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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Leadership Beyond Boundaries Alumni Facilitate UNEP Session in Kenya

by Bancy W. Kubutha and Kristin B. Naituli

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) gathered about 40 university students from all over the world in Nairobi, Kenya, from 20th to 26th, April ’09, for discussions and learning on Climate Change: Role of the Sustainability Generation. The overall objective of the workshop was to provide a forum for college students from different regions of the world to engage creatively and innovatively on current environment and sustainability challenges. The workshop program included a session on Student Leadership Development in Universities around Climate Change Issues.

We had two objectives as we started preparing for this event. We wanted to share how we had approached leadership development for a big group of students at Egerton University, with this group of international students attending the UNEP workshop. At the same time we wanted to give them a personal taste of how experiential learning can take place using very simple tools and techniques. From working with Egerton University students on leadership development we observed that leadership training can help students improve their self-awareness and self-esteem; we also observed positive changes in career ambitions and increased confidence in their ability to succeed in life.

As universities are breeding grounds for leaders, we started the UNEP session by a discussion of what leadership is and of the importance of student leadership development in Universities. A participatory question on the role of leadership in addressing climate change issues led into an interesting discussion among the students on how students can inspire, challenge, enable, encourage and be role-models for others in creating an environmentally sensitive society. We learnt that leadership development in universities can be instrumental in helping students unlearn stereotypes, negative attitudes and beliefs that may currently be inhibiting the expression of leadership and leadership ambitions among students. The visual explorer exercise helped guide the discussion on effective leadership in tackling climate change. This rolled into a very lively and entertaining session on mental models. Almost everybody in the workshop had insights and experiences with mental models that they wanted to share. The multicultural background of the participants made the discussion even more fun and interesting to listen to as it unfolded.

It seems, from what we are experiencing here in Kenya, that leadership development in Africa, and possibly elsewhere too, is not so much about lecturing leadership principles, but rather about unlearning mental models through dialogue and learningful conversations. By talking and freely exchanging views, new insights based on one’s own realizations can be reached. A deeper understanding of the concepts is then allowed to emerge from within and learning takes place spontaneously.

Many participants enquired about the availability of the visual explorer tool. We also received requests from Kenyan student participants to set up leadership training at their local campuses. We realize leadership is important to everyone irrespective of their backgrounds; the challenges that the world is facing can and will be addressed through leadership. Leadership development is very relevant and it’s all about contextualizing it in the different areas. We felt encouraged for having contextualized leadership and made it relevant in addressing climate change issues.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Mission to Ghana

IFAD and the Center for Creative Leadership collaborated on an initiative to develop a grassroots empowerment instrument and intervention. Khalid El Harizi, Lyndon Rego, Steadman Harrison, and Phillip Braddy visited a series of government agencies focused on food, agriculture, and rural enterprise development. The team visited rural development agencies and projects in Accra, Akosombo (see related IFAD blog post), Cape Coast, Kumasi, Mampong and other areas to understand needs and approaches.

In Accra, we facilitated a group discussion with some 18 representatives from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and IFAD. The conversation explored the assets and aspirations of the poor and how empowerment can help increase confidence and unlock potential. We also met with the chief director of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, an agency that is focused on building good governance and balanced rural development. The chief director spoke of the need for leadership development among public officials and requested assistance from CCL for a program for nearly 90 directors in June 2009, to be followed by a program for other officials at the regional and district level. CCL also visited with Asheshi University in Accra that is interested in train-the-trainer programs for its faculty, and with a number of microfinance entities in Southern Ghana.

In Kumasi, CCL and IFAD conducted a session on empowerment and development for the management team of RTIMP, a government unit responsible for providing technical assistance for Ghana's main food crops. The staff expressed an appreciation for this approach and the desire for development for staff, farmers, and the collective – stating that “every individual has to build on their strengths.” Drawing on this understanding, we crafted an empowerment methodology and an instrument that assesses three components of empowerment (i.e., cognition, emotions, and behavior). The methodology and instrument were meant to enable the government agents to engage with the rural community as development partners, gain empathy for the community needs and aspirations, and help the community identify strengths and assets and how it can collectively achieve desired objectives, such as gaining access to loans and clean water. While we were able to thoroughly field test and finalize the empowerment methodology during our visit in Ghana, the empowerment instrument we created is still under development. Thus, we will need to continue to work with IFAD to field test and refine the instrument to ensure it is a useful assessment for its intended purpose and population.

