Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

The Power of One Redux

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 What was once just a small goal of providing employment for the Afghan widows after Americans had withdrawn from Afghanistan has now turned into a worldwide mission to find and aid other individuals in similar situations.”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:

  1. Become aware of the culture—social, economic, cultural, organizational—in which we live and work. We become “cultural anthropologists,” observing the world around us. We drive a different way home and discover a part of the city we had only read about. We take public transit and notice those who are traveling with us. We attend meetings and just listen, paying attention to who speaks, who does not speak and what others’ body language suggests. We become aware of those with particular needs, whether in our own organization or in the greater community. We notice that young mothers in our agency have difficulty finding and affording day care. We talk to a veteran who is homeless. We meet elementary school students who are not receiving the kind of support needed to meet academic standards. A woman reports that her brother, a soldier serving in Afghanistan, has written the soldiers are very cold.
  2. Identify talents and resources that can be leveraged to address those problems. We know a foundation willing to underwrite an onsite day care center. We meet a woman who wants to establish a day care center but needs help with the necessary paperwork. We know people who have worked as teachers and are willing to tutor students. A woman in our agency wants to collect disposable diapers and infant care items for young mothers and provide parenting education. A bibliophile in our agency suggests we collect books to help an afterschool tutoring program. A member of our ASPA chapter is a veteran; the sister of the soldier is an ardent knitter and decides to knit caps for the troops.
  3. As appropriate, persuade our agencies’ management to support us in using those resources and talents. We encourage management to allow employees to leave work early in order to volunteer at the afterschool center, a homeless shelter or the day care center. We receive permission to establish a collection site for diapers, books or other items. We mobilize the resources and talents of our local ASPA chapter; maybe our chapter agrees to lead an effort to help new immigrants navigate government information and resources.
  4. As our efforts become better established and recognized, develop a mechanism –perhaps a not-for-profit organization—that partners with our agency (or ASPA chapter) and addresses the problem directly. We can also partner with an existing organization so that our efforts are continued and increased. 

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].

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *