Clare Richards, Creative Services Manager at Leighton Interactive, was one of ten individuals selected from the Greater St. Cloud region to participate in Minnesota’s Young American Leadership Program (mYALP). The St. Cloud cohort, along with 40 other young professionals from around the state, recently gathered in Minneapolis for a three-day training session conducted by Harvard Business School. Here’s a glimpse inside Clare’s/St. Cloud cohorts’ experience at the training and a look into what the group aims to tackle in our community.

In late November, 50 people gathered in a small conference room on the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus. Although ten of us were from the Greater St. Cloud area, many of our paths hadn’t crossed before this weekend. The St. Cloud cohort, along with the 40 other young professionals in the room, were there for different reasons, but we were all there to answer the same question:

What happens when you bring together 50 strangers with very different backgrounds to solve common issues?

That’s what the Young American Leadership Program (called YALP) was designed to do. The program was first conceived as an annual curriculum at Harvard Business School, inviting young professionals from all over the country to attend. Minnesota sent participants several years, and those individuals came back with a strong desire to incite growth across the state.

In fact, previous program graduates were so enthusiastic about their experience that the state saw immense value to bring more people into the fold. This led to a partnership between the Itasca Project and the University of Minnesota to bring the Harvard-based program to Minnesota. Affectionately called mYALP, the program was derived from the original Harvard programming, but customized to the needs of Minnesota.

Cohorts of ten individuals from St. Cloud, Rochester, Fargo/Moorhead, St. Paul, and Minneapolis gathered in late November to begin their mYALP journey. Prior to attending the training, everyone had received a thick binder filled with over 150 pages of case studies, data sets and pre-readings. We knew we were gathered to work on “cross-sector collaboration,” but the details were sparse beyond that.

To be honest, I had no idea what I was in for. All I knew was that I was lucky to be there, among some of Minnesota’s brightest young leaders.

Here’s what the three days looked like: back-to-back sessions running well into the evening, with the exception of Friday. The sessions were led by an incredible group of leaders. Melvin Carter, Mayor of St. Paul, and Steve Grove, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, just to name a few. To give you a flavor of the type of content, here were a few of the sessions:

  • The State and Trajectory of the Minnesota Economy
  • Fueling the Path for Economic Inclusion and Shared Prosperity
  • Cross-Sector Leadership – Key Elements, Design Choices

As you can imagine, the content was dense and thought provoking. We kicked off with an intense session led by Jan Rivkin, the Sr. Associate Dean & Chair of the MBA Program at Harvard Business School.

Throughout the three-day period, each cohort spent considerable time contemplating how we could each help our cities become stronger and grow better. We talked about how countless efforts are done to and for communities, rather that with and by them. How can we bring the right people to the table at the right time to ensure a plan is strategic, inclusive and feasible? How can we work towards shared prosperity and bridge the gaps between diverse groups of people doing equally incredible things?

Here’s a snapshot of some of the key takeaways each of our St. Cloud region cohort members had:

So where do we go from here? It’s a good question.

Too often we experience impactful events or powerful programs that leave us filled to the brim with inspiration. But, what do we do with that inspiration?

I’d argue that most of us, myself included, often get caught up in the day-to-day as soon as it’s over. We land back in our offices or our homes with a to-do list a mile long. We’ve got emails to catch up on, phone calls to return. Slowly, but surely, the inspiration seeps away.

Our cohort is determined not to let that happen. We intend to apply what we learned to the St. Cloud region. We’re in the early stages of shaping our momentum, but one key area we identified was the strong need to fill middle-skill careers within many regional companies. We hope to gather the resources this region has to offer and fill in some gaps to help both companies and individuals prosper.

I’m incredibly grateful to have attended the inaugural Minnesota Young American Leaders Program. I walked away with a better understanding of our St. Cloud regional needs, as well as the trajectory of our state.

But most importantly, I walked away with strong connections to nine phenomenal people from my own city. I feel so fortunate to be counted among them, and I can’t wait to see what we build together!


The St. Cloud Region Cohort:

Ryan Cross – President & CEO at BCI Construction

Leslie Dingmann –Business Development Director of the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation

Dan Edelbrock – Business Banking Relationship Manager at US Bank

Hudda Ibrahim – President & CEO at Filsan Talent Partners

Karl Nohner – Principal at Sauk Rapids Rice Schools

Marie Pflipsen – Community Development Director of the City of Becker

Clare Richards – Creative Services Manager of Leighton Interactive & Founder of the St. Cloud Rotaract Club

Amanda Romaine – Senior Marketing Strategy Developer at GeoComm

Lacey Schirmers – Managing Director at GREAT Theatre

Jonathon Wong –Regional Communications Specialist for the State of MN & member of the Jugaad Leadership Program