This blog post is included as part of the “Her Story” series, which celebrates the stories of pivotal women in our students' lives that inspire, motivate and embolden them. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the ideas, views or opinions of LAAF.org.
I could tell you that Alexa Courtney and I first worked together on a study group effort. I could tell you that her bias for action left me unsurprised when she told me that she was starting her own woman-owned small business––Frontier Design Group––to create a world where all people live in dignity, free from the fear and consequences of violence.
Instead, I’ll tell you a story of how Alexa embodies what it means to be an ethical, legacy leader.
The proudest I ever was to work alongside her was the first day I ever saw her say “no.” It was late on a Sunday afternoon, after our three-person team had been working around the clock for days to build a new capability in time to respond to a Request for Proposal. True to form, Alexa had developed connections with multiple foreigners in a war-torn country who were willing to work in the nation’s most volatile region. She had become an expert in network security and collection methods, all in a matter of days. As subcontractor bids came in, I spent hours poring over the numbers, trying again and again to find a path to viability. Finally, I approached her, head hung and shoulders slumped. “I can make the numbers work if you need me to,” I said. “But it isn’t pretty.” I explained that bidding not only required us to forego profit, but meant doing things cheaply. It meant committing to do things that we could not do, more risk for our partners in the field and no margin for error on a first-time project, potentially endangering a long-term relationship with a critical agency partner who we respected and needed.
I knew how much this project meant to her. Alexa learned firsthand of the value marginalized humans can bring to problems when she studied the impact of female parliamentarians in Tanzania as a Fulbright Scholar. She saw the tragic cost of frayed communication between those on the ground in Afghanistan and those back in Washington, DC while working for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Field research networks give voice to those who our policies supposedly benefit, and Alexa has always fought for their right to be heard. She has a perpetual can-do attitude, and is a perpetual optimist. These are some of her greatest strengths.
Alexa asked for a few minutes. She took a walk around the block. When she returned, her body language was completely at ease. “We’re not going to bid,” she explained, “because no amount of money is worth the safety and security of our people. No single contract is worth our long-term relationship with a legacy partner.”
That’s the kind of person she is. She believes in the power of questions, the importance of optimism and the beauty of boldness, and recognizes that it always starts with people. Had I not learned these lessons from her, I never would have had the courage to launch my own organization. I owe her a sincere debt of gratitude. It is because of her that I recognize it’s not just what I do, but how I do it, that can have the greatest impact on the world.