Marriott Alumni Magazine

Fall 2016

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Innovation in the Public Sector By Jeff Thompson, MPA director couple of months ago, a friend asked me what makes a person a good public servant. Though this is something I think about regularly as director of the MPA program at BYU, I still found it difficult to answer him. Some of the classic traits of good leadership—integrity, hard work, respect for others, vision, passion, and a desire to serve—first came to mind. I think all of those are essential traits for public leaders. But the answer I blurted out surprised me: an entrepreneurial spirit. Public servants aren't entrepreneurs in the traditional sense—they don't develop and market new products. But our most successful MPA students and alumni share this common entrepreneurial trait: they proactively seek to build and innovate to improve their communities and organizations. They aren't stereotypical bureaucrat bots—the people who mindlessly follow policies and churn out red tape. Instead, they are problem-solvers who like to create initiatives in collaboration with others. I have come to believe there is far more room for entrepreneurial spirit in the public sector than people usually suppose. Yes, we operate within legal and governmental frameworks that create certain boundaries. But the great improvements we see in our communities don't come from constraints; they come from people who take the initiative to develop something new. I have been thrilled as I have watched our MPA students engage with local communities and nonprofit organizations to help them solve problems and improve services. For example, one team of students recently helped the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands develop a system for evaluating its fire mitigation program. Other student teams have developed new initiatives for American Red Cross International, Hope for Tomorrow (a suicide prevention nonprofit), and The HEAL Foundation (which promotes development in rural India). I love being part of a program where we couple students' desire to serve with their creativity and initiative. Add to that the traditional traits of integrity, diligence, and respect, and you have a truly remarkable public leader. A That's a Good Question owhere is sacred when it comes to politics—including the play- ground. This year even tots are curious about the election, says Rachel Ruiz, a former Obama for America video producer. Her three-year-old daughter's questions—"What does the president eat for lunch?" and "Does he like the color red?"—inspired Ruiz to pen When Penny Met POTUS, a children's book that introduces kids to the Oval Office. Utilize her know-how when facing little inquiries. WHAT IS VOTING? Explain that citizens have a responsibility to share their opinions. "Voting is a way for a group of people to make a decision," Ruiz says. To illustrate the point, she recommends giving kids three options for a weekend activity and then casting votes as a family to choose what to do. WHO ARE YOU VOTING FOR? The key is to be honest. "If your child asks who you think should be president and why you support that candidate, tell them," Ruiz advises, with the caveat that you should stay positive when talking about the opposing party. This will demonstrate that "a healthy respect for other viewpoints can be constructive." WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP? Future voters can encourage adults to register to vote, pass out fliers and yard signs, and accompany parents to the polls. Most importantly, invite your kids to discuss with you what they think would make the country better. "It's a good exercise in teaching them why it is important to vote when they come of age," Ruiz adds. N

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