The brainstorming session had literally run into a brick wall.
While downcast eyes locked on computer screens and communication stalled in the brick-exposed conference room in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, Tomas Panek, a marketing and public relations student from Prague, saw a light. He stood, put marker to whiteboard, and asked, “What if we try this?"
“Tomas revolutionized the way we’re thinking of our app,” says Austin Pryfogle, community developer for Senior Correspondent, an award-winning news venture that features stories from veteran journalists and commentators from around the globe. “He was able to help us see the big picture again instead of being bogged down by the small details.”
Such breakthroughs drive Leadership exCHANGE, the program that brought Panek to Raleigh last summer. Like study abroad with a kick, Leadership exCHANGE helps students experience other parts of the world while they find their path to transform the future.
“If you want to be a strong leader, you need to be able to look at the world in a culturally sensitive way and work with lenses that support other people’s value,” says Ryan Finch, Leadership exCHANGE Raleigh’s program director.
Panek earned college credit for his internship with Senior Correspondent, one of several companies that host students at HQ Raleigh, a co-working space and entrepreneurial hub in the city’s growing warehouse district. He and his fellow students also learned about the startup world, each focusing on a new venture of their own.
For Panek, the opportunity to practice the classroom-learned skills firsthand was invaluable.
And applying that knowledge didn’t stop once his month in the United States was up. After returning to the Czech Republic, Panek developed the new venture he explored during Leadership exCHANGE. His long-term goal is to create a community center for young people to delve into entrepreneurial endeavors, similar to HQ Raleigh.
But before the community has a brick-and-mortar presence, Panek is hosting “plus-one dinners” at his home. As his guests bring their own guests, the network of potential participants grows.
“I saw clearly that people are really supportive and they think the idea is really good. It was necessary to hear this,” Panek says of his Leadership exCHANGE experience. “The most important thing I learned from this exchange is to believe yourself and the opportunity to make me sure that I am able to be a valuable part of an international community.”
The experience was just as rewarding for the team behind Senior Correspondent. The startup is a venture of the communications firm Signal Hill, which has worked with three Leadership exCHANGE students in the last year.
“Because they bring fresh perspectives from their own settings and life experiences, the students challenge and enlarge our vision,” says Signal Hill’s public relations manager, Avery Williamson. “Plus, the students’ ideas for their own ventures inspire us to look at our company in new ways.”
Breaking down walls toward greater insight — that’s exactly what Leadership exCHANGE aims to do for students and companies alike, Finch says. It starts with the students seeing their own power to effect change.
“I like it when they recognize the leader inside themselves,” she says. “It really is stunning when you see that transformation.”
Chelsea is a writer who believes in the underestimated might of words.