For the past five years, 10 young Twin Cities leaders have immersed themselves — along with people from 13 other U.S. cities — in an intensive Harvard Business School program that examines how the U.S. will compete globally with limited resources and a growing socio-economic divide.

The theory is that deep, cross-sector relationships are essential to improve education, transportation infrastructure, housing and workforce development, which lead to more widespread prosperity.

This year, the Itasca Project, which sponsors the Twin Cities contingent at the Young American Leader Project (YALP) at Harvard, with an additional financial contribution from Greater MSP, will launch Minnesota YALP, or MYALP, with faculty from the Harvard Business School and the University of Minnesota Center for Integrative Leadership.

Young leaders from the Twin Cities, Rochester, St. Cloud and Fargo-Moorhead will gather at the U this week to explore inclusive economic development challenges and opportunities. Duchesne Drew, a vice president of the Bush Foundation and a former Star Tribune editor, helped lead the initiative to customize the Harvard YALP experience for Minnesotans.

Q: Why did you and others think it would be good to develop an annual program for Minnesota?

A: We saw so much value in the original YALP program at Harvard. We decided to start a Minnesota version so we could work with more than 10 rising Minnesota leaders a year and so we could create a program that connects leaders from across the state, not just the Twin Cities. MYALP, as we’ve dubbed it, includes 20 leaders from the Twin Cities as well as 30 from greater Minnesota.


Q: What do you hope to accomplish by bringing together 50 “rising leaders” in Minnesota from business, nonprofits and government?

A: A lot. We’re building their skills, deepening their understanding of the region, and creating connections to other leaders who care about Minnesota but have different roles and different perspectives on what this place is and what it needs to be more vibrant. We want them to come away with a better sense of the issues the state is facing and a meaningful connection to other leaders invested in the health of our region. It’s about supporting broad civic engagement and cross-sector collaboration.


Q: What are some of the issues this Minnesota cohort will tackle?


A: They’ll dig into the U.S. economy, Minnesota’s economy, the future of work, negotiation, public-sector innovation, cross-sector leadership and more. The sessions will be a mix of topics included in the Harvard YALP program and taught by Harvard faculty as well as topics that are specifically focused on Minnesota and taught by staff from the University of Minnesota. We’re also tapping into the perspectives of senior business, nonprofit and government leaders who have insights to share about cross-sector partnerships. The [first group] had some reading to do. There’s a curriculum. We’re interdependent between the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota. And this is a good opportunity to remind people of that. I’ll do a session with Kate Mortenson about the work we did to diversify contracts on the Final Four tournament [last year]. We were intentional about it. There was a network. And we hope this will build a network that people tap into. There will be cross-industry-sector collaborations on the public good, economic inclusion ... including with CEO Tawanna Black of the Center for Economic Inclusion; a session on constructive engagement and how to discuss our differences, not run from them.


Q: Please mention a few of the young participants and their organizations.

A: They’re all great. There were also a bunch of great people we couldn’t accept for this round. We’re excited to invest in them and connect them to others striving to make the region better, such as John Doan of Mobility4All, David Edgerton Jr. of Andersen Corp., Drinal Foster and Shoua Lee of Wells Fargo, Dayna Frank of First Avenue, Michelle Horovitz of Appetite for Change, Emily Piper of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, Max Musicant of Musicant Group, Toni Newborn of city of St. Paul, Alejandra Pelinka of city of Bloomington, and Alicia Sojourner of city of St. Louis Park; Chris Swanson of US Bank; Jen Wagner-Lahr of the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute; Jai Winston of Knight Foundation and Alysha Price of the Northside Achievement Zone.


Q: Is it a goal to see this work transcend the MYALP sessions and lead to common cause on common issues?

A: Yes, we’re confident that a number of the participants will tap into this knowledge base and this talented network for years. They’re already engaged in trying to make the region better. This will just add fuel to their collective fire. Skilled, inspired, committed and connected leaders can do anything. The future of our region depends on it.