Katie Steele Danner is the Executive Director of the Greater Missouri Leadership Foundation, and as a graduate alumnus of the third class of the Leadership Challenge, she has personally experienced how the statewide program grows women leaders in many careers throughout the state. Now in its 32nd year, the Challenge has grown 1,300 alumni that have spread their wings internationally. Katie describes it as a traveling symposium with a class of 30-40 women who meet for a dozen days in four, three-day sessions. Each session does a deep dive into a specific community’s issues, often discovering problems needing solutions in that area are relative to the entire state and intersect with what is happening nationally and globally. It focuses on emerging women leaders, educating them about the state of Missouri and helping them realize where their strengths and leadership can make a difference. Katie says that the Foundation hopes their eyes are open to possibility, not only to their own careers, but also how they can be more engaged in their communities.
In Katie’s case, she was a young Missouri State Representative when she accepted the challenge. While still in her 20’s she ran for office, thinking that she could do a better job than the three men running in her district, and she won. She went on to serve three terms and says that she, “had the opportunity to get to know the state of Missouri in a way that without that experience, I never would have learned the vast diversity of opportunities, and frankly, the challenges of the state of Missouri.” However, her experience with the Challenge and the Foundation has introduced her to a vast array of expertise among the women in Missouri, including the woman engineer who runs the Callaway nuclear power plant, who is a Challenge alumnus. She says that the networking is phenomenal when you think about over a thousand women leaders now serving on boards and in leadership positions where their voices are heard, literally around the world. Katie says, “We have many women that are working with large corporate firms that are currently based in Brazil, Germany or England, etc.”
How to Apply for The Greater Missouri Leadership Challenge
There are two ways to become an applicant: an alum can refer you, or you can nominate yourself. The referral would introduce the applicant, list her strengths and what she is doing personally and professionally, and describe her as an emerging woman leader who would be successful in the program. To self-nominate, an applicant would say something like, “I’m really interested in learning more about the state of Missouri.” Then list her strengths and describe why she thinks of herself as an emerging leader, and how the Challenge would help her hone her leadership skills and grow her leadership into new areas of potential.
Katie says that the awards luncheon event that Dr. Nancy and Women Connect4Good helped sponsor in Springfield, Missouri, this year resulted in a number of women self-nominating from throughout Southwest Missouri. “And that helps us because we want diverse women, not only diverse industries, diverse experience, but diverse in geography and obviously diversity across the entire spectrum.” She encourages anyone interested to apply on their website at GreaterMo.org, and she will follow up with them.
More Benefits of the Greater Missouri Leadership Challenge
Katie says that she is amazed at the number of industries she has learned about through her years of being an alum of the Challenge. And she encourages others to step up, because even if you feel you don’t know enough, there are women to help you along the way. That’s the purpose of the Challenge – to empower each other to lead. She tells the story of a young Challenge alum named Fatima who immigrated from Bosnia as a five-year-old with her parents and is now a US citizen. St. Louis, Missouri, is the largest resettlement area for Bosnian refugees, a fact Katie also wasn’t aware of until she worked with Fatima and others volunteering for the International Institute helping resettle the Afghanistan refugees in St. Louis. Fatima’s personal story as a Muslim child in a Christian sponsoring family helped with understanding the refugees in the current crisis. Fatima’s job is managing staffing for the mayor pro tem of Kansas City where she uses her experience to talk about homelessness and how partnerships with corporate America work to help fill hunger needs in rural Missouri.
Listen or watch this interview to learn more about how Katie sees the fluctuation to more remote work can benefit women and provide opportunities for women to lead in their communities where they are needed most. Stay in touch with their activities and events on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. And go the website for more information about the Greater Missouri Leadership Foundation, a fascinating organization growing more women leaders in Missouri every year.