One of the things that makes the iLEAP International Fellowship training unique is our strong emphasis on collaboration and network building. From Day One of the training in Seattle, Fellows are encouraged and challenged to consider new ways of working within their communites and to forge new partnerships at the local, regional, and global levels. At iLEAP we believe that the challenges of today and tomorrow will be overcome through finding more innovative ways for organizations and institutions to work together in service to positive social change. This is what we call Collaborative Leadership and it is a core learning principle in all of our programs.
After our Fellows graduate and return home from Seattle, one of the things that we are keen to understand is to what extent this collaborative leadership becomes integrated into their personal and professional practice. Returning home to a organization where certain patterns and expectations have become ingrained and routinized is difficult in any cultural context–but it becomes amplifed for many of our graduates who conduct their work in resource challenged settings and much is expected (and assumed) about their leadership and the positions of authority that they hold. For this reason the transition home can be bumpy as our graduates struggle to reconcile their new learnings and excitement with the realities of the day-to-day within their organizations.
This is not uncommon as the result of an intense international travel experience–you return home transformed and changed, while the “home” you left remains largely the same. This “bringing it home” period is a critical time and this is why iLEAP places such a strong emphasis on the transition. What we have found is that once Fellows make it through this re-entry period, they emerge even more strong, clear-minded and conifident with how to integrate their learning and, more important, how they will move forward as an even more effective leader in their community.
This is exactly what I witnessed in Kenya, during my week long visit with Raphael Okumu, a graduate of our 2010 International Fellowship program and current iLEAP International Faculty.
Raphael is a Founding Member and the Executive Director of TEARS Group Kenya–TEARS stands for Theatre for Enhancement and Acceleration of Researched Solutions–a registered non-governmental organization founded in 2006 in Nakuru, Kenya. I had a chance to tour all of the various sites and projects that TEARS is engaged in and I was VERY impressed with the impact that they are having on youth empowerment and employment in the Rift Valley region of Kenya. Hundreds of youth (defined in Kenya as ages 18-33) are benefitting from TEARS’s vocational programs in fashion and design, computing, textiles, visual arts, music, theatre and drama–and finding paid, gainful employment as the result of their nine month training in the field of endeavor.
In my time I was able to see a performance by a band of musicians trained by TEARS (see video) and I learned that one of TEARS’s recent fashion and design graduates has been selected to participate in a famous, upcoming New York fashion event. These are opportunities that would not have been possible without TEARS and Raphael’s leadership. TEARS has also been successful in securing international support from the United Nations and Hewlett-Packard (HP) where they have become the exemplary project in Africa under the new “HP Life” job training program in information technology and business development. With good board leadership and a skilled and energized staff, the future is very bright for TEARS.
Raphael came to the iLEAP Fellowship through our good friends at Pangea Giving, who helped to sponsor his participation. TEARS is a Pangea grantee and, this year, their support is growing the TEARS social enterprise center–which is producing clothing, doing event management, and other retail business. iLEAP will be using the TEARS social enterprise in the future for our bags and other articles of program related clothing. This is another great alignment and collaboration between iLEAP, a Seattle-based global development organization, and our iLEAP graduates.
During his time in Seattle, Raphael was a master networker and earned the nickname “the Pied Piper” due to his infectious personality and high energy. We often wondered when he would sleep given his round-the-clock working schedule (Seattle in the day and Kenya at night) but he never lacked for energy–and I saw that he is just the same in his work with TEARS in Nakuru. As the Executive Director of an organization with a staff of around 30, budget of over $100,000 and running multiple, successful programs, there are not enough hours in the day for him to achieve all that he feels he needs to. As any ED knows, there is always a fire to attend to and the organizational needs can seem great and overwhelming.
At the same time, during our time together in Kenya, Raphael shared with me that so much of his leadership outlook has changed since graduating from the iLEAP program. Whereas in the past he would allow himself to get sucked into the minutae of the organization, and to feel isolated in his leadership, he is now challenging this old pattern by giving his staff more autonomy and creative leadership opportunities, AND reaching out to other NGO leaders across Kenya in an effort to build a strong network of community leaders who can support each other to be more effective and energized in their work. This is, of course, vital in developing both his own personal sustainability and that of the organization.
I was fortunate to be a part of a seminal event concerning this network building–this was a day long workshop that Raphael and I led on June 30, 2011.
The June 30th workshop brought 17 leaders from the NGO community in Kenya to Nakuru for a daylong session on leadership, partnership and collaboration. Going in, I was not sure what to expect. But it not only exceeed my expectations, but left me feeling inspired and grateful for the opportunity to experience how the approach of the iLEAP International Fellowship program is in great demand, timely, and truly has a wide reaching impact. As I spoke of in the post on Zambia, “One Fellow, Full Community” has been our approach, but through this workshop I was able to see what can happen when one of our graduates builds networks with OTHER community leaders within the spirit of collaborative leadership and social innovation. Now we are talking about “One Fellow, Full CommunitIES”. Very exciting.
The participants in the workshop came from a wide range of NGOs, serving diverse community needs–from sustainable agriculture to female circumcision to water rights to media and communications. In terms of the level of experience in the room, I felt like I was leading a Fellowship session in Seattle–but of course I was in Kenya and due to challenges of funding and country diversity, very few of these people get the opportunity to participate in the Fellowship program.
I am often asked about if iLEAP would consider taking our Fellowship model “to” leaders, rather than only bringing leaders to Seattle. This workshop made it very clear to