Dragana Obradovic, Public Affairs Office, U. S. Embassy Serbia
"As USAID entered Serbia in 2007 the concepts of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community development, decentralization and local self-government were not only new, but mostly misunderstood and usually connected to foreign/international organizations imposing western patterns and influences on Serbs. As chief of party in charge of a $40 million program, parallel to launching the initiative in 24 municipalities of Western Serbia, Jesse introduced a whole new type of operation to his team of over 40 staff. Although well educated, almost all of us were introduced for the first time with the procedures of an American donor and a U.S. organization. And not just his employees: Jesse did a good amount of coaching of the mayors of local government and other officials regarding how to attract investments, write development strategies, and rebuild an economy decimated by wars and economic sanctions. For most of them Jesse was a friend and trusted advisor, not simply the representative of a major donor.
I always had dreams about my career, I had plans, and took every opportunity to learn. I am a nerd by nature. Many people have done that and learned more than I have but they were not able to achieve bigger steps. It is not enough that your teacher or team leader offers to guide you. You must achieve trust or you cannot acquire the new skills confidently. I’m not the only one who feels that Jesse often believed in me more than I did; he has the ability to understand you and see your potential beyond your CV, job description, and past experience. He’s the type of teacher who pushes you from the top of the mountain to show you that you can fly. I never applied to be an interpreter, yet I grew in ability and confidence to interpret in national and international meetings and, on occasion, in front of media. I was not an event planner, but together we planned and managed an international conference in Serbia with participants from 15 countries.
The biggest impacts a person has on you are not the one you see immediately, but rather the ones you realize over time. Some of the characteristics that people respect in me today are those I developed working with Jesse and learned from him. I learned that issues will appear even when you plan and do everything correctly. These challenges are not there to stop me but to encourage me to find solutions. That is directly the result of, probably, one of the most important lessons I learned from Jesse: you don’t just go to the boss (who, we believe, knows all the answers) and report that there’s a problem; you define the problem and offer a solution. And second: even if you give your best, the result is not always perfect, but your contribution is recognized and you are valued.
Today I work at the U. S. Embassy in Serbia on education programs and I have the opportunity to contribute to change in my own country. I see myself as a life-long learner, only afraid of routine, open to new opportunities and experiences in life and career. Thanks to Jesse!"