Leaders in Profile: Putting Values into Action in East Africa

1/12/2012 12:00 AM ,

“Liberating the leader in every student” speaks to both the challenges and opportunities that lie at the heart of The Student Leadership Challenge. Like any challenge or opportunity we encounter, the action we take starts from deeply held values that trigger a desire to make a change. While taking that first step is often the most difficult part, it’s important to remember that all successes start that way. And we all have the capacity to listen to what’s in our hearts, tap into the conviction of our values, and take action.

One person who did just that is Erna Grasz. A participant in The Student Leadership Challenge’s inaugural Certified Facilitator Training Program, she stepped up with a dream, like so many participants do, of taking the power of The Five Practices of Exemplary Student Leadership™ to a group of students and teachers she was compelled to help.

While trekking on safari through Tanzania and Kenya in late 2005, Erna and her husband met several people from local villages who were working hard to develop solutions to their community’s persistent problems, including lack of access to such basic resources as food and water, and to education. One woman in particular was building a school—brick-by-brick, stone-by-stone—that would provide a place of education for the children of a local village. Time and again, Erna was struck by the power of that generous act: building a school and unleashing its potential to transform a community from the inside out, by educating the village’s future leaders.

Having grown up in a single-parent home in extreme economic times, Erna experienced first-hand the positive impact that the generosity of others can have on a child. So when she returned to the U.S., she tapped into her core values of generosity and education, and began to find ways to support development in those countries she had visited.  Starting small at first, Erna listened carefully when teachers at a primary school in Tanzania told her they had a single math textbook for one hundred students. Plus, kids were learning as they sat on rocks and dirt.

“When we listen carefully and find out what people really need, we can respond in the best way possible,” Erna said. So, she began by raising funds for textbooks and desks. That success led to many more. And, ultimately,  Erna founded the Asante Africa Foundation www.asanteafrica.org, a California-based nonprofit dedicated to building collaborations within Tanzania and Kenya that deliver quality education to the countries’ youth by providing funding for schools, advanced teacher training, and educational resources.

Erna observed that for many youth in East Africa, looking beyond every day survival is not a reality. But thanks to generous funders and supporters,  she has been able to create a program that offers leadership and life skills training that  empowers students to make informed decisions, turn dreams into reality, reduce family struggles, and help communities become self-sustaining. 

“We strive to help these young people realize their potential to be leaders, to build strong communities, to take their future into their own hands,” Erna said. “At the Leadership Academy, students develop new skills they can use to empower themselves and pay it forward.”

Throughout their week-long experience, students—many of whom have never slept in a bed before or seen a cell phone—participate in a series of educational workshops that cover a wide-range of topics, from time management and study skills to financial literacy and gender roles. Incorporating a variety of development and assessment tools of The Student Leadership Challenge, they also engage in exercises and role-plays that help them gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a leader, their own personal values, and the important role values play in gaining credibility and earning the trust.  


“Students carried around copies of The Student Leadership Challenge as if they were gold,” Erna observed. “For many, this is the first book that they have ever owned to themselves.”

Students also explore the crucial role vision plays in successful leadership and take part in a Dream Mapping exercise that helps them explore and share with others their own personal dreams—for themselves, their families, their communities.  As one young woman said, “I did not know I was worthy of having a dream of my own. Now I do and my “personal best story” showed me that I am already a leader. I have to get started NOW.”

The Five Practices provide a solid foundation upon which to build a wide range of skill-building and learning initiatives and to address some of the unique issues and challenges confronting youth in these communities, including body maturation, HIV, substance abuse, and physical and gender abuse, including female genital mutilation (FGM). For one young man, learning about the effects of FGM has made a real difference in the action he will take. “Now that I have learned how bad FGM is for our girls I have to go back and help be the voice to try and stop this,” he said.


Dedicated to celebrating the students’ hard work and new friendships, by the end of their Leadership Academy experience students depart excited, exhausted, and ready to tackle the world with renewed confidence and new plans.


“I now have new friends that I can call on to help me when I get stuck,” said one student.

“I now know that difficulties will come. They can stop me or I can learn from then and I can move past them,” said another.

“I am going to go home and share this knowledge with my younger siblings and practice being a leader in my family,” another student promised.

Erna Grasz is a woman who listened to her heart and took action. She was a catalyst who saw from her very first step that a small action can make a big difference. “Each of us is blessed with talents, skills, and gifts that can be shared,” says Erna. “With all we have, I believe each and every one of us can make a difference.”  And with Asante Africa and the Leadership Academy, Erna has created an opportunity to ignite that same spark in each of the teachers and students she reaches. Based on the experiences of participants so far, the flame has been lit.

To learn more about Asante Africa Foundation, visit www.asanteafrica.org.

Beth High is President of HighRoad Consulting, a leadership development company, where she focuses on the challenges of leading effectively in the virtual environment. She also is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge Workshop® and can be reached at highroadconsulting@gmail.com

Category: Success Stories

What they are saying...

