Since he founded the Preparing Global Leaders Foundation, a nonprofit organization aimed at teaching leadership skills to students and young professionals three years ago, President Sam Potolicchio (COL ’02, GRD ’11) has expanded the foundation’s programs worldwide to engage hundreds of aspiring global leaders.
The foundation organizes conferences that consist of short courses and workshops on diplomatic affairs, conflict resolution, social justice and leadership skills. The conferences, which are held in Russia, Jordan and Macedonia, last one to two weeks and include around 50 participants from 40 different countries.
Currently, there are already approximately 20 Georgetown student volunteers involved in promotion, research and other duties.
Although the courses are mainly taught by professors from around the world, the conferences have hosted numerous public figures in the past few years, including Editor of Politico Magazine Garrett Graff and the former Press Secretary for the Prince of Wales Colleen Harris. In addition to lectures, participants take part in simulations, such as mock interviews and mock parliaments.
Potolicchio said that the goal of the conference is to bring together young leaders from different backgrounds.
“I believe that if you have this approach and utilize different perspectives, particularly differences of nationality, religion, race and gender, then you can cultivate a different type of mindset in aspiring public servants and leaders,” Potolicchio said.
In particular, Potolicchio said that the conferences are a platform for young leaders from conflict zones around the world to engage in dialogue with one another.
“Friendships are formed here between students from conflict zones: Serbia, Kosovo, Russia, Ukraine, Palestine, Lebanon, Israel and more. We’re really advancing some important issues here and creating a dialogue instead of just a monologue between countries that have difficulties with each other,” Potolicchio said.
Several Georgetown students and faculty have participated in previous conferences. For instance, government professor Clyde Wilcox taught a course on public speaking at the Jordan program.
PGLF Chief of Staff Danny Aherne (COL ’16) said that professors at the conferences offer their guidance even outside of the classroom.
“We try to find professors that are not only the top in their field, but that are dynamic and engaging and care about their students,” Aherne said. “At the end of the day, you want people who are not only going to engage students in class, but also outside of the class.”
Government professor Marc Morjé Howard taught a mini-course on democracy in the Moscow program and serves on the board of PGLF.
“Even though the PGLF programs are often quite, they leave a tremendous and lasting impact on the students, both personally and professionally,” Howard said. “PGLF students come away with deep and lasting cross-national friendships, along with skills that prepare them for leadership positions in their home countries and the world.”
According to Aherne, participants form close relationships with professors at the conferences.
“Our professors will eat all their meals with the students,” Aherne said. “They build sort of a family to the point where people are crying at the end just because they don’t want to see everyone go, because then they scatter back to the corners of the earth.”
Dylan Kaplan (COL ’15), who attended the program at Moscow last summer, said that he developed his leadership skills at the conference.
“One of the most important things I learned was how to improve my ability to connect with the audience when public speaking,” Kaplan said. “Dr. Potolicchio also convinced me that leadership isn’t just something you are born with, but is something you can learn and leadership can be taught.”
Additionally, Kaplan said that he formed numerous friendships with other participants.
“The program had some of the smartest students from around the world,” Kaplan said. “My favorite part was spending time with the other participants. We explored Moscow together, went out at night together and really became great friends. The participants came from the Middle East, Europe and almost every stretch of the globe. … The program was one of the most memorable weeks of my life.”
Executive Director of PGLF in Skopje and Struga, Macedonia, Angela Velkova, said that the participants, who came from various backgrounds, were able to share their culture with one another. Velkova cited the Country Presentation Night as an example, during which participants present the folklore, culture and food of their countries.
“This is a night of revelations,” Velkova said. “One cannot choose words to describe the emotions when we see unfolding in front of our eyes scenes of Iraqi participants waiving an American flag, Georgian, Russians and Ukrainians dancing ‘Casatchok,’ Serbs and Kosovars singing ‘Gjurgjevdan.’ It is a unique experience.”
This summer, the conferences will take place in Jordan and Macedonia from May 23 to 30 and August 11 to 23, respectively. In previous years, PGLF has received approximately 1,000 applications for around 50 spots.
Additionally, the foundation offers financial aid for admitted participants. According to Aherne, one of their goals is to shift to a tuition free model, which would require a significant amount of fundraising in the future.
In addition to the prospect of becoming tuition free, Potolicchio said that he hopes to expand the program to all regions of the world.
“We are progressively expanding, so we’d like to kind of have a signature school in every single region in the world, and it’s catching on,” Potolicchio said. “Almost every single delegate that comes to this program comes to me and says, ‘I want to start this program in my country.’”