A Missoula nonprofit leader has been honored by the U.S. State Department for her work in helping build and sustain civil society across the globe.
Susan Hay Patrick, the CEO of United Way of Missoula County, is the only American winner this year of a prestigious Professional Fellows Program Alumni Impact Award, presented by the Office of Citizen Exchanges at the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.
The Professional Fellows Program is a “two-way, global exchange program designed to promote mutual understanding, enhance leadership and professional skills and build lasting, sustainable partnerships between leaders from foreign countries and the U.S.,” according to the State Department.
Patrick has mentored fellows from Southeast Asia while they were in the U.S. and has traveled abroad to share her expertise in everything from fundraising to technical expertise and leadership.
“Susan is a living example of America’s legacy of civic engagement and dedication to service,” said Deena Mansour, the executive director of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center at the University of Montana, which manages the PFP in Montana. “Her expertise, experience, dedication to Professional Fellows and ability to inspire with insight and humor make her the ideal candidate for (the award).”
Patrick traveled to Cambodia in 2014 to provide her expertise on things like starting and running a food bank for families in need. Patrick’s work at United Way has often focused on hunger prevention and relief, and Mansour said Patrick has helped start a large number of food banks in the United States.
She brought her knowledge of nonprofits to Cambodia, where the regime led by Pol Pot committed genocide during the 1970s that resulted in the death of a quarter of the country’s population.
“In a country where more than 50 percent of the population is under the age of 25, Susan’s workshops inspired attendees to become agents of change in their communities, specifically through volunteerism and service,” Mansour said.
Patrick returned to Cambodia and also visited Thailand in 2017, speaking about nonprofit management, governance, fundraising, planning, evaluation and leadership.
From her office in downtown Missoula, Patrick said she tries to help people create a culture of philanthropy in their own communities that matches the strong culture she sees in Missoula.
“Fundraising is about relationship-building,” Patrick said.
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The people she’s helped are involved in nonprofits with a range of missions, from environmental protection to women’s empowerment to child welfare to poverty reduction. One Cambodian citizen named Chhon Yut was able to develop his eco-tourism business, Ayana Journeys, after receiving mentorship from Patrick, according to Mansour.
“Susan’s fundraising workshops have been among the most highly-evaluated of the leadership sessions arranged for our Fellow,” Mansour said in a nominating letter. “Beyond the tangible skills she offers, she has a deep understanding of and respect for the Professional Fellows Program and the Fellows’ cultural backgrounds. Without this empathy, she would be far less successful at providing the Fellows with specific skills and knowledge to use in follow-on action plans.”
Patrick said the work is rewarding.
“It has reinforced my belief in the importance of mentoring young people,” Patrick said. “If you have the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a young person you believe in, you should always seize that chance. I have learned from them, and admire them and want to be like them, and I feel that way about a lot of young folks in Missoula that I’ve come to know, and I try to support them.”
Patrick said the work has also shown how Missoula’s philanthropic culture compares to that of developing nations.
“I gave me an appreciation of how fortunate we are to live in a community and country that has such a strong and vibrant nonprofit sector and culture of philanthropy,” she said. “Especially in Missoula where networking and giving back are community values. We take a free press for granted, and we take a responsive government for granted, to some extent."
In places like Cambodia that have been ravaged by genocide, the foundation for nonprofits isn't as strong and takes much more work to build, she said.
"These young people are changing their countries against sometimes very difficult odds, including inter-generational poverty," Patrick said.
Three other winners along with Patrick will be honored in Washington, D.C., at the end of May, attended by nearly 300 Fellows from 60 countries. The Mansfield Center has successfully competed to host the program since 2011, and more than $4 million in federal grant funding and the travel of more than 200 international fellows and 80 Montanans has been supported by the program.
Two other people from western Montana, Germaine White of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and Missoula County commissioner Josh Slotnick, have also received the award in years past.
“No other state or host organization has more than one, so the fact that Montana has spawned three winners is a testament to the strength of the program, the expertise of the Fellows and the community,” Mansour said in a telephone interview.