Meet a Local Leader: Temwa Phiri

Temwa Phiri, Community Engagement Coordinator, City of Dubuque

Temwa Phiri was born in Zambia. When he was 8 years old his family moved to East Lansing, Mich., where he grew up with his three brothers and mother.

A random post card of the University of Dubuque brought him to Dubuque. He fell in love with the community and wanted to make a difference here. As an undergraduate he was a student ambassador, first year mentor, Wendt Scholar, Black Student Union President, voted track team captain for several years, was on the School Men Association Club, resident assistant and a brother of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc.

After graduating with a BS and BA, he worked for the Dubuque Community School District for six years as a re-engagement coach working with at risk youth ages 16 to 21. He joined the Black Men Coalition to serve minority youth in our community.

He is working for the City of Dubuque as the community engagement coordinator. Through his work with the Loras College Civic Leaders program, he was among those awarded the 2021 Community Collaboration Engaged campus award from Iowa & Minnesota Campus Compact for their training programs and project implementation with Loras students.

His hobbies consist of leading group fitness classes, kickboxing and hanging out with his two boys.

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?

My mother, Ngao Phiri, has made a tremendous impact on me. She has always been my role model because she valued faith, family and service with others. She is the epitome of hard work, resiliency and a forever learner.

What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization? The most important decision I make is to continually work on myself. As I get better for myself, I become a credit to my organization and peers.

As an organization gets larger, there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening? Although the institution might change, I believe it is important that I stay true to myself and my values. As I invest in myself, I share that energy with those around me.

Which is more important to your organization – mission, core values or vision? Although all three are important and vital together, I believe our core values are most important because out of that we create why we do what we do and where we would like to take the city.

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess? Have a commitment to growth for yourself and for others.

What advice to you have for future leaders? Continue to invest in yourself and never lose sight of your purpose to serve others even when the outcome seems difficult. Leadership does not always look like being in the front of everything, but it can be influencing one other person to see the light in themselves. You can be great in Dubuque because you connect with so many people and see the impact you are making; something you won’t find easily in other communities.

What lessons can leaders take away from the current pandemic? Things can be done differently.

It is OK to change what has been done and explore innovative ways to be more inclusive.

We need our most impacted community members at the table to work alongside us to create an equitable community where we work together to find solutions.

It is OK to be uncomfortable doing something.

What are two or three of the best things about being a leader? I think the best thing about being a leader is that it’s not a title you give yourself but one that is placed on you based on the actions and impact you have made with others. The second-best thing about being a leader is, as you lead by example, you inspire others to see the greatness within themselves that they otherwise did not see.