With the RTIMP team, we conducted sessions in two outlying rural villages for some 120 people to test these methods. These were villages without electricity or running water. The participants were mainly farmers and included the village chief and elders. The RTIMP government agriculture agents facilitated the sessions using the methodology we had developed. The sessions were quite powerful for all involved. For the people, it created individual and collective awareness of assets, aspirations, and challenges. It built collective leadership to take the challenges. For the government agents it increased empathy, understanding, and relationships of/with the community – they were told, “with this conversation, I can trust you more.” An RTIMP facilitator stated: “What we have done will be helpful for every development worker. You learn with the community.” An observation is that this methodology of building empowerment is an important supplement to the assistance to address rural poverty. This approach contrasts with traditional approaches that set objectives for the poor with little support by way of mentoring or facilitation.

In Kumasi we met with a key officer at the Rural Enterprise Project (REP). The agency, along with the Business Advisory Centers (BAC), helps to increase rural production, employment and income through small off-farm enterprises. REP and BAC represent models that serve to increase the capacities of the poor. Seventy percent of their clients are able to set up their own enterprises. The REP officer expressed much interest in adding leadership development to their roster of services. CCL stands ready to provide a train-the-trainer program that will transfer knowledge and resources to REP trainers.

We concluded our trip to Ghana with a two-day Leadership Essentials program for 40 representatives from IFAD supported projects (MoFA, RTIMP, REP, BAC) and local NGOs working in the area of development and microfinance. The participants described the program as very different from what they had experienced before in other training. They appreciated the interactive approach and the opportunity to learn from each other. They commented on the need to create feedback-rich environments in their workplace and more collaborative approaches.

CCL and IFAD plan to continue to develop and test the empowerment instrument and methodology as a resource for community empowerment and engagement by development agencies. The work in Ghana demonstrates the potential to enable development agencies to engage communities more holistically, to fold human and empowerment development into economic development efforts, and to help communities take ownership of their challenges.

Leadership Essentials in Afghanistan

Clemson Turregano traveled to Afghanistan to deliver a Leadership Essentials program to the Afghan Army. In a series of posts on the Leading Effectively blog he recounts the experience:

"We would have to deliver in Dari. We would be working with a population that although very intelligent, and may not have a had a great deal of formal education. Every one we would be working with had served in war, with the Northern Alliance, the Mujahadeen, or even the Soviets. Some of these men had actually fought against each other, on opposite sides, at different times.

They were already good leaders – what can we do to help them become better, think differently about themselves, and their organization? How can we possibly help them think through the obstacles and focus on a vision for themselves and their country?"

He continues:

As the Afghan officers arrived for the program, many were what I pictured – hardened warriors, surviving not only years of war, but also seven testy years of uncertain peace. These men were the ones who were left, after thirty years of fighting an external enemy, then internal strife, then oppression, and now insurgency – these men had met and mastered the challenge of being true warriors. But could they lead an Army?

For the next three days, the Afghan Officers and their mentors endured the same challenges, revelations, bonding and cohesion that are the hallmark of a CCL program. At first skeptical, they drew their leadership windows, describing what made them good leaders and what they wanted to learn about leadership. They chose images from Visual Explorer that defined leadership ‘in their hearts and in their heads.’ They survived the Blizzard exercise and created consensus through teams – something many believe is close to impossible. And they mastered the helium stick activity, working together as teams to communicate and break down barriers.

At the end, one of our students, the nephew of General Massoud, commented to our American Sponsor, with his hand over his heart ( a gesture of great sincerity in Afghanistan), “..thank you for brining this to Afghanistan – we needed this training…All Afghanistan needs this training...thank you…”

Then I realized that in spite of the danger, the location and the population, we were not doing anything different from what CCL does every day – act on its beliefs, its principles and its mission:
  • All people are leaders and simply need to find the best way to lead.

  • Anyone can learn to be a leader if they want to stretch and try new approaches.

  • When provided support plus a safe and secure environment, people, regardless of background, will experiment with new ideas and create new opportunities."