Since its inception in the mid-1950s, the Bush Fellowship program has helped more than 2,200 exceptional people sharpen their skills, expand their networks and take time to reflect on how to become even more effective leaders. The program has been intentional about supporting and connecting people from various sectors and different walks of life. As a result, some of the region’s most influential business leaders point to a Bush Fellowship when they talk about their personal and professional growth.
Take, for example, Peter Heegaard. When Heegaard received a Bush Fellowship in 1977 he already had nearly 20 years of experience working in the financial services industry. Working in investments with the Trust Group of Northwestern National Bank of Minneapolis, Heegaard was cognizant of the connection between banks and communities.
Heegaard used the Fellowship to develop his management skills. He also wanted to discover ways to bridge the yawning gap between banks and communities. A Master of Business Administration from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College already under his belt, Heegaard returned to his alma mater for its executive education program. He also studied at the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C.
Heegaard says the mid-career Fellowship was like a “booster shot” that not only kept him balanced in a harsh corporate environment, but also sparked a new chapter. With growing curiosity about community development and the role of financial services in that arena, Heegaard started his own urban education program, Urban Adventure.
Since 1997, Urban Adventure has recruited mid-level managers in the business sector to engage in a curriculum that shows the positive outcomes of investing in a weakened community. The crux of the program is getting financial professionals to see the potential return on investment. Now in its 19th year, Urban Adventure has engaged more than 400 executives of Twin Cities financial institutions in its programming.
“You take the bankers that had the most to gain by turning a depressed neighborhood around and show them how they could apply their skills,” he explains. “The philosophy is a healthy community creates healthy business, and healthy business creates healthy community.”
Heegaard designed Urban Adventure to be an experiential learning model because he believes that’s how people learn best. Through simulations and debate, participants engage each other and challenge themselves to solve real, systemic issues such as bringing back a housing development gone awry or surviving a poverty simulation in which they are given $35,000 on which to live. Though they don’t face these challenges in reality, Urban Adventure gives these business leaders the opportunity to share ideas and build passion for overcoming the obstacles facing many members in the community.
Heegaard has used this passion for improving communities in other ways as well. He is the author of three books that further explore the potential of individuals and communities when they have the necessary support. Turnabout, published last year, looks at the lives of 14 individuals who moved from dependency to self-sufficiency with the help of community programs and organizations.