Every day on the DorobekINSIDER program we try to tell good government stories to help you do your job better. Today we get to highlight a program that is helping people do their jobs better by showing the power of partnerships; it’s an awesome program called Voyagers. Voyagers is part of the Industry Advisory Council in the American Council on Technology (ACT-IAC). Chris Dorobek sat down with two Voyager fellows to talk about how the program got started and how it is making a difference in government.
Those fellow are, Mike Farahbakhshian from Booz Allen Hamilton and Alexandra Zaslavsky, a contracting officer with the General Services Administration.
“Voyagers is essentially a program that brings the people that work within the telecommunications field, both on the private and the public sector together,” said Zaslavsky. “It’s a way to get people together and collaborate, talk about what’s going on currently in the telecom field. They talk about what are the new developments, what are the issues that people face etc. They also bring the public and private sectors together to work out possible solutions for the future.”
How does the program actually work?
“It’s really a two part process:
- “The first is an intensive, what you would consider a boot camp environment. Off sites, group projects, where you’re working on a series of assignments; there is a curriculum, and those assignments are tied towards the executive core qualifications that are both applicable to analyzing the public sector, and in the private sector towards either C level, or SES level positions. So that’s the structured curriculum that’s meant to, to tie to those ECQ’s,” said Farahbakhshian.
- The second part is, the more of a bonding element. There are social events, there is the interaction with the ACIAC Fellows community, heavy encouragement to participate in other organizations, such as ACIAC at large, various Sigs, ACIA, AFIRM, GITEC, any other industry organization, to encourage more collaboration in general between industry and government,” said Farahbakhshian.
This program is geared more for rising stars?
“Correct. This is for people that within the next 5 to 7 years, will be rising into the positions that you would currently see folks in the Partners Program occupying,” said Farahbakhshian.
There can be some risk when partnering government and industry, how do you avoid any impropriety?
“To start off with, right when we get to the orientation part, is made very clear that this is not a program where people are seeking out in a project for the government, or seeking out employment, things like that,” said Zaslavsky. “It is purely a leadership program, and it is purely used to understand the other sector’s point of view. And the best way to do it is to be paired up with somebody that works for lack of a better word, in this well– work environment, than you do. So it’s not dangerous on that perspective at all. As a matter of fact, I think it’s very, very effective.”
What does industry get out of these types of partnerships?
“I think it attunes folks in industry and government alike to be a little more empathetic to the problems and constraints that the other side feels. I’ve been in industry for oh, about 15 years now, and government folks were always thought of as well-intentioned, but just not getting it,” said Farahbakhshian. “If there’s one thing that this immersion has taught me is that no, they do get it, but they have other constraints they have to deal with. Provisions of the FAR. Individual organizational politics, quirks; things that folks in private sector simply will never have to experience. Likewise, I think that it helps provide the image of industry as we really do want to help achieve the mission, we really do want to help the citizen achieve whatever end goal they want; it’s not simply a money game. So, so I think that the immersion helps with empathy.”
Tell me about the different Voyagers projects?
“The projects vary, a lot. So, we have groups have to get organize lecture events essentially where, we can bring in leadership from both the government and, and private companies, to come and talk about certain topics. We tied to those trainings to ECQ’s, but also to certain trends within industry like digital government and mobile,” said Zaslavsky. “It allows people to come and hear leadership talk about these, these certain topics, and then there’s time for question and answer, kind of dive more into topics that would catch on. But also really allows you to network which is very important especially you know, living here in D.C. where everything is network based.”
A place to build safe relationships?
“You get to see what other agencies, what other groups are doing, what kind of projects that they’re working on, and you really bring it back to your work environment, and you see how things can be improved, and how GSA approaches a certain situation versus how DHS may approach situations,” said Zaslavsky. “So, it’s a really, you put it in the right words, it’s a safe environment to kind of learn from leaders, learn how they got to the top essentially.”
Has the program changed your outlook on government?
“I’d have to say that it has not changed my opinion on how technology is being used, because technology is a tool, and the tool always has to meet the need. What I think this program has done has clued me into how those needs are identified. And that really is leadership,” said Farahbakhshian. “That’s something that can be done in the, in the perspective of IT, or even something like facilities management, it matters. What really matters is identifying a need, finding the way to solve that need, and then, getting the solution in place. And I think that’s the real benefit of the Voyagers program is the leadership and the needs identification and the strategy side of it, more so than the nuts and bolts tech talk.”
Why should people participate in this program?
Farahbakhshian said people should participate for three reasons:
- “The first reason is empathy, because the more you know your counterpart that you’re working with, whether you’re government or industry, the better you’ll be able to achieve the mission.”
- “The second reason I believe is training and leadership and the ability to turn vision into results. It’s more than management; it really is training and leadership. “
- “The third I think is you learn a lot more about yourself. It, in many ways, the Voyagers program, it’s like going to the gym. You learn where you’re weak, and you learn where to strengthen your weak points. You learn where you’re strong and you learn to hone those even more. And I think it makes a better well rounded person in the business world, personally, morally; I think the more that you can reflect and improve on yourself in this safe and accepting confines of this program, the better person you’ll walk out being.”
“I cannot stress enough the importance of networking, which that this programs provides, you also learn a ton. You learn things that you would not normally learn sitting at your desk and doing, you know, doing certain projects at your organization, at your agency,” said Zaslavsky. “But you learn things that are out there. You learn about projects that are out there, you, you meet people that are in charge of those projects. It’s a good way, it’s a good way to have a safe dialogue with other people that are in your field. And I think it’s very important to know what’s going on around you before figuring out where you wanna go.”