By Seth Bodine – Editorial intern, Denver Business Journal
Jul 13, 2018
Michelle Lucero has dedicated her life’s work to helping children in Colorado, but a chance encounter on a flight to Hawaii inspired her to help women in a country many Coloradans likely rarely think about: Papua New Guinea (PNG).
The Children’s Hospital chief administrative officer and general counsel was seated next to Gary Bustin, the founder of the Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation, who told her about his nonprofit’s programs designed to empower women in the nation of 8 million, 70 percent of whom experience assault in their lifetime, according to Human Rights Watch.
“I was literally begging to be part of this organization because of the work they do in the empowerment of women, in the healthcare space, in children’s health, in education,” Lucero said.
Service was always a prominent element in Lucero’s life. While growing up in the small town of Ignacio, Colorado, Lucero’s mother would say “give back to the community that’s given so much to you.” With that phrase in mind, she says she’s volunteered for as long as she can remember.
“Since preschool, practically,” she said.
Now, alongside her work at Children’s Hospital Colorado, Lucero also works as a pro-bono legal strategist for the Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation. She’s involved with its program called Senisim Pasin, or “change your ways,” a campaign accompanied by a video documentary, meant to empower Papua New Guinean women and prevent gender-based violence. It’s supported through a partnership between the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments, and the video has been seen by more than 22,000 people in PNG.
In 2014, Lucero initiated a partnership between the foundation and Children’s Hospital. The hospital uses resources to help with education around nutrition for children born with HIV. The hospital also helps to provide medical containers to Papua New Guinean hospitals with shortages.
She describes her work with the foundation as transformational. In 2016 and 2017, she was a keynote speaker at a PNG women’s forum that aimed to give women entrepreneurs tools to start their own business. Lucero said her background growing up helped her relate to the women.
“I grew up a lot like they did. I come from an extremely small town, I was a poor kid growing up,” she said. “There was domestic violence in my family. You rise up above all of that, and they see there’s a path.”
Lucero previously worked as a deputy city attorney and was appointed by governor John Hickenlooper as acting city attorney for the City of Denver, and prosecuted domestic violence cases every day. The problem, she says, is not solved in the U.S., but the well-being of women is essential in order for Papua New Guinea to reach its full potential.
“When you look at a country like Papua New Guinea that is so beautiful … for it not to reach its full potential because half the nation’s population isn’t as valued as much as it should be, to me that’s a pretty compelling platform to continue to focus,” Lucero said.
Lucero said she believes service — whether local, regional, national or international — should be seen as an obligation to business leaders.