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Before Barack Obama became President, he was a U.S. Senator, an Illinois State Senator, a law professor – but most of all, a community organizer. It was through his job as a community organizer in the 1980s that Obama ‘found himself’ and his mission in life, and set him on the path of eventually becoming the leader of the free world.
Now, after his presidency, he is sort of back where he started, being a community organizer. But this time the community spans the globe. Through his Obama Foundation, he is training young leaders from Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Europe.
Warp News got an invite to attend the closing workshop in Copenhagen, with Barack Obama and the Obama Foundation Leaders from Europe.
It is an impressive bunch of people.
Like Lubomila Jordanova, from Bulgaria, who is the co-founder and CEO of Plan A. A Berlin-based startup that has developed a platform that enables companies to measure, monitor, and reduce their environmental footprint and improve their environmental, social, and governance performance using machine learning and science.
Delara Burkhardt of Germany, who is a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the youngest German member of the European Parliament.
Selvije Mustafi is a national grassroots organizer at Romano Avazi. The organization’s goal is to foster an empowered Roma community that participates in the decision-making processes on local, regional, and national levels.
Tudor Bradatan is the executive director of Declic, Romania’s leading digital non-partisan campaigning organization. He collaborates with sociologists, copywriters, and campaigners to develop narratives that raise voter participation and inspire young people to vote.
Josefina Skerk is a member of Sweden’s Sámi Parliament. She is also the general manager of Sijti Jarnge, a Sámi language and culture center.
“What drives me is a love for my Sami heritage and a strong concern for the future of Sami culture unless Swedish politics changes. I feel better doing something about the injustices in society than just walking around the house and being angry," Josefina Skerk told Warp News.
“What I took with me from the workshop and the weekend with Barack Obama in Copenhagen was above all a strong sense of community and understanding of how leadership, community and collaborations are built. I am so grateful to have gotten to know the others who go through the program, those who work with it, and Barack Obama himself.”
“I have gained a lot of ideas and knowledge about organizing, organizational development and leadership. How Barack Obama himself chooses to use his position, to spend so much energy and time on lifting others, many could learn from," says Josefina Skerk.
Before the workshop, Barack Obama had lunch with another group of supporters and collaborators. One of them was Daniel Sachs. His foundation, the Daniel Sachs Foundation, runs the Apolitical Academy which has collaborated with the Obama Foundation. Sachs is also a board member at the Open Society Foundation, which also collaborates with the Obama Foundation.
What was your impression of the workshop in Copenhagen?
“I was very impressed by all the young social changers and activists I met,” Daniel Sachs told Warp News. “Also how they are supported by the Obama Foundation and not least how they support and help each other. Although societal development is challenging, it is people like these Obama Leaders who embody hope for a better future," says Daniel Sachs.
“I am glad that the Obama Foundation is increasing its activity and becoming even more explicit in its work to protect and develop the breeding ground for democracy in the world”, he continues.
The program aims to inspire, empower and connect regional changemakers to accelerate positive and lasting change in their communities and throughout their region, and obviously, Barack Obama himself is highly involved. He spent a lot of time with the leaders during the weekend and over two hours in the final workshop, mostly listening and asking questions.
In his closing remarks, Barack Obama told them that he had heard their doubts often during the weekend. That they felt unsure of themselves, feeling the imposter syndrome.
This was something Josefine Skerk also mentioned:
“Throughout the program, it has become clear how many very successful people are tormented by thoughts about being good enough, being enough, and coping. Being able to talk so openly about the hard parts of leadership has meant a lot to me.”
In a pep talk, the former President told them they should not feel this way.
“I’ve sat in rooms with the most powerful people on Earth. You should not feel as you don’t belong in those rooms. You belong in those rooms – and you are kids! Imagine ten years from now. You are so far ahead of where I was at your age," Barack Obama said and chuckled.
As a former President, I guess it’s easy to end up somewhere else, and don't spend a weekend with a bunch of 'kids'. Only move with the powerful and forget your roots. But Barack Obama spent a weekend with the 'kids' and is using his skills, knowledge, and network to train community leaders around the world. That is hopeful.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.