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Fearless Leaders Kick Off the 2018 Resnick Aspen Action Forum

July 27, 2018  • Aspen Global Leadership Network

The world is in need of bold leaders— those undaunted by the challenges of globalization, migration, automation, isolation, and the unknown. These leaders remain calm in the face of relentless pressure and maintain their moral compasses when core values are questioned. This year’s Resnick Aspen Action Forum is dedicated to the pursuit of Fearless Leadership.

Action Forum managing director Tommy Loper noted that the theme was chosen shortly after last year’s forum when some Aspen Global Leadership Network fellows raised their concerns about the state of the world. Their anxieties included the rise of nationalism, increased social fragmentation, and the unchecked power of artificial intelligence. To address these, the Action Forum team asked themselves: What are the most important values for leaders to have as society navigates this inflection point? Loper found examples in the stories of many AGLN fellows.

“I have seen how this community faces fear head on,” he said. “For some in this room fearless leadership is an everyday act.”

Institute trustee Lynda Resnick echoed these sentiments. She applauded the AGLN fellows for taking on challenges that most would shy away from. Lynda and her husband Stewart are about to take on a challenge of their own. They run The Wonderful Company, which operates large orchards and processing plants. Many of these are located in California’s Central Valley which produces two-thirds of the nation’s fruits and nuts. The Central Valley also ranks among the poorest regions in the state and the nation.

To understand the needs of workers in these communities, Lynda and Stewart pored over maps and talked with teachers, activists, and local leaders. “I approached the problem the way I do in business,” Lynda said. “I did research.”

After weighing their options, the Resnicks chose to work in the town of Lost Hills. They built affordable homes, paved the roads and put in streetlights, and built Wonderful Park, a space with two community centers, recreational fields, and a playground. Still another challenge arose. Many residents of Lost Hills dealt with obesity, diabetes, and other dietary-related health issues.

An internal survey of Wonderful Company employees estimated that, without intervention, 87 percent of employees would develop diabetes by the time they reached their 50s. At the time of the survey, 12 percent of employees were already living with the condition. Something had to be done.

At the 2015 Action Forum, Lynda pledged to create and implement a holistic approach to health and wellness for Wonderful employees and their families in the Central Valley. Three years later, the company now operates two centers dedicated to tackling health challenges in the workplace, at home, and in schools.

Inspiring behavioral change has been difficult, but Lynda and her team are undeterred. They started a mobile clinic for those who lack access to transportation and launched a health ambassadors program to encourage workers to make healthier choices. In three years, they have reduced the number of pre-diabetic workers from 50 percent to 29 percent.

“I approached the problem the way I do in business— I did research.”
— Aspen Institute Trustee Lynda Resnick

Over the last five years, with the help of Noemi Donoso, Chicago Public School’s former chief education officer, and a Pahara-Aspen Fellow in the Aspen Global Leadership Network, Lynda and Stewart have also extended the reach of Wonderful Education, an array of programs supporting K-12 students in the Central Valley. Wonderful College Prep Academy boasts a 100 percent graduation rate with 88 percent of seniors attending four-year colleges. 86 percent of the class of 2018 will be first-generation college students.

The education program also partners with high schools and colleges to arm students with an associate of science degree to prepare them for agriculture jobs of the future. Wonderful Company grants and scholarships are also awarded to students across the valley.

Lynda hopes to continue this work by updating her pledge. She is dedicated to reducing incidents of obesity, diabetes, and stress among her workers, but also wants to provide their families with first-class education opportunities.

“This has easily been the most fulfilling chapter of my life,” she said. “I’ve experienced a true transformation with the power of ideas backed by hard work, supported by great teamwork, and propelled by fearless leadership.”

This post originally appeared on the Aspen Global Leadership Network blog. 

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