President & CEO
International Institute of St. Louis
Location: St. Louis, MO
When faced with challenges, Arrey Obenson makes good things happen.
“Organizations that focus on their challenges are defined by their challenges, while organizations that focus on their opportunities are defined by their opportunities,” said Obenson, president and CEO, of International Institute of St. Louis (IISTL), a nonprofit organization that provides opportunities for immigrants and refugees. He added, “I believe challenge is the status quo and opportunity is growth.”
It is this mindset that has helped to make Obenson the industry Titan that he is today. Obenson came to IISTL in February 2020 and immediately began creating an environment of inclusion. Making the commitment to honor IISTL traditions while integrating new ideas on how to continue to build an inclusive society of immigrants, refugees, and community members, he said his greatest leadership lesson is rooted in the notion of naive audacity, which he defined as, “having a vision so clear that it overlooks the obstacles to its accomplishment.”
“It is naive audacity that enables a leader to embark on achieving big goals despite the challenges,” he said.
An immigrant himself from Cameroon, Obenson’s life is an example of productive immigrants living in our community. He said IISTL creates opportunities for the immigrant and refugee community in St. Louis to achieve its greatest potential.
“These opportunities span all facets of life: family, health, community, career, culture, and more. We know that when our neighbors thrive, our region thrives, and when our region prospers, we have even more chances to prosper.”
Looking forward, Obenson said without the investment of the community the road will be hard.
“The more relevant and meaningful the community perceives our work, the more support our organization becomes. Being a leader that mobilizes organizations to collaborate around our common purpose is the role I want to play in the industry,” Obenson said. “As not-for-profit organizations, we all seek to build a better community, so why not make that the focus of our synergies?”
Obenson explained that he plans to, “diversify our core funding sources and minimize our reliance on federal grants to ensure financial sustainability, withstand potential adversity, manage risk, and capacitate innovation and agility. We will have a system of self-sustainability for our programs using creative methods.”
He added that IISTL will also maximize their building and facilities to generate income, while leveraging the power of events, such as the Festival of Nations.
“When we envision St. Louis in 2024, our region is a more inclusive community, and the IISTL leads the efforts toward becoming a more welcoming place for everyone,” Obenson said. “There is increased awareness of the importance of welcoming and supporting immigrants. The voices of immigrants are now amplified; they are being heard and they are participating in the development of each facet of their community.”
In other words, he accepts the challenge.
Arrey loves telling jokes and starts many meetings with multicultural stories or life lessons from Africa.