Many organizations target young people so that they can be molded for the future. The military recruits 18-year-olds promising to instill a sense of pride and discipline that will last a lifetime. Corporations and professional firms offer co-op and internship opportunities to college undergrads promising to jumpstart lucrative careers.

Some service organizations that recruit recent college graduates often have more radical goals in mind. From the moment John F. Kennedy proposed creating a Peace Corps during his 1960 presidential campaign, he imagined an organization with a dual mission. One set of goals revolved around sending talented men and women to developing countries to work hand-in-hand with local citizens to promote understanding, progress and peace. A second set of goals was to create a cadre of Americans who would return home with an international perspective, ready to enrich American society. Steve Driehaus, born and raised on the West Side of Cincinnati, is an excellent example of the transformative power of the Peace Corps and the principles of collaborative leadership it promotes.

On Aug. 31, Driehaus started a new job as the resident senior director in Iraq for the National Democratic Institute (NDI). Steve has no illusions about the assignment. He describes Iraq as “a place that is as tough as any in the world,” but it is “a challenge that I’m up for.”

Iraq is a fractured nation. The central government in Baghdad controls only a portion of the country and is plagued by corruption. The north is autonomous and under the control of the Kurds, the largest ethnic group without a nation state, who have little loyalty to Baghdad and ties to the Kurds in Syria, Turkey and Iran. Competing warlords control fragments of the south and west of the country.

Steve will live in Erbil in the autonomous Kurdish region. The city has been continuously occupied for 7,000 years, allowing it to lay claim to being the oldest city in the world. Iraqi Kurdistan has a history of great diversity and openness, embracing Christians as well as Sunni and Shia Muslims and being more open to women in public roles.

NDI, which was founded by the United States Congress in 1983 and is now also funded by Canada and other countries, is an independent organization committed to promoting the principles enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. “Democracy can look different in different countries,” says Driehaus, but the commitment to freedom of expression, freedom of the press, rule of law and the protection of the rights of women are “very difficult to achieve in a government structure that is not democratic.” He knows that first hand from the five years he directed Peace Corps volunteers in Swaziland. Ruled by an absolute monarch, an independent press was suppressed and political parties were treated as terrorist organizations.

During the past year NDI contracted with Driehaus to train members of the Iraqi and Kurdish parliaments in the importance of constituent relations and to help build the capacity of still fragile political parties. In his new role he will be leading an NDI team of 12 to 15 Iraqi nationals, two Canadians and another American. Because of his Peace Corps training, Steve sees himself as the coach of the NDI team.

Much of NDI’s work over the next year will to be to help the country prepare for parliamentary elections in June 2021, which includes election monitoring. The Canadians on his team are funded specifically to promote the increased engagement of women in politics, including running for elected office.

Steve’s community organizing experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer combined with his experience as an elected official in the Ohio House and the U.S. Congress will allow him to straddle multiple environments. “I feel just as comfortable being in a village, sitting on the ground with a family talking about their issues, sharing tea, as I do meeting with the prime minister.” Steve is particularly interested in finding ways to open a dialogue with young Iraqis who have recently taken to the streets in larger numbers to demand change.

Today Steve looks back on his defeat for reelection to Congress in 2010, as “the best thing that ever happened to me and my family.” He was offered several administrative jobs in Washington, but wanted to be “on the ground doing the work rather than at a desk in Washington.” He jumped at the chance to return to the Peace Corps and Africa as the country director for Swaziland and later Morocco.

Because his family was able to accompany him to Africa, his three children have become citizens of the world. “I wish every American had the opportunity that I had to live overseas,” Steve muses. If they did, we would have “very different views about race, immigration and poverty.”

A two-year Peace Corps stint in Senegal in the late 1980s instilled in Driehaus a larger sense of purpose. Thirty years later, he is much more than a politician chasing the next office. He is a true servant leader with an international consciousness. Because the Peace Corps ruined Steve Driehaus’ life, people in Senegal, Swaziland, Morocco, Kurdistan, Iraq and Cincinnati are better for it.