"Why wait to learn leadership in the workplace? Students can learn how to lead by using Kouzes and Posner's five proven leadership practices. [This] is the perfect guide for...[those] seeking to develop themselves for leadership."
– Howard T. Prince II
University of Texas, Austin

What they are saying...

"I've been teaching leadership classes for twenty years, and The Five Practices are, hands down, the best tool for helping students see both their inherent strengths as leaders as well as to further develop their skills."
– Britt Andreatta
University of California, Santa Barbara

What they are saying...

"[The Student Leadership Challenge] (book) is a gift to university educators who teach leadership courses or develop trainings. workshops, and retreats."
– Laura Osteen
Florida State University

What they are saying...

Corey Hill "The greatest part about being in the virtual community was being able to hear the instructors, talk about the material we were discussing, as well as having our own discussion as a class with our other classmates over chat. You got a lot of interaction with the material, a lot of takes and nuances on what other people were taking away from the material that I don’t think you would get in a traditional classroom setting."
– Corey Hill
Oklahoma State University

What they are saying...

"The Student Leadership Practices Inventory is the best tool I have used to help students assess their leadership effectiveness because it translates the concept of leadership into actions and relationships. By defining and measuring specific leadership behaviors, the Student LPI allows students to see how they are doing as leaders and to determine how they can improve."
– Cathy Early
National Interfraternity Conference

What they are saying...

"The student examples inspire the reader and show us that running into bumps along the way is not only normal, but that you can approach the challenges with confidence and practical solutions."
– Amanda Crowell Itliong
Stanford University

What they are saying...

"The authors set out to teach college student leaders to understand what it takes to be an effective leader, to inspire them to find their own unique skills and abilities, and to explore and discover where their leadership will make the most difference in the lives of others and in the success of their organization.  I believe they have succeeded."
– William L. Kibler
Mississippi State University
NASPA Journal, 2009, Vol. 46, no. 4

What they are saying...

"The experience of the Certified Leadership Training left me feeling more confident and equipped to provide better leadership training to my student leaders."
– Erica Lara
Nyack College, NY

What they are saying...

"The 5 practices are a must!  Demonstrating and understanding the [concept that] 'leadership is an art' that must be taught to our students was incorporated throughout the training."
– Jerry Alva
Texas A&M International University

What they are saying...

"This is a great opportunity for any person looking to develop a program that involves The Student Leadership Challenge."
– Miguel Trevino
Texas A&M International University

What they are saying...

"I am more equipped to develop a leadership program that will have a positive impact on the students at my institution."
– Andrew Moyer
Delaware Valley College, PA

What they are saying...

"Employers are looking for students who have content knowledge and practical experience working in teams and leading others. The Student Leadership Challenge is an excellent example of the behaviors needed to accomplish extraordinary tasks that can get you noticed by a potential employer."
– Kevin Bailey, vice president for student affairs
University of West Florida

What they are saying...

"Beth and Gary are so personable that I was totally comfortable asking anything. For a program with such vigor, these two facilitators do an amazing job of creating a safe, fun, and functional learning environment."
– Certified Facilitator Training participant

What they are saying...

"The Student Leadership Challenge is a gift to university educators who teach leadership courses or develop trainings, workshops, and retreats."
– Laura Osteen
Florida State University

What they are saying...

"Developing transformative learning environments for leadership education begins when we embrace the use of emerging technologies and social media to enhance student learning."
– Todd Foley, assistant director for the Student Involvement Center
Saint Louis University

What they are saying...

"Leadership is a journey of personal and organizational discovery… understanding that the best way to learn is to teach, we decided to take on the challenge of having our students teach others.
"
– Vince Bellafiore
Marmion Academy

What they are saying...

"We know that The Student Leadership Challenge is making a difference. Through continuous coaching and intervention, with the use of the Student LPI, we are helping to keep our young people engaged in the pursuit of exemplary leadership."
– Melvin Chia
Lifeskills Enrichment, Singapore

What they are saying...

"The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership are everywhere. And as important as it is to exhibit those qualities yourself as a leader, it is just as critical to see them in others, and to be driven and inspired by other people’s leadership.
"
– Nina Vasan and Jennifer Przybylo
authors of Do Good Well

What they are saying...

"Consider the college campus as a leadership laboratory—a place where students have multiple opportunities to practice their leadership skills and explore and develop their leadership identity.
"
– Marcy Levy Shankman
Cleveland Leadership Center

What they are saying...

"I am so passionate about leadership and making a difference and I truly, honestly, wholeheartedly believe in The Student Leadership Challenge model. It is complete, yet simple enough, for all to understand. SO very excited to share this model with others, both on-campus and in the community.
"
– Suzanne Von Behren, RN, BSN, University Wellness Services
Northwest Missouri State

What they are saying...

"I feel that a program like this could really work in helping to eventually change our culture within our schools, homes, and businesses. Although I am not a supervisor, I plan to implement the model fully in our office and look forward to sharing it with coworkers. I love The Student Leadership Challenge model and am so excited!
"
– Suzanne Von Behren, RN, BSN, University Wellness Services
Northwest Missouri State

What they are saying...

"The Student Leadership Challenge is one of the most robust teaching and learning opportunities we have as educators. The Five Practices are identifiable and learnable skills allowing an individual to improve by receiving feedback and observation and by setting goals.
"
– Jason R. Pierce, director of education
Alpha Kappa Psi Professional Business Fraternity

What they are saying...

"And so again [leadership development] becomes foundational, it becomes a foundational understanding of living your values, of challenging the process to make things better, enabling others to act. It’s not just delegating, it’s about giving people the passion and the power to it themselves.
"
– Matt Baker, Vice President of Student Affairs
Northwest Missouri State University

What they are saying...

"Within the academy, we are constantly seeking additional tools to assist us in teaching the valuable lesson of leadership development for students. The Student Leadership Challenge is an excellent resource to assist in the important goal of helping students to become better leaders and, ultimately, stellar citizens in the communities of the world.
"
– Victor K Wilson, vice president for student affairs
The University of Geogia

What they are saying...

"Student leadership challenges are quite similar to adult challenges, and yet they differ as wel­­l– in scale and in the power of peer perspective. Kouzes and Posner have constructed a wide and sturdy bridge across these worlds. My college students will find relevant lessons and great inspiration in the diverse and compelling stories that are retold. We’d have a lot less adult leadership problems if more teachers and students used this great book.
"
– Dan Mulhern, Distinguished Practitioner of Law and Business
University of California, Berkeley, and author Everyday Leadership: Getting Results in Business, Politics and Life

What they are saying...

"Kouzes and Posner provide a comprehensive, research-based, and values-driven resource that is packed with real-life examples. This book makes leadership highly accessible to college students and is sure to empower the next generation to tap into their potential as leaders and social change agents.
"
– Jennifer R. Keup, director
National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition

What they are saying...

"The Five Practices has provided a framework for students to reflect on their leadership experience and restructure their philosophy and theories relating to leadership as they challenge themselves through these five practices.
"
– Amy Kuo, Somchanhmavong, associate director
Service-Learning, Public Service Center, Cornell University

What they are saying...

"As a Student Leadership Challenge Certified Facilitator I am excited about using these books to further aid me in developing curriculum and giving our students a tool to acknowledge and reflect on the concepts as they pertain to their own capacity to lead effectively."
– Deborah Mann, Student Leadership Challenge Certified Facilitator
BOLD Leadership Program, Cornell University

What they are saying...

"In our public service leadership programs and courses we will be able to easily use the many relevant and engaging activities and reflection exercises provided in this workbook. It will enable our students to better engage with and benefit from The Student Leadership Challenge, and will also help foster their personal leadership development journeys."
– Jon McConnell, associate director,
Haas Center for Public Service, Stanford University

What they are saying...

"Every young person dreams of doing something extraordinary. The Student Leadership Challenge provides everything this generation needs to turn a dream into reality."
– Brian C. Warren Jr., executive director
Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity

What they are saying...

"A book of genuinely effective activities for enagaging students at all levels, turning the novice facilitator into a pro. It includes easy-to-use concepts that readily apply to life as a leader, and is a real difference maker that fosters success!"
– Randy D. Grimes, human resources director
Duke University

What they are saying...

"A fantastic resource for leadership educators looking to further develop students’ understanding of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership in a tangible, hands-on way! It offers engaging activities that are sure to make an impact on your student leaders. This activity book is a great supplement to The Student Leadership Challenge, bringing the original concepts off the page and into the real world.
"
– Kimberly Piatt, coordinator of leadership development
The College at Brockport.

What they are saying...

"An excellent one-stop resource for activities to engage student of different learning styles. Students will find the experiential nature of the activities easy to comprehend and most importantly be able to see the relevance and application of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership."
– Melvin Chia, principal consultant
Lifeskills Enrichment

What they are saying...

"From what, to so what, and now what, this guide helps take educators on a journey of not only understanding The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership but also specifically on how to apply, practice, and teach the nuances of these exemplary leadership ways of being."
– Laura Osteen, professor of higher education, Florida State University
and director, Florida State’s Center for Leadership and Civic Education

What they are saying...

"The Facilitation and Activity Guide would have helped me not only to develop a better leadership program but to be a better leader myself. For those administering The Five Practices, this guide ‘Models the way’ and will be one of your best coaches."
– Sam Eriksmoen, former director, Emerging Leaders Program
University of North Dakota

What they are saying...

"Educators working at all levels will benefit from [The Facilitation and Activity Guide]. It is practical, applicable to diverse sectors, and works."
– Katie Burke, director, L.E.A.D. (Leadership Education & Development)
Florida Atlantic University