Alumnus David Bernard-Stevens, Out to Change the World
Alumnus David Bernard-Stevens, Out to Change the World
By Bill Wax, Director of Communications
At age 63, many are thinking about retiring (or already there), but Bellevue University alumnus David Bernard-Stevens is just getting started. His goal? Change the world (at least some of it) by helping change individual lives. His M.S. in Leadership degree, earned in 2005, is helping him accomplish more than ever by passing along what he has learned to others in a place he feels he should be.
But it hasn’t always been that way for Bernard-Stevens, who grew up in Cozad, Nebraska, where his father published the town newspaper. The refrain of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” might be an appropriate soundtrack for much of the impressive resume highlighted on his LinkedIn page.
“I always have loved what I was doing at the time, but I also wondered if I should be doing something else,” he said. His current address is Nairobi, Kenya, where he helps teach Kenyans to think differently and change their lives by leading themselves and aligning their thoughts and actions to their own core values.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in Political Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and working as a Senatorial aide in Washington, D.C., for a while, he returned to Nebraska and completed a teaching certificate, even though he previously had told his mother, a UN-L math and computer science teacher, that he “would rather die than teach.” His teaching career included five years at Papillion-LaVista High School, during which he was named Nebraska Teacher of the Year and one of Five National Teachers of the Year.
In 1985, when a Nebraska State Senator retired at mid-term, a friend recommended Bernard Stevens to complete the term. Governor Kay Orr appointed him on condition he would run for re-election. He agreed, thinking he probably wouldn’t win. But as the election approached, the likely front-runner, Bill Hord of Lincoln, unexpectedly called him. After the two men talked, Hord called a press conference in North Platte, Nebraska. Members of the media came expecting him to announce his own candidacy, but instead, Hord announced he would be Bernard-Stevens’s campaign manager.
After serving as a State Senator from 1986 to 1997, Bernard-Stevens was hired as President of the North Platte Chamber of Commerce, holding that position for an additional decade, during which he learned about Bellevue University’s M.S. in Leadership program through contacts at Great Plains Community College in North Platte, which has an educational partnership with University. He completed the program online, finding that could know and interact more with students online than he had in his traditional classroom setting undergrad classes.
In 2007, the Chamber’s Board of Directors decided to take a new tack, which meant hiring a new President. Losing his job turned out to be a watershed moment for Bernard-Stevens. “Looking back, it was a real blessing,” he said. “I was in my 50’s, and for the first time in my life, I asked myself ‘What do I want to do?’ I figured I had maybe 25 years to do it.” He decided to launch a leader development company, where he could tap into his own abilities and experience as well as the leadership lessons he’d learned. “Taking Bellevue University’s Leadership program did a lot to form and develop my thinking on what a leader really is. I loved teaching but I also enjoyed helping people grow and accomplish things by learning to think differently so they could be empowered to accomplish things. You have to think differently if you want to create a different future. That’s not necessarily the traditional model of leadership.”
Long story short, he launched North Platte-based Leader Development Group, LLC, followed by an initiative to develop leaders among Jamaican youth, and finally he made contacts in Kenya, where he and four Kenyan nationals have formed Effective Change Consultants, LLC, a for-profit venture which provides leader training for businesses and organizations. Bernard-Stevens is C.E.O. of the company, which uses 40% of its profits in providing similar training at no cost to young men and women in rural areas.
It isn’t always easy to change the world, even part of it. “There are times I feel like I’m beating my head against a wall, and times it almost feels like the wall is chasing me,” he quipped. But he remains hopeful. Despite daunting cultural, economic, political, and behavioral challenges, he believes in people. He believes that by helping them change how they think, he can help them to lead themselves, and move from “reacting and repeating” to “responding and creating.”
“We want to help them move from reacting to their current circumstances and repeating the same behavior they’ve always done, which produces the same outcomes as before, to responding in new ways and creating a different reality that opens up a different path. If we can help people align their thoughts and actions with who they are in their heart--their individual core values and purpose—then they will be happier and their lives will change.”
Along the way, he has learned he is not alone in his quest. His travels and social media contacts have helped build a network of like-minded people. When there was no money to provide leader training for 80 impoverished Kenyan women from Nairobi’s Kibera neighborhood (Africa’s largest urban slum), a Twitter acquaintance in California provided helpful advice and encouragement. She told him to “Take a leap of faith,” by setting up a website, telling his story, and including a “donate” button linked to PayPal. “In two weeks, the money came in from all over the world. I remember thinking, ‘Wow! How did that happen?’” he said.
The adventure continues for Bernard-Stevens. Four years ago, his path crossed that of Ruth, a Kenyan woman, now his wife. In October he returned to Africa to join her and continue the work he is confident he was made to do.
David Bernard-Stevens can be found on Facebook and would be more than happy to connect. He also is on LinkedIn. He currently is using crowdfunding (gofundme.com/dkadqg) to raise support for a dairy herd project benefiting women and families in rural Kenya.