Arizona State Senator Paul Boyer on Politics and Public Service - Conversation with the Rabbi

Episode 11

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Published on:

24th Jun 2021

Arizona State Senator Paul Boyer on Politics and Public Service

Rabbi Michael Beyo and Dr. Adrian McIntyre talk with Arizona State Senator Paul Boyer about politics and public service in an era of polemics and hyper-partisanship.

(Producer's note: This conversation was recorded on June 9, 2021 and mentions legislative issues that may have evolved since that time.)

State Senator Paul Boyer has served in the Arizona Legislature since 2013, first in the House of Representatives and now in his second term in the State Senate. Senator Boyer is a junior high school teacher and represents Arizona's 20th legislative district, which includes much of Glendale and North Phoenix. He is the Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and serves on the Finance and Transportation and Technology Committees.

Senator Boyer has championed policies to provide more funding for first responders, responsibly invested in our K-12 and higher education systems, supported local business throughout Arizona, and fought to provide justice for victims of sexual abuse. As a dad and husband, Senator Boyer has fought to protect kids and families, while ensuring Arizonans have access to the healthcare benefits they have earned. Senator Boyer is an Arizona native who grew up in the West Valley and graduated magna cum laude from ASU with a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in communication studies.

Conversation with the Rabbi is a project of the East Valley Jewish Community Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, neighborhood organization that has served individuals and families inclusive of all races, religions, and cultures since 1972. Visit us online at https://www.evjcc.org

The show is recorded and produced in the studio of PHX.fm, the leading independent B2B online radio station and podcast studio in Phoenix, Arizona. Learn more at https://phx.fm

Transcript
Announcer:

From PHX.fm, this is Conversation with the Rabbi, featuring open, honest dialogue and sometimes unconventional perspectives on the world we all share.

Adrian McIntyre:

Welcome to another Conversation with the Rabbi. I’m Adrian McIntyre. Our guest for today’s show is Arizona State Senator Paul Boyer. He has served as a legislator for the State of Arizona since 2013. I’m really looking forward to hearing his views on things that matter to Arizonans. Our host for this conversation, as always, is Rabbi Michael Beyo, CEO of the East Valley JCC. Good morning, Rabbi.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Good morning Adrian, and good morning Senator Boyer. Thank you very much for joining us for Conversation with the Rabbi. We know that you have a very busy schedule, especially now during budget season, so thank you very much for being able to squeeze us in, and I look forward toward our conversation today.

Sen. Paul Boyer:

Yeah, thanks for having me.

Adrian McIntyre:

There’s so much that we could talk about and time is short. I wonder, Senator Boyer, if you would just give us a little thumbnail sketch of your journey as a legislator. Your background is in education, but in 2013, you were elected to the State House of Representatives. And things have some stayed the same and some changed a lot since then. What’s your assessment, first of all, of where things are now, what it’s like to serve your community and kind of just get us into your world a little bit.

Sen. Paul Boyer:

Sure. I mean, actually, I fell into teaching. I was doing communications for the largest school district in the State of Arizona, Mesa Public Schools. The Arizona Constitution has a prohibition. You cannot be a city, state, or county employee. So I left Mesa on a Friday, got inaugurated on a Monday, took a huge pay cut, so I needed the work. There’s one exception and that’s to be a teacher, and so that’s kind of how I fell into it. But to answer your other question, kind of what’s changed over the years, I think here at the Legislature, the biggest difference that I see is members of different parties just not talking to each other. And I find that disheartening because I’ll talk to anybody if it’s a good idea. On Israel, I have always believed that it’s a bipartisan issue, that it doesn’t matter if you’re Democrat, you’re Republican, we need to support Israel. And that’s something that should not be partisan. And thankfully, that’s been above the fray for the most part, but generally on other issues, I think that there’s been way hyper-partisanship.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Senator Boyer, I think that what you are describing is a problem that happens not only at the Senate level, but in society in general we find it all the time. And that was part of the reason that we created Conversation with Rabbi, to be able to have civil conversations also on topics with people that we may not always agree with. So, do you think that that is the result of? And then I’ll let you decide what is the variable. Meaning, clearly, society has moved away from times where people could converse because otherwise we would not see it as a problem today. So what has led to the situation today where clearly, in larger society, people cannot converse with each other?

