We Know Georgia: UGA Provides McDuffie Tools to Construct Leadership Pipeline

Charlie Bauder

Thursday, August 31st, 2023

Working with the University of Georgia, the east Georgia community of Thomson-McDuffie County continues to focus on building its next generation of leaders.

The UGA J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, working with the Thomson-McDuffie Chamber of Commerce, will kick off the newest class of Leadership McDuffie, the community’s broad-based adult leadership program, in September.

Thomson-McDuffie County identified leadership development as a priority when it became a UGA Archway Partnership™ community in 2017. Since then, the UGA Fanning Institute has helped the community develop three unique leadership programs.

“For communities to remain vibrant, they must identify and cultivate the next generation of board members and leaders,” said Don Powers, president and CEO of Forward McDuffie and chairman of the Thomson-McDuffie Archway Partnership Executive Committee. “Our leadership programming plays a key role in doing that here in Thomson.”

First, the Thomson-McDuffie Chamber of Commerce updated Leadership McDuffie, the community’s broad-based adult leadership program, in 2020 utilizing the UGA Fanning Institute’s adult Community Leadership Program curriculum.

Through the program, participants hone leadership skills such as collaboration and communication while learning more about their community and connecting with peers, then put those skills into action through a community service project.

Meanwhile, community service projects provide the opportunity for Leadership McDuffie classes to use the new leadership skills to benefit others.

For example, the 2022 Leadership McDuffie class organized an event for single parents that focused on community resources and information on self-care.

“At the very start of the program, we identified our leadership styles and strengths and learned those of our classmates,” said Elizabeth Brown, resident services director of the East Georgia Housing Authority and 2022 Leadership McDuffie graduate. “In organizing the event, we were able to put people in the right roles based on our strengths and their personalities and that helped us maximize our resources to create the best event possible.”

The program enabled class members to understand and draw on each other’s strengths, skills that carry over.

“At the East Georgia Housing Authority, we serve nearly 1,000 residents in four counties and we have to collaborate with the public sector and nonprofit organizations to provide our residents with resources,” Brown said. “Learning about building effective community partnerships is something that I put to use every day.”

After successfully revamping Leadership McDuffie, community leaders realized the need to continue engaging these emerging leaders.

The result was the creation of the McDuffie High Potential Leaders program in 2021, again utilizing the UGA Fanning Institute.

“The UGA Fanning Institute’s programs took the leadership topics I had learned previously and put them into the lens of my community,” said David Russell, who graduated from the first High Potential Leaders class after completing Leadership McDuffie in 2020. “Rather than looking at companies or case studies, we took those principles and applied them to McDuffie County and how they might work here.”

The networks he developed through both programs helped Russell become more involved in the community.

“Leadership McDuffie exposed me more to the Chamber of Commerce,” Russell said. “I had been involved in work groups previously, but I have been kind of taking steps forward and these experiences solidified that for me and positioned me to serve more with the chamber.”

Despite two successful adult leadership programs, Thomson-McDuffie County still felt as if there were more ways in which the community could support emerging leaders.

Targeting the business community, the UGA Fanning Institute and UGA Small Business Development Center (SBDC) partnered with Forward McDuffie to launch the Thomson-McDuffie Entrepreneurial Leadership Academy in 2022.

“Through this program, UGA gave me a blueprint for how to successfully run a business, move it forward, and lead my team,” said Freddie Gavin, the owner of The Music Cave, a multimedia business in McDuffie County.

Gavin also learned skills for effectively managing and leading his team and employees, he said.

In addition, the UGA Augusta SBDC office provided training in areas such as developing a business plan, finance and marketing.

“That has helped me take my idea helped me set up projections and a plan that I can take to a bank to try and secure funding to build my business,” Gavin said.

All three leadership programs are set to continue in Thomson-McDuffie County.

Leadership development is just one way that UGA has supported Thomson-McDuffie County, which was the first Georgia community to earn the university’s Connected Resilient Community designation. Other projects have focused on downtown development with support from the UGA Institute of Government Renaissance Strategic Visioning and Planning Process (RSVP), infrastructure improvements with support from the UGA College of Engineering, and recreation and tourism with support from the UGA College of Environment and Design.

“From filling our leadership pipeline to developing tourism and infrastructure, we have programs in place and are way ahead of where we were six years ago when started working with UGA,” Powers said.