"We are our own pathfinders."

Five years from now, where do you see yourself? If it's leading the outdoor industry, the fourth class of the Skip Yowell Future Leadership Academy (SYFLA) might be for you. 

Outdoor Industry Association's six month immersive program prepares, unites, and amplifies the voices of 35 individuals who will assume industry leadership positions in the years ahead. The program includes professional development and mentoring. 

The 2018 class developed toolkits for employers to connect with military veterans who are passionate about the outdoors and seeking employment in the industry.

Betsy Bertram, store buyer, founding family member and community outreach coordinator for Townsend, Bertram & Company in Carrboro, North Carolina, was graduated with the most recent class. She said the academy is much more than a leadership program. 

"It is a community of inspiring individuals who support each other personally and professionally," she said. "As a young woman in the outdoor industry, the SYFLA connected me with dreamers and doers from different sectors from the outdoor industry. Not only did the program build my confidence, tool box, and communication skills, but created a community of inspired individuals who will be lifelong friends and colleagues in pursing the goals I have to change our industry and the world. I graduated the program feeling empowered, a stronger version of myself, recognizing my worthiness to contribute."

Part of the inaugural class, Molly LaBonte, senior manager of Amazon Sales at the The North Face, said she was at a point in her career in which she wanted to develop her leadership skills, and challenge herself intellectually and emotionally. 

"I got those things out of SYFLA, plus an opportunity to give back to the the outdoor industry, which I love, and form deep bonds with other passionate and ambitious people from all different sectors of the industry," LaBonte said.

LaBonte and Bruce Dotterrer, of The NPD Group, are both on the alumni board and working on organizing ongoing professional development and networking opportunities for graduates of the program to keep momentum going after completion.

"A common misconception of leadership is that only people at the top can lead," Dotterrer said. "However, leadership can come from any level of an organization. True leadership is about influencing others to accomplish a collective goal."

Dotterrer said to think back to a wilderness learning experience when every team member took the lead at some point during the adventure: More leaders in more positions within an organization means it’s easier to find paths forward when the going gets tough. 

"There’s a quote I wrote down during my experience in SYFLA: 'Let’s be the heroes we wish we had,'" he said. "Before SYFLA I was searching for someone (or something) to show me a professional path forward. I thought I needed to follow a well-worn trail toward fulfillment. But the challenges, experiences, and friendships I gained through the program showed me that there is no path to follow. We are our own pathfinders."

Applications are due Sept. 28.

Just in time to collect applications, Kristen Freaney joins OIA as the Emerging Leaders Manager to lead the program.

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