‘The Duperreault fellows, the generosity of Bermudians make me, make us’
A life-altering pilgrimage, a name change, setting up home in a different country and joining a global network of leadership coaches – it would be fair to say this man does not let the grass grow under his feet.
Despite his own accomplishments, Pete Saunders or Dr Akasha, as he is now known to many, remains keenly aware that his relationships with others have helped shape him.
Living in Grenada with wife Annesa and son Dakari, 16, he highlighted a deep sense of gratitude and commitment towards Bermuda, where he and his family “grew up”.
Dr Akasha said there was a gratefulness towards individuals but also: “Gratitude to community and being in community, even if that is from a distance.”
He added: “It’s the true essence of ubuntu to me: I am because we are.
“The Duperreault fellows, the generosity of Bermudians make me, make us."
In 2014, the then Mr Saunders, a life coach, was awarded a grant worth $45,000 to study for a doctorate in Human Development at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California.
The scholarship was given by the Duperreault Fellowship, a fund designed to enhance the professional capabilities of people working in substance abuse prevention and treatment programmes in Bermuda.
Chairwoman Katherine Watson said at the time: “Pete was the unanimous choice of our scholarship committee.
“His complete and unwavering commitment to bettering the lives of those suffering the effects of substance abuse, his sterling academic record, his volunteerism with local charities, including Impact Mentoring and Family Centre, and his impeccable credentials made him an outstanding candidate for The Duperreault Fellowship.”
He said: “Boy that journey changed my life, and obviously my name, so it was deeply spiritual for me and part of the experience was finding out what I am, what I’m here for, what I represent and then stepping into that, stepping into that fuller sense of myself."
For him, “Akasha” symbolises “a surrender to source … a surrender to consciousness”.
He said: “Akasha does reflect more of an internal change for me, an internal identity shift but Pete Saunders is still inside here somewhere.”
Dr Akasha first went to Grenada, where his wife spent her early childhood, in 2017 to complete his dissertation and after stints back in Bermuda and the US the family returned there as the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
He said: “Bermuda is still very much home for us, for all of us and I would say especially for Annesa and Dakari because they both grew up there … in a way I also grew up there.”
Dr Akasha enrolled in a course on developmental coaching in 2018 – another life-changing experience.
He explained: “It wasn’t so much the theory and the concepts, because I got those.
“What really spoke to me was how the facilitator of the thing, how she was being.
“As she was talking, I could see and feel myself in almost everything she was talking about as she described these changes that people go through in life; but the place where she was coming from was a place of deep compassion, she had a well of compassion about the difficulties and the challenges that we each go through as we grow and develop.
“I felt so connected with her and what she was saying.”
Dr Akasha later contacted the facilitator – Jennifer Garvey Berger – hoping she would coach or mentor him.
When they talked, she asked if he would consider joining her firm, which helped people to "thrive in complexity“.
He said: “I learnt a lot from that about just believing in ourselves and knowing we have something to offer the world.
“Even as we are looking for others to support us, to guide us, to mentor us, we should also remember that we can do the same, we are in fact doing the same for others, irrespective of our state, our education, our class, race, whatever those things might be.
“We are having an impact every day on somebody’s life and I think we can own that and celebrate it.“
Ms Garvey Berger is the chief executive officer and founder of Cultivating Leadership. which has its headquarters in New Zealand with dozens of team members all over the world.
Among them Dr Akasha, who explained: “Our role has been bringing a set of tools and ideas and certainly ways of being … to individuals, groups, organisations to actually support them with having the capacity to thrive in the unpredictable nature of the world and the uncertain nature of the world.”
He added that, through one-on-one or small group sessions as well as programmes designed to cater to a network of 3,000, the organisation focused on helping people to grow and supporting them as they assisted the development of others.
Dr Akasha accepted an opportunity in recent months to join the organisation’s leadership team of eight “cultivators”.
He said: “It was another way to continue to serve our community, serve our clients, and also for me to grow, for me to also embody more of what we support our clients with.”
Katherine Watson, chairwoman of the Duperreault Fellowship, said it is a “scholarship trust that provides funding for educational and training opportunities for individuals in the field of substance use disorder and abuse, prevention, intervention and treatment services in Bermuda”.
She explained: “The trust was created in 2004 through a generous personal donation from the Duperreault family, which in turn was matched by a gift from the Ace Foundation (now Chubb Foundation) in recognition of the leadership of Brian Duperreault, a former Ace Group chairman and chief executive officer, and of the Ace Group's commitment to the Bermuda community.”
On Dr Akasha, who was earlier known as Pete Saunders, she said: “When we interviewed Pete Saunders, we could immediately see his potential as a future leader and a man committed to the helping services.
“His pursuit of his PhD and subsequent service in Bermuda through his volunteerism and initiating Braveheart Retreats on Paget Island is indicative of his talent to connect people.
“His talent echoes what Johann Hari wrote in his book: ‘The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety – it’s connection’.
“We continue to witness Akasha’s ability to connect people to purpose and each other – what we need more of in our world.
“We are proud of our support of his academic achievements and career success.
“Although he is not based in Bermuda these days, directly serving our Bermuda community, we appreciate that his talent deserves a global stage.”
Ms Watson added that the fellowship was "taking a hiatus in 2022-23“ of inviting new fellows, as existing fellows were funded and to "generate additional funding for future fellows”.
She said: “We do that periodically as required as we did in the years 2011, 2013, 2019.
“We look forward to reviewing that in 2023-24”.
Dr Akasha, who grew up in Jamaica and moved to Bermuda in his early 20s, noted three elements of the Duperreault Fellowship that he felt were particularly valuable.
They included the financial aspect that enabled him to continue studying and the community of fellows, which he believed had “untapped power”.
But he said the “pinnacle” of the fellowship was how it acknowledged people and their work.
Dr Akasha explained: "I’ve been talking about the power of being recognised by others in the community or in the family or whatever, it’s the seeing, of ‘oh, here is someone in the community who is actually caring for the community, let’s actually engage with them and maybe enable them to do more of that’.
“So that was one of the most incredible gifts that the Duperreault Fellowship provided for me.”
He added: “The power of seeing someone; recognising, here is someone who is doing good in the community – that in itself gives so much power to that individual and to the rest of us.
“I cannot overstate that.”
• For more information visitwww.cultivatingleadership.comor to contact Dr Akasha, firstname.lastname@example.org