Natasa Predojevic, Office of the High Representative, the Brcko District, Bosnia and Herzegovina
“I had the pleasure of working with Jesse during a difficult time in my life. Being very young, a child of a single parent from a modest background, I faced many challenges. The conflict in Bosnia made sure that not even my aptitude for learning or my drive would in any way curb the negativity that was for me a fact of life in this war-torn post-communist dystopia I called home. Then I got a job working for a diplomatic institution focused on peace, reconciliation and rebuilding Bosnia. In a man-dominated environment, with demanding tasks and strong personalities, with people from all over the world often way older and way more educated, with a different mindset and from different professional backgrounds, the atmosphere was competitive and frankly at times intimidating. It had a potential to hinder any inclination one had to try to get out of your own comfort zone so many people did not. This however, isn't my story.
By chance, I got my boss and mentor, I had this mild-mannered man, called Jesse. So it began. His support allowed me to dare take on tasks and responsibilities that were well beyond my perceived capabilities, but he knew. He knew who I was way before I dared explore. It made me confident, driven, protected and goal-oriented and it was by his design. I took on new initiatives and researched sensitive issues. Meetings with government and international officials -- even politicians -- became easy. I became fast, my research improved, I took on more and more challenges. I was promoted. I was in my early 20s and worked on issues my colleagues wouldn’t dream of doing such as organizing donor conferences, managing funds and meeting with foreign investors. His support made me confident enough to do it, to get those promotions and new responsibilities. The reason why I moved on to do even more, became apparent to me only later in life when I was able to compare and train staff myself and caught myself being at odds with what was in front of me. Knowledge sharing isn’t easy and an ability to do it with lasting impact is not a vocation, it’s a gift. This is what made him unique. Never before and never again, have I had such a mentor.
His subtle and continuous mentorship and encouragement helped me ease into my new role any subsequent one, despite my young age I had respect, support and compassion but also a continuous flow of valuable advice and challenges. He trusted me that I will do my best and taught me to expect the same of others, too. Little did I know he made me into a team-player and a future team leader. I could face it all, the diplomats, initiatives, high-level meetings and complex tasks with ease and never forgetting the human dimension. It is essential. My unique and difficult set of circumstances became my strength. He helped me realize it and use it to this day.
There are styles of mentorship and then there is Jesse's style. Not only did his guidance and mentorship help me achieve a lot professionally and make me a valued staff member but it made me fearless, driven and perceive myself as “battle-hardened” and confident, which opened new avenues and opportunities for me. My own education and career progressed to where today I am a professional with a thirst for new challenges. He helped me find my identity.
As a young woman I went on to develop further where his mentorship unlocked my potential, initiative and drive and helped me realize that dynamic working atmosphere, goal-oriented careers and an international setting are the milieu of well-meaning professionals across the spectrum, regardless of their background. It’s not a closed club membership. With proper mentoring, we are all able to join and lead that global club. The can-do attitude becomes the norm.
Being from less-than-fortunate part of the world is never easy. Thanks to Jesse's continued support, I am now a woman who gets to choose her next challenge. This engrained strength and confidence help me be a better professional and a better human being, in general, and especially to those around me. His work helped many people and institutions. I see it every day, around me.
More importantly, I am now able to stand at the cross-roads of life and choose my next big adventure. I have choices in life which in my opinion is the ultimate privilege and a blessing. I am no longer confined to a certain pigeon hole assigned to me by sheer chance. I am able to live and love life with all its beautiful, exciting complications. Those who get to work with Jesse, individuals or institutions alike, will benefit in ways that aren't easily described. The benefit appreciates with the passage of time. I, myself, still benefit, after all said and done, after the mentorship, I still have him as a friend and I realize that's what he has always been. That was his secret. How he did it with such ease and for so many of us is a mystery. Abundance of knowledge offered with kindness and support from a loving friend is what made me feel at ease then and now, at the moment in time, as my next chapter in life begins. I am blessed, I have Jesse's mindset, I have Jesse, I’ve already won!”