Leadership Informed by Empathy David Foster ’98 values W&L and the Shepherd Program as a training ground for the country's future leaders
“I believe strongly that leadership informed by empathy and a true understanding of the myriad challenges faced by those living in poverty is leadership that will propel our communities to realize their highest potential.”
David Foster ’98 is a new member of the Shepherd Program’s Alumni Advisory Committee and is founder and CEO of Bastogne Development Partners, a Philadelphia real estate investment, development and advisory firm with a specific focus on projects with social impact. When he was president of Cooper’s Ferry Partnership in Camden, New Jersey, he facilitated internships and mentored Shepherd students, and he has returned to campus several times to speak to our students about economic development. He also was in the Army, an experience that greatly impacts his work.
Q: How did the Shepherd Program shape your years at W&L ?
The Shepherd Program started my senior year at W&L, so I did not have a chance to participate in the program as a student. I did, however, assist in organizing two service trips to Nicaragua that helped show the high level of interest in this kind of program. The Shepherd Program ultimately filled a significant need on campus; I am certain that I would have been an eager participant. I have subsequently met with dozens of current and former Shepherd participants, and I know how deeply it has impacted each and every one of them.
Q: How did the Shepherd Program impact your career/graduate studies?
In 2008, I was hired as the CEO of an economic development corporation in Camden, New Jersey, one of the country’s poorest cities. I immediately found a connection with the Shepherd Program by hiring a W&L Shepherd alum and bringing Shepherd students to Camden as part of the summer internship program. Over time, we were able to create 10 Shepherd placements with different organizations in Camden. This proved to deliver great benefit to the students, as many of them were working on different aspects of the same challenges. But it was also terrific for the community. It provided an influx of outstanding leadership and also forged bonds between hosting organizations that did not previously exist.
Q: Why is this program important for W&L?
In 1996 the university returned the Army ROTC program to campus, and in 1997 Professor Harlan Beckley formally launched the Shepherd Program. To my mind, these additions stand along side the transition to co-education among the most important advances in the university’s proud history. I most value Washington and Lee as a training ground for our country’s future leaders. Across industries and disciplines, W&L alumni are disproportionately represented at the highest levels of leadership. I believe strongly that leadership informed by empathy and a true understanding of the myriad challenges faced by those living in poverty is leadership that will propel our communities to realize their highest potential. The Shepherd Program has proven incredibly effective in fostering this type of leadership among its graduates.