Looking in and looking up with Lao organizations


This month was a very interesting month.

One thing the Lao Assistance Center has been involved in was presenting a workshop about the civic engagement of the Bottineau with Jay Clark to the McKnight Foundation.  Thank you everyone who cameto hear about the work we are doing.

Many in our community are asking about the Fall elections, particularly the mayor race and city council race in Minneapolis. Some are concerned the Mayor candidates are taking the Lao vote for granted, especially in key battleground districts.

Our community met with Senator Bobby Jo Champion at an informal open house at the Harrison Neiborhood Association to discuss the last legislative sessions and the work that was accomplished. Many are concerned because they see what is happening in the legislature of other states and they hope we will be productive in Minnesota to create an effective infrastructure.  

Earlier in July, we met with Sia Her, the new Executive Director of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans about the Lao community issues, which are not always the same issues other Asian Pacific Minnesotans face or have an understanding about. I encourage all of the members of our community to let her and her staff know what you feel the Minnesota legislature should focus on next, because that is an important part of democracy: To be responsible for your own voice and to build community with others, not just letting others tell you what it is going to happen.

This month we still engaged the unemployed Lao in North Minneapolis to be a part of decision-making regarding the Northside Minneapolis Workforce Center’s new site. The big question with the North Minneapolis Workforce Center is how we will build a new building on 7th Street North. The new building will be finished by mid-2014. In the meantime, the Lao Assistance Center will continue to be one of the primary spaces where Lao seek to learn new skills in our own language and at our own speed.

During the meetings, our community has made it clear they would prefer to see the North Minneapolis Workforce Center is friendly to use for people of diverse backgrounds, not another one-size-fits-all institution. This space should inclde capable, multilingual staff to help out clients. The staff should be empowered to work faster to process requests and to respect culturally appropriate ways of communicating with our clients. We felt many other communities would also benefit from this model, such as the Somalian, Liberian, Latino and Cambodian communities, to name a few.

We also wanted the center to provide more multipurpose services, and to include a community center room to the community to meet and connect in large numbers. Often our planning spaces are very cramped and don’t allow for effective breakout sessions in North Minneapolis.

Employment has been an ongoing concern because many of our community who were laid off have been laid off from companies where they worked for a long time. It’s not easy for older refugees to get back into the workforce even under the best of economic conditions. One troubling issue the trend for temporary agencies to hire workers for a long time but the Lao and others are almost never hired as a permanent employee. We need to see changes in the system. 

As a part of the Bush Leadership Fellowship I received the results of my CDR Leadership Character Assessment. I enjoy these assessments, even if I don’t always agree with them. But this one had  number of ideas that I hope to focus on in the future. As I spent time to read them to understand them and to review, some of their findings surprised me, and others didn’t surprise me at all.

The CDR Leadership Character Assessment felt that my preferred mode is to “roll up your sleeves and persevere until you and your team have completed the tasks at hand,” that I prefer to lead by collaboration, and relish private time. It was concerned I “may not assert myself or speak up enough” particularly on my own behalf or for the good of the team. Of course, in many circumstances in the Lao community, this might be seen as respectful and traditional forms of leadership.

Is it helpful for our community to know that I “prefer solving problems in concrete and practical ways,” or that I am “an intense performer who will put a great deal of effort into task completion” and who “deals with stress by bearing down and working harder.” 

The report was very thorough, going on for many pages to suggest I am “concerned about doing the right thing” and that I “tend to think carefully about potential negative outcomes before acting on decisions.” That is true, as was their sense that I reflect on my own performance and accountabilities at the end of the day. It also found that I am more inclined to be a realist than an idealist, and I have a relatively uncomplicated set of needs. Those are traits common among many traditional and emerging Lao leaders I am finding. 

They felt I was driven to make a difference in other people’s lives, and enjoy actively contributing to the betterment of society. I certainly hope others would see that as true. I love opportunities to help others’ achieve their goals. It’s strange to me that others wouldn’t share similar goals.

They made many recommendations to me to be an even more effective leader, but five that really stood out for me were:

• Be careful not to procrastinate 

• Lighten up! 

• Partner with others who are trusting and upbeat.

• Don’t be an obstacle to innovation; allow and endorse others’ creative expression before looking for flaws.

• Partner with others who are practical and procedurally focused.

I think other Lao leaders in similar positions would also benefit from applying those applications. Sometimes we can get too serious that we lose sight of the good we can do, and the amazing things we can accomplish together. It was interesting for me to learn their assessment of me was that the best work roles for me are those where I can trust my associates and where I feel comfortable with their expectations and recommendations. Also, they felt I should make sure I am in an environment where my contributions are valued. This is not always easy to achieve!

But they said I appreciate innovation, change management, and strategic development. They felt those things kept me interested and satisfied. I would definitely agree with that. As we continue to celebrate 30 years of the Lao Assistance Center this year, I am looking forward to the new programs we are building to meet the needs of our community for the next 30 and even 100 years. What will our community look like in 2083? We need to plant those seeds today!