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Student news: Cape Town session will help LeaderShape program expand

The 2008 LeaderShape session in Cape Town, South Africa, is not only an exciting opportunity for the 52 University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Cape Town engineering students. It also holds many opportunities for the LeaderShape Institute itself to expand.

“I'm excited for the possibilities,” says LeaderShape Vice President Michael McRee. “I hope it is a powerfully exciting week that helps people know what could be possible for them and possible for our collective world.”

LeaderShape was first developed by a fraternity—Alpha Tau Omega—and launched in 1986 at an Illinois university to help promote campus leadership. Twenty-two years and more than 500 sessions later, LeaderShape is a nonprofit organization with a program used in over 70 universities worldwide. The UW-Madison and UCT students will join the ranks of 27,000 LeaderShape graduates, who include Google co-founder Larry Page.

“We're creating students who are willing to go make a difference regardless of what the situation is, against all odds,” McRee says.

LeaderShape participants

The 52 LeaderShape participants from UW-Madison and the University of Cape Town broke into smaller groups for more intense discussions and leadership exercises. (large image)

The UW-Madison LeaderShape in South Africa is the organization's second international session. It is the first time American students have participated overseas, and it is the first LeaderShape in an African country. “We are very excited to be here,” McRee says.

LeaderShape is very open to continue expanding everywhere in the world, McRee says, however, it is important to look at the cultural context of each country and look at what leadership means in places outside of the United States. The only way to know whether two countries have a shared definition of leadership is by conversations between those who understand both cultures.

Another challenge will be to look at language and connotation, because words may mean different things in different countries. These considerations will help ensure LeaderShape programs appropriately respect every culture involved.

McRee says the interaction with UCT students will give the UW-Madison students a more enriched travel experience. “It could be easy to do Cape Town Wisconsin style. Going to Table Mountain is very cool, but you won't learn the culture by just seeing a landmark,” he says.

“It comes down to being human and working with people,” he adds. “It's the people and the relationships that matter the most.”