Shiny) who is studying at Ludwig Maximilians University, in Munich, Germany, describes the Academy's capstone civic-engagement opportunity, where students spend the day in the local community and work on real-life problems in the social sector: "We put our feet on the ground and practice being leaders who listen and think first, who carefully ask questions and seek innovative solutions, who show respect to people even when they hold opposing views, who commit to lead by serving and who dare to make a difference in the world," says Feng.

The Envision EMI, LLC June 2010 White Paper Experiential Leadership Education:
Building the Foundation for a Lifetime of Success
, cites a longitudinal study of 875 students at 10 institutions that revealed students who participated in intentional leadership training activities were more likely than their non-participating peers to "show significant gains 4 years after college" graduation in the following areas: knowing how to be a leader and practicing leadership; demonstrating high levels of civic participation; raising social and cross cultural awareness and the development of leadership skills associated with high achievement.

"Investing in real opportunities for diverse groups is the leadership imperative of the day," says Frances Hesselbein, who actively leads the nonprofit organization that bears her name.

100% of Academy students surveyed stated they would recommend the Leadership Summit to a friend and100% of students surveyed reported that the Summit met its learning objectives.

While the intensive, interactive aspect of the Hesselbein Global Academy is unique--providing high-quality instruction to students over four-days led by professional mentors including CEO's, nonprofit founders, executive coaches, university professors, and military leaders--the goal, to equip next generation leaders to address critical world-wide issues is shared, by Clinton Global Initiative University, Education Without Borders, International Youth Leadership Conference and Leadershape to name a few.

Creating a global platform focused on inclusion and diversity, supporting human potential, collaborating, and investing in new ideas allows doors to be opened on a national and international level, and advances equal opportunity and economic empowerment for the next generation of leaders.

As Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Hesselbein wrote in Hesselbein on Leadership, "We cannot ensure equal access or build upon our diverse strengths by sitting at our desks." Rather we work to communicate, collaborate and understand the diverse strengths of others. We consider why it is important to invest in real opportunities for diverse groups, and we consider the individual.

This is exactly the message I took away from President Clinton's speech. "We're all in this together" makes more sense and gets more done than "You're on your own." Young leaders today know this and live it.

What are your thoughts on ways to provide opportunities to support more connected, empathetic, proactive leaders--trained to think globally and act locally--and prepared to address the most critical contemporary issues of our time?