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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Susan Paddock
April 26, 2016
In my Oct. 2015 PA Times Online column, I suggested one person has the power to make change. At the 2016 ASPA annual conference, we saw a very real demonstration of that.
Captain Joseph Stenger received a National Public Service Award. While serving in the Air Force in Afghanistan, Captain Stenger became acquainted with the people in that country and, in particular, the difficult circumstances of widowed Afghan women and their children. While at Bagram Air Base, he learned that the women were attempting to support their families by sewing scarves and selling them on nearby NATO bases. Under the leadership of Captain Stenger and his team, the Air Force officially partnered with these women and formed the not-for-profit business, Flying Scarfs. This business has allowed the women to earn the money to support themselves and their children. According to the website:
“Today, Flying Scarfs seeks to reshape the manner in which many Americans think about social change. Through a lens of free market capitalism and micro-economic development, Flying Scarfs is an enterprise dedicated to the empowerment of the artisans not just in Afghanistan but also around the world. What was once just a small goal of providing employment for the Afghan widows after Americans had withdrawn from Afghanistan has now turned into a worldwide mission to find and aid other individuals in similar situations.”
Captain Stenger did several important things. First, he became aware of and acquainted with the culture in which he was living and working, and specifically of the widows who were the sole support of themselves and their families. Second, he identified a resource and talent of those widows he (and the Air Force) could support. Third, he gained the support of his commanding officer and others in leadership positions in the Air Force. Finally, he developed a mechanism (the not-for-profit organization) that could bring together the talents of the women with the organizational abilities of the Air Force to benefit the women and the greater Afghan community.
Captain Stenger is an ordinary man—humble, kind and observant—who did something extraordinary. Can each of us, as ordinary public servants, ordinary individuals, also do extraordinary things? It requires that we do what Captain Stenger did:
As public servants we can leverage our impressive array of skills, talents and knowledge to address community needs. Is this possible? Captain Stenger demonstrated the “power of one.” We can too.
Author: Susan Paddock is a University of Wisconsin-Madison emeritus professor who lives and works in Las Vegas, Nevada. She is the former director of Certified Public Manager programs in Arizona and Wisconsin; has published in the areas of leadership, organizational development and human resources; and is an active student and researcher on what works in current or emerging organizational settings. Email [email protected]