Irene Fernando

5 Things I've Learned: Irene Fernando

Friday, October 13, 2023

1. Believe in what's possible.

Our systems are not broken; they do not work for all of us because they were not designed for all of us. To redesign systems in compassionate and evidence-informed ways, we must believe in what’s possible. Future solutions that creatively and comprehensively address the scale of need in our communities can only be imagined from a place of optimism and possibility.

2. Remain unwavering in your values.

I launched my campaign in 2017 with three promises: to advocate for those who are marginalized or structurally disenfranchised, to partner across all layers of government to advance our most complex issues, and to expand who sees themselves in the story of leadership and politics. In our increasingly complex and intensifying world, it is necessary to be unwavering in why you lead, how you embody your values, and who benefits from your leadership.

3. Study the system to make it better.

In order to change or improve something, we must understand how it currently works. Through genuine curiosity, deep listening, and cultivating a dynamic relationship with yourself as a leader and the systems around you, it is possible to maneuver within systems to change the trajectory of what’s possible for people who have been overlooked, underserved, or mistreated by systems.

4. Empower youth.

At age 17 in 2003, I co-founded a youth leadership organization with Gopher freshmen called Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF). Together, we learned that leadership is about action, not positions or titles. During my 11 years with STLF, nearly 23,000 participants contributed 318,000 community service hours across the country through leadership programs led by youth and for youth. This instilled in me the belief that today is always the right time to invest in our next generation of leaders. I love hosting youth tours of the county boardroom and my office, and I give out Future Elected: Commish-In-Training stickers.

5. Bet on yourself.

Never assume that decision-makers are advocating for your values—and even if they are—do not assume that they are inherently smarter than you. You have meaningful questions, skills, perspectives, and insights today that can transform communities for the better. Achieving change is driven by belief, empowerment, studying, and dedication, which demands that you bet on yourself, your values, and your vision for the world.

"Future solutions that creatively and comprehensively address the scale of need in our communities can only be imagined from a place of optimism and possibility."

Irene Fernando, '07 BSB
Fall 2023 alumni magazine cover

This article appeared in the Fall 2023 alumni magazine

Leaders come in many forms. The Carlson School community shares styles, approaches, and other ways we lead.

Fall 2023 table of contents