At 15, I moved from Southern California to West Papua, previously known as Irian Jaya, with my family to build an aviation station supporting a hospital in a remote highland village called Mulia. I lived and worked with the indigenous “stone-aged” Dani tribe that was first exposed to the modern world 15 or so years before my arrival. The Dani tribe lived as a 20th-century stone-age society with no steel, no wheel, and with animistic practices that included cannibalism. They had little to no exposure to the modern world until well after WWII. I was the minority. I learned two languages Dani, a spoken tribal language that was in the process of being transliterated by missionaries and Indonesian, or Bahasa, the trade language of the Indonesian archipelago, which spans a distance greater than the width of the United States. I lived on the eastern most island known as New Guinea.
I was immersed in and confronted by two polar opposite cultures the Dani tribe of black afro-pacific decent and the Indonesians of Indo-Chinese/Asian descent, both of which stood in stark contrast to my middle-income working class west coast California upbringing. This experience changed me and had forever shaped my worldview, which I could not have articulated or anticipated as I re-entered my life in Southern California at age 16. Living amongst one of the most primitive societies, traveling through South East Asia, India, and Europe etched new images into my mind that forced upon me a broader more diverse view of the world. From this experience, I realized the limits of my worldview, and it helped me to see how ‘expertise’ in one culture may not translate to expertise in another. I also learned that new insights and understanding are gained through diverse cultures regardless of practices viewed as primitive (e.g., no written language, lack of technological advancement, etc.).
Professionally, my father challenged me to use my strengths and always to pursue my passions. I started my business career in aerospace finance. However, a few years later, I met two guys who were rebuilding a city in South America that was destroyed by an earthquake. This encounter introduced me to creative options for blending my business and economic skills with my interest international and cross-cultural engagement. From corporate finance to international economic and social development, I found satisfaction in identifying and solving complex social and organizational challenges. During this journey, I began to see myself as a reformer, a change agent that continuously looked for ways to leave a place, community, a home, a company, an organization better than it was when I first got there. Most of the changes that I have made have been small and observable only by a few, but better none-the-less. I value making the world around me more complete, more functional, and one that aids and empowers people of different walks and stages to work together to make ‘our place,’ wherever our place is, a better place. For me, this starts with me as an individual, husband, father of four, and is intricately linked to my faith.
By observing leaders along the way, I came to a conclusion that how one leads and lives in non-leadership roles forms and shapes how one lead as they enter positions with greater responsibility, levels of influence, and power. During my formative ‘professional’ years, I identified leaders who equipped and empowered those around them and those who use people and organizational deficiencies to get ahead. The first type has inspired me to strive to become an effective leader and decision-maker. One who serves motivates, equips others to well. My professional journey is also directly linked to my academic journey and while not always directly, it has been tied to the emergence and effects of information communications technology. Over the years, I have become intrigued with the transformation role ICTs have had on individuals, organizations, and society and I found innovative ways to leverage ICTs to facilitate digital transformation and mission focused efficiencies.
One of the most transformational opportunities provided to me early on in my career was the chance to assist an executive in the formation of an ombudsman’s office. My ombudsman work included the development of an official ‘code of conduct and standards’ for the company, setting up a way for the globally disenfranchised (employees) to access support outside their chain of command and to assist in mitigating identified issues. It was in this role that I realized firsthand the complexities of professional life, the variety of experiences, good and bad, of a globally diverse workforce and the role politics, policies and power play in shaping the culture of organizations and the experiences of its workers. This experience has helped me to understand better the role culture plays in an organization and how spoken and unspoken values of an organization shape its culture and its willingness and ability to change when needed. It also revealed to me how organizations (for-profit, not-for-profit, religious, and government, etc.) provide a lens into the values and culture of the society in which they operate.
Transitioning from corporate finance to international economic and social development gave me the opportunity to manage projects throughout Asia, Central & Eastern Europe, Latin American, and Africa. From these experiences, I gained an understanding of the challenges confronting small and medium-size firms and working in these diverse social, political and economic regions. I provided specialized trade, development, small business and microfinance assistance to government agencies and profit and non-profit organizations in the US and throughout the developing world. Here too, I was confronted with the opportunities and challenges associated with bringing about positive change to societies when it was not clear what positive change was or who benefitted most from the change (the indigenous people, the state, the funding institutions, the providers, etc.) For example, in partnership with the private sector, I introduced Vitamin-A fortified foods in Africa to decrease infant blindness and mortality rates. This bio-engineered initiative required looking beyond immediate benefits to try to understand the long term social consequences of well-intended actions. Again, in this context, I observed the similar and different ways information and various communications technologies affected societies and cultures.
Currently, I am seeking ways to apply my experiences, academic endeavors, and lessons learned along the way to strengthen the role and effectiveness of diplomacy around the world. Diplomacy has been referred to as a soft or smart power and today ‘good’ diplomacy is in high demand. In the world system, a failed state has global implications and diplomacy, including economic and social development, are essential tools needed to prevent fragile states from failing. In seeking ways to strengthen diplomacy, I am specifically interested in how ICT’s, and the emergence of cyberspace, are shaping the diplomatic tradecraft, foreign affairs organizations, and the Westphalian world systems.
Finally, I love learning, and I love applying my learning to my place. I have learned throughout my journey that the most complex social, political, economic and technical challenges around the globe necessitate three listening, understanding the local and historical context, and observation through a multidisciplinary set of lenses (e.g., social, economic, business, political, regional, and technical, etc.).