Soviets will learn to be leaders Minnesota-style

Minnesota State Roundup

Published July 1, 1991  | July 1991 issue

Six representatives from Estonia and Russia will attend a two-month leadership training program directed by the Blandin Foundation's Community Leadership Program in Grand Rapids.

In September the Cultural Initiative Foundation in Russia and the Open Estonia Foundation will each send three people who will ultimately train people in their provinces to be leaders. The foundations, funded by a wealthy Hungarian expatriate, are committed to establishing indigenous leadership to operate a market economy and encourage entrepreneurial spirit, says James Krile, director of Blandin's Leadership Program.

"They hope to take the kind of approach we do and adapt it to their culture," says Krile, who recently returned from the Soviet Union. And Krile says that leadership training is much needed by the Soviets. He says that the Russian Parliament is just now writing legislation to enable local government to exist, thus there is no tradition of local autonomy or initiative.

Krile says that the program may be the basis for a continuing connection that may have some economic benefits. "It could be a great opportunity for Minnesota entrepreneurs—if the Soviet Union does succeed in developing a market economy," he says. Until then, however, Krile says the Blandin Foundation and Minnesota communities will benefit from the opportunity to learn from another culture.

Several communities will have that chance because the program plan calls for sending participants to work with people who have completed the same program the Soviets are studying and to witness leadership skills first-hand. With more than 800 Blandin-trained leaders in 110 Minnesota communities, placement shouldn't be too difficult, Krile says. Nonetheless, he wants the Soviets to experience diverse environments, for example, small rural communities that center on agriculture and larger towns that rely on mining or manufacturing.

The six-year-old leadership program is one of several offshoots of the Blandin Foundation, which was established 50 years ago by the owner of Blandin Paper Co., Grand Rapids.

Kathy Cobb