Sen. Paul Boyer:

Well, I think technology is part of the problem where you have the loudest voices that are amplified. And when we’re not having face-to-face conversations, things that someone would never say to someone’s face, they feel comfortable saying that online. Let me give you one example. So I wrote an op-ed, a joint op-ed, with Senator Sean Bowie. He’s a Democrat, I’m a Republican. And we have concerns over the size of the flat tax that the governor is proposing. It’s 1.9 billion ongoing. It’s essentially a 14% revenue reduction that’s permanent. And so we just said, “Let’s be cautious, let’s proceed lightly.” My campaign guy calls me and says, “Hey, the next time you make a move, could you let me know, because do you want to get reelected?” And I said, “Well, I do, but I just think it’s the right thing to do. And Sean and I, we just want to tell the truth. And sadly, I think that because of the voices that are amplified on the fringes, people are scared of that because they want to get reelected.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

How do we counter those loud voices that, as you say, maybe are prone to scream the loudest and therefore obtain a platform that otherwise they will not have. Do we need to scream and shout even louder or are there better ways?

Sen. Paul Boyer:

I think there are better ways. I think ultimately it’s getting good people in office and keeping them in office. Now, sometimes that can be of course difficult, and it’s kind of self-selecting, right? You have to have someone who’s ambitious enough to put their name on the ballot and who’s willing to leave the side, whatever it is, proactive, good things that they’re working on. I have a good friend who I’ve been working with on the budget who... and I can’t get into any details, but he was threatened just for telling the truth. And it’s disincentive for people like myself that just want to speak the truth and want to find out what is the truth before we make policy decisions that will impact the State of Arizona for decades to come. And it’s so frustrating because I’m not in their shoes, I’m not in his shoes, and so I don’t want him to be canceled for simply speaking the truth. And so to answer your question, I think the long-term solution is education. Like for example, yesterday, I got the pages together. Pages are college students who assist the members. Whenever we’re on the floor if we need a computer charger or a piece of paper or whatever, they run and go get it for us, and they’re super helpful, but we don’t normally interact with them. And I thought, “Hey, why don’t I just sit down one time and discuss a Platonic dialogue?” So we did. Yesterday, we did Plato’s Apology, and we just discussed Socrates at the trial and just having a very civil dialogue on just going into the arguments of the text. It wasn’t even political. I think those kinds of events, I think that makes a difference long term.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Do you think that the ... You were talking about finding the truth and speaking the truth and for a simple citizen like myself, I don’t know where to find the truth anymore. I don’t know where to get the true news anymore. My wife and I have a very different political views on many issues. On some issues, we see things similarly. On other issues, we see things very differently. And sometimes we have conflicting pieces of news, and she will quote A and I will quote B, and they are talking about the same subject in completely different ways. So where do you suggest that simple citizens that are not politician that are not maybe wary of all the intricacies can go to get simple straight facts?

Sen. Paul Boyer:

Yeah. Well, I’d say first off, before we get to the positive side, the negative side, I say, get off Facebook because really, I mean, there’re algorithms where they tailor the news based upon what your interests are. And so in other words, you’re getting forced fed what they think that you need to see. I think that’s problematic. I understand Google has similar search functions as well. What I do, I mean, I read the Wall Street Journal and I read the print edition, but also know that going in no matter what paper you’re reading, that they’re going to have a perspective. At least, I just wish that some of them are more honest with what that perspective was, whether it’s the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal. I wish I had a better answer for you. I would say stay off the network television because it seems to me that they’re more concerned about ratings than they are about getting at the truth. And until that changes, until we as consumers stop rewarding bad behavior, I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Right. I find myself... I’m an immigrant to this country and became an American citizen about a year ago. And so therefore, sometimes I look at the political system in America and what an American culture with the eyes of a new immigrant, with the eyes of a foreigner, because I was not raised in this country. And I would like to ask you, I know that Arizona has been for many, many years more of a conservative state, a state led primarily by the GOP, and then this year something happened and there was a change. Why do you think that happened? And is that going to stay? Is that a sign of the future for Arizona?

Sen. Paul Boyer:

Two things are going on. I think that we did lose the Republican ticket, did lose at the top of the ticket, the President of the United States and also the US Senate, but we did maintain that the legislative majority, the county recorder, the county board of supervisors, all of the down-ballot races, and so I think it’s more of a mixed bag if you will. But as far as the future, we have to govern. And if we can’t show that we can govern, then we are going to be in the minority and not maybe as early as next year. And so redistricting comes up every 10 years, we’re at that point right now. So a part of that depends on how the independent redistricting committee draws the lines, whether or not they’re favorable to Republicans or not, but here’s the deal, there are only so many Republicans that you can even draw favorable lines anyways. And just for the record, we’re completely outside of that process. They are independent and so I have no idea what they’re going to come up with, but depending upon what they come up with, we have to pull in independence, in my opinion, because if we don’t, then we’re toast as a party. And so right now, everything is focused on what some call the audit. I’m not sure what I call it, the recount, whatever it is. But if we don’t move past this, then I think that we’re in for some pain as a party moving forward.

Adrian McIntyre:

When it comes to governing, which I agree with you is a vital function of government, ironically, people seem to have forgotten that simplistic equation between government and governing, not posturing, not grandstanding, et cetera. The Center for the Future of Arizona -- which is a non-partisan “do tank” not a think tank; it has been around for a long time -- did their second round, they do it every 10 years, of a study with Gallup. And what they found is that 70% or more of Arizonans agree on seven shared public values. I won’t go through everything. We don’t have time, but I recommend folks look at that. But on the list of things are things like a highly educated and skilled population, affordable healthcare, good-paying jobs, sustainable practices for land and water, and quality of life, civic engagement, which is the opposite of the shouting matches that Rabbi Beyo was referring to, and as they go down the list of all the things that are important, it makes good sense to any ordinary person who wants to raise their family in a conducive environment to flourishing, to quote Aristotle, not Plato. However, when the survey asks Arizonans whether or not their hopes will become a reality less than half, I think the state is headed in the right direction, and among college educated millennials, only 32% say it is. Barely one in four Arizonans have faith in their elected officials to deliver on the things that they say matter. Setting aside the partisan games, which unfortunately are a reality for getting elected when you have to, in some way, balance your own desire with what’s happening in your district, how do you personally try to navigate between what Arizonans say they want, what you’re personally committed to, what your consultants tell you will get you elected or not elected. And then what’s your colleagues in the legislature seemed to be making the top priorities, which don’t often reflect some of the themes on that list.

Sen. Paul Boyer:

Yeah. So from my perspective, I believe that half the things that are on that list I’m working on right now. I’m working on more university funding, water infrastructure, making sure fire suppression. John McCain, love him or hate him, but he was exactly right when he said the two things that Arizona in particular needs to focus on is water and fire suppression. And so from my perspective, doing the right thing, let the chips fall where they may, if that means I don’t get reelected, okay. That’s fine. I mean, I’m going to work my tail off to make sure that I do. I’ve so far been pretty successful, haven’t lost a campaign yet, knock on wood, but I just figure if I do the right thing, I think that the general public and the folks that you talked about in that survey, I think those are the things they care about in spite of all of the noise. Sometimes we get in the State Capitol bubble, everyone talks about the beltway in DC. We have our own bubble, if you will. And sometimes it’s just... it’s not popular amongst my colleagues, but focusing on university funding, for the life of me, I have no clue why my colleagues continuously don’t want to fund universities and community colleges. It mystifies me. Our per capita income in the State of Arizona vis-a-vis the other states in the country, we’re one of the worst in the nation because we don’t have the highly educated workforce that many other states do that have those six-figure jobs. We have a lot of tourism jobs, we have a lot of hospitality jobs, but the university is where it’s at. ASU has been doing a great job. They have the largest engineering school in the country, but we still have more work to do.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Senator, I would like to shift to another question that when I was interviewing for my current job and I was living in Atlanta, so I came in for a few days for round of interviews with my board. I remember one of my board members told me that in Arizona, you have the largest number of Jews that vote for the GOP because hugely, the American Jewish Community historically vote for Democrats, but apparently here in Arizona, many Jews vote for the GOP. So would you be able to talk about the shift that has happened also nationally among clearly the majority of Americans vote for the Democrats, but among the Jewish population, there is an increase of Jews that vote for the Republican ticket? Why is that?

Sen. Paul Boyer:

Yeah, that’s a great question. And honestly, that’s the first I’ve ever heard of that. I did not know that, but I do know that... For example, I have the American... Israel flag on my desk right here in my office and also on the Senate floor and a few of my other colleagues do. And I know that my Republican colleagues in particular, they love the State of Israel, they love to... whatever fosters the US as a relationship, and we’re very vocal about it. And so that, off the top of my head, that’s probably the reason why that I would argue that, but I love to delve in a little bit further on why.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

I know that from our perspective, from my perspective, the thing, the part of the reason is also conservative values because we find that the more orthodox population among the Jewish faith in America, I have more conservative values and therefore they align better with conservative values of the Republican party. Do this question in politics ever come up at the Senate level?

Sen. Paul Boyer:

I think that, from my perspective, I’m not sure that it does, but I will say this. I wholeheartedly agree with you on conservative values. I just think as a party, we’ve done a pretty poor job at communicating that and doing outreach amongst groups, the Jewish community, the Hispanic community, and I think that we’re kind of late to the game, but we are working on it. It’s just historically we haven’t done the best job of it.

Adrian McIntyre:

A number of the issues that you’re working on that are really important to you and to Arizonans include things like the DACA bill, the Holocaust education bill, you’re working as you said on bills relating to fire suppression, but also cancer and firefighters, which is a critical issue supporting our first responders. All of these things have to end up in budgets and programs and the actual management -- back to governing as the core function of government. How do you see it when some of these topics are considered, at least in the media that makes money by clicks, on all sides of the spectrum, they’re considered “hot button issues,” which should be understood as topics that can create cash for the media companies by inflaming the fears, the prejudices, the concerns, regardless of which end of whatever spectrum we’re talking about. How do you navigate through that, through this morass of common nonsense to get to the heart of the issue and try to get it into legislation and budgets that can make a real difference in the lives of the people we all care about?

Sen. Paul Boyer:

Yeah. So let’s start with the first example on the DACA bill, the Dreamers that the children who are brought here sometimes as young as infants through no fault of their own. This is the only country they know. My colleagues typically listen to some of the louder folks at the district meetings, the ones that are screaming saying, “You can’t pass Boyer’s bill to help out these kids.” So what I’ve done to counter that, the media actually has been pretty good about this from my perspective, where they’ll interview some of these kids who share their story. Like one kid, he told me, he said, “I am my dad’s retirement plan, he’s in construction, and I can’t afford to go to the university because I have to pay out-of-state tuition.” As a student myself, I didn’t even think that I was going to be able to afford to attend college. I got an ABOR scholarship so it was paid for, only because I am a citizen. And so I’m thinking, “Oh, my gosh. If my family was dependent upon me for their retirement, I don’t know how I would do it.” And so they’ve been pretty good about amplifying some of those students’ particular stories and thankfully, that bill did pass. It’s going to the voters next fall in the general election, and they’re going to decide whether or not they want to provide in-state tuition to these kids. Again, I think they’re a very sympathetic population because whether you’re on the right or the left, again, through no fault of their own, they were brought here. They had no choice in the matter. And now, if you want to force them -- some on the right do, they want to force them to go back to their home country, that they might not even speak the language, and it’s almost a foreign country where they were born. And so my prediction is Arizona voters were very, I think as a whole, kind of libertarian. We kind of do our own thing whatever the nation is doing, sometimes we don’t care, and I really see that they’re going to support these kids.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

On a personal level, how do you manage your work and your private life? I know how difficult it is for me that I run a nonprofit organization. How do you manage to balance between work and life?

Sen. Paul Boyer:

Yeah. It’s not easy. I don’t get a whole lot of sleep from January through about May. I teach Junior High Latin at Glendale Preparatory Academy. So I’m in the classroom every other morning. With COVID, it’s a block schedule, so it’s two hours instead of an hour every single day. That kind of helps out with my legislative schedule because I don’t have to be in the classroom every single day. But yeah, it’s a lot of work. It’s reading bills, it’s... But here’s the deal, I have a benefit that some of my colleagues don’t. I was on staff for three years and back then, I thought I knew a lot about policy, but when you have to push the button, when you have to make a decision that impacts 7.2 million people on a lot of these issues, you pay a lot more attention. And I thought I knew a lot. And now I still feel like after 10 years or nine years in the legislature, as a member, I’m still learning. And so I’m always reading. I have a two-year-old son and I want to spend as much time as I can with him, and he’s high energy. So yeah, these days I don’t sleep a whole lot. I figure I can sleep when I retire.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

What’s the future, Senator? A Federal, Congressman, Senate, what’s the future?

Sen. Paul Boyer:

Yeah. So I say that I have the luxury -- my colleagues probably wouldn’t see this way -- I have the luxury of never making those decisions during the session because I don’t like it to prejudice my decision-making on bills that are before me. And so it’s probably not a satisfactory answer, but I have no idea. I’m praying about it. I’m talking to my wife about it. And I have a few months to really decide what I’m going to do for the next term.

Adrian McIntyre:

Civic engagement is such an important component of a functioning democracy. And the idea that citizens can put themselves, as you said, self-select a bit, but say, “Hey, you know what? I want to do something,” whether it’s on the school board, at the municipal level, at the state level or whatever, and enter a life of serve or at least a period of life of public service in the form of an elected official of some kind or another. One of the things we see across the professions in the way they’ve been traditionally configured is there are a lot of younger folks, Gen Z and down, who are looking at the current ways things are being done, and say, “I don’t know if I really want to do that. That doesn’t appeal to me. I see what y’all are doing. And I have concerns about it,” for whatever reason or another, right? Whether it’s corporate or government or whatnot. What would you say to folks who might think, “You know what, somebody needs to do something and maybe it should be me, and I want to run for office at whatever level.” Advice, counsel, insights?

Sen. Paul Boyer:

Yeah. I guess your question is what should get people ... how can I motivate people to even get there? Or once they’re there, what advice would I have?

Adrian McIntyre:

I think the first bit is the trickiest. How do you even get people to wrap their head around the fact that maybe they should throw their hat in the proverbial ring and do something?

Sen. Paul Boyer:

Yeah, that’s tricky, right? Sometimes it’s just that people are just so frustrated and fed up with what they currently see that force... they feel compelled to jump in, but you also want to get candidates who just want to do the right thing for the right reasons. And maybe, I guess going back to shutting off the noise, maybe shutting off Facebook, shutting off some of the louder folks and just think that there’s a better approach. There used to be where we were civil, we could talk to each other, where President Reagan could talk to Tipper Gore and they could have drinks together. But again, if they have no foundation, no basis on where that’s coming from, that might be difficult as well. I guess it does come back ultimately to education. Like for example, the class that I teach is, in addition to Junior High Latin, is Humane Letters. We’re reading John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government. We’re reading Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality. We’re reading a lot of these great texts. And just realizing that 21st-century America in 2021, there is more to the story. There’s a longer term historical perspective, so I think ultimately it does go back to education.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Thank you, Senator Boyer. I think that education is always so very important. And that’s why we at the East Valley JCC, we do so many educational programs. One of them is, we do a lot of Holocaust education. I know that you were instrumental in passing or in creating the law for Arizona and Holocaust education. Would you care just to spend a few moments telling us why that is important?

Sen. Paul Boyer:

Absolutely. So now, for the record, the governor has issued a few veto threats that if we put anything on his desk, he will veto it no matter what it is, and that bill is at the tail end. Now the State Board of Education, you’re right, they have adopted standards that mandate Holocaust education once in junior high and once in high school.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Right.

Sen. Paul Boyer:

What I’m working on is adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, including historical and contemporary examples of antisemitism, to be included in Holocaust education.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Right. But my question is a general question, not about the specific bill or specific language is, do you think that Holocaust education will help in educating the youth and then in the next generation in taking a stand against all forms of racism and bigotry?

Sen. Paul Boyer:

100%. Absolutely. And that’s why I’ve been such a huge supporter that we have to have this. This legislature doesn’t normally dictate a mandate for curriculum. In this case, we do because we believe, as a body, that, yeah, it’s that important, that to stem future violence through just making sure kids are aware of what did happen historically and just making sure that it’s taught properly.

Adrian McIntyre:

Senator Paul Boyer is a legislator at the Arizona State Senate. He represents Legislative District 20 and is Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and serves on the Finance and Transportation and Technology Committees. Senator Boyer, thanks so much for joining us for this conversation.

Sen. Paul Boyer:

Absolutely. Thank you so much.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Thank you very much, Senator Boyer.

Sen. Paul Boyer:

Yeah. Take care.

Adrian McIntyre:

If you enjoyed today’s show, please subscribe to Conversation with the Rabbi on your favorite podcast app. You can also find the latest episodes online at ConversationWithTheRabbi.com. For all of us here at PHX.fm, I’m Adrian McIntyre. Thanks for listening, and please join us for the next Conversation with the Rabbi.

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About the Podcast

Conversation with the Rabbi
Rabbi Michael Beyo, CEO of the East Valley Jewish Community Center, talks with an eclectic mix of faith-based and secular leaders from around the world.
In an era of political division and polarized debate, we are losing our ability to hear each other. The volume of our disagreements is at an all-time high, while our ability to communicate with kindness and empathy is at an all-time low. This podcast seeks to change that by engaging people from different backgrounds and beliefs in good old-fashioned conversation.

Listen in as Rabbi Michael Beyo and anthropologist Dr. Adrian McIntyre spend time listening, sharing, and discovering common ground in an effort to understand and appreciate the wondrous diversity of our human family. From interfaith dialogues to discussions with business and nonprofit leaders, this podcast shines a spotlight on the different ways we can learn to live, work, and worship together in a contentious and conflicted world.

We invite you to use these conversations as a lens to open up new understandings of self and the other, to develop empathy for diverse viewpoints, and to explore what is possible when we listen to others with respect.

Conversation with the Rabbi is a project of the East Valley Jewish Community Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, neighborhood organization that has served individuals and families inclusive of all races, religions, and cultures since 1972. Visit us online at https://www.evjcc.org

The show is recorded and produced in the studio of PHX.fm, the leading independent B2B online radio station and podcast studio in Phoenix, Arizona. Learn more at https://phx.fm

About your hosts

Rabbi Michael Beyo

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Rabbi Michael Beyo is CEO of the East Valley Jewish Community Center in Chandler, Arizona. He was born in Milan, Italy and has lived in Italy, England, France, Israel, and the United States. An Orthodox Jewish scholar with a successful career providing religious guidance to all the Jewish denominations, he was ordained as a rabbi in Israel, where he earned three Rabbinical Ordinations of the highest honor. In 2015 Rabbi Beyo moved to Arizona from Atlanta, where he had served as the Chief Development Officer for Hillel of Georgia, overseeing 12 colleges and universities. Prior to that he served as the Executive Director and Rabbi of Boston University Hillel, as well as the Jewish Chaplain for Boston University. Rabbi Beyo brings over 25 years of professional, entrepreneurial and non-profit experience in education, cultural, humanitarian, social and religious sectors. He successfully ran several start-ups in Israel before dedicating his career to the nonprofit world.

Adrian McIntyre, PhD

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Dr. Adrian McIntyre is a social scientist, storytelling strategist, and internationally recognized authority on effective communication. His on-air experience began in 1978 at the age of five as a co-host of "The Happy Day Express," the longest-running children's radio program in California history. Adrian earned his PhD in cultural anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a Fulbright scholar and National Science Foundation research fellow. He spent nearly a decade in the Middle East and Africa as a researcher, journalist, and media spokesperson for two of the largest humanitarian relief agencies in the world. Today he advises and trains entrepreneurs, executives, and corporate teams on high-performance communication, the power of storytelling, and how to leverage digital media to build a personal leadership brand.