20 Sep MIAMI FELLOWS HELPED ME DISCOVER MY PURPOSE… AND FULFILL IT.
For me, home isn’t just where the heart is. Home is where the people with heart are. Although I didn’t know it at the time, that’s precisely the gift the Miami Fellows program gave me: a “family.” The Fellows became the family I didn’t realize I had been living without, in a city where the people became my true north, my inspiration and my purpose.
When I applied to the leadership program, I was serving as executive director of the Bakehouse Art Complex. I wanted to learn more about Greater Miami and what made this place work. I was curious about how our city fit together, and where I might fit into that big picture. I wanted to become a better leader, and I was hungry to meet fellow young leaders outside the world of the arts. I also wanted to discover how to better-connect the arts to mainstream Miami, and help our community find and use its voice, literally and figuratively.
Becoming a Fellow was humbling and satisfying, frustrating and uplifting. I was a competent leader but reluctant to ask for help. I was willing to offer opinions but sensitive to criticism. I was passionate and eager to learn but impatient with the pace of my ability to change. As a Fellow, I got comfortable with vulnerability. I noticed and then began to own and address my shortcomings. I discovered new capacities and saw strengths I hadn’t before seen through the eyes of my peers and mentors. I received support and nurturance. I accepted both painful learning and unexpected, fun discoveries. In so many ways, my Fellows journey taught me how to be a better leader by becoming a better person.
The genesis of that better person began with the living examples of the people involved, even before the program started. The night before the first Fellow lab, my roommate, Maxeme Tuchman, and I got into a rigorous conversation about developing a board of directors. She shared generously and inspired me to new insights and approaches I hadn’t imagined. I was eager to put them to use and noticed a shift in myself. I both asked for help and allowed myself to receive it.
Over and over, the Fellows program highlighted that, despite its challenges, the people are what makes Miami successful. We traveled all over the community, hearing new points of view from voices we likely wouldn’t have come into contact with otherwise. Through them, we witnessed a spectrum of what leadership looks like in our community. From the produce stalls of Homestead’s Robert is Here to the hallways of the The SEED School of Miami in North Miami, the mangroves of Oleta River State Park to an afternoon with preschoolers at United Way of Miami-Dade in the Roads, the graffiti-splattered streets of Wynwood to the waters of Biscayne National Park, everywhere we traveled, the people always stood out. Through them, I began to see Miami through new eyes. They are how I got to know our city, and how it became the only home in which I’ve ever truly felt at home. Most of all, they reshaped my perspective about leadership.
With a career spanning conservatory training and professional music, arts education, strategic planning and executive leadership, I’ve encountered many intelligent, capable go-getters who weren’t afraid of hard work. Until the Fellows program, I had not intersected with so many service-oriented, caring leaders who showed up, present and authentic, even when they didn’t have answers, embracing the challenges at hand. It was eye-opening and heart-opening.
These encounters awakened in me both a realization of my purpose and a deep call to serve and contribute. I connected with people making change across Miami, inside and outside the Fellows family (and several who joined later). I got involved, lending ideas, cheerleading, supporting, volunteering and donating. I helped launch, create, assess and celebrate. So did my peers. Branching out from the Fellows experience, we sought out and found a family of resources, connectors, collaborators, co-conspirators, supporters and champions. Organically, by doing, we discovered another outcome of the program: the profound potential of long-range, purposeful Fellow-to-Fellow collaboration.
These collaborations are happening every day, and it’s through them that the most visible change is happening, and fast. Looking across Miami, it’s exciting and hard to miss the fingerprints of Fellows and their impact, most obvious in collaborative platforms such as Radical Partners (Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, Class VI), Venture Café (Leigh-Ann Buchanan, Class X), Buskerfest (Justin Trieger, Class IX), WIN Lab (Michelle Abbs, Class IX), The New Tropic (Chris Sopher, Class VIII), Ruth’s List Florida (Marika Lynch, Class IV), Creative Mornings (Malik Benjamin, Class VII) and Urban Impact Lab (Marta Viciedo, Class X), Miami Homes for All (Annie Lord, Class VIII), Transit Alliance Miami (Gloria Romero Roses, Class III and Marta Viciedo), and the current trio in senior leadership in North Bay Village (Marvin Wilmoth, Class VIII, Dan Espino, Class VIII, and Ralph Rosado, Class V), among many others.
I am thankful for the Fellows program and the army of people who have contributed to me and my journey. These truly laid the groundwork for me to discover my purpose and become the kind of leader who, with the support and collaboration of others, is now capable of fulfilling it. In that vein, I created my firm, Cultured Innovations, to focus full time on amplifying the impact of the people who are helping create a better Miami and a better world. As a consultant and coach, every day I get to be a mirror for good work and an elevator for impact for social changemakers all across our ecosystem. It feels amazing to serve.
To Miami Fellows Class XI, heads up: the end of the Fellowship is just the beginning. You’re joining a family of people who are co-creating their future, your future and Miami’s future. Welcome to the family. We can’t wait to see what you’ll create. We can’t wait to be part of it. And, please, please remember to ask for help.
Marte Siebenhar is a Miami Fellows alum (Class VIII) and founder and principal of Cultured Innovations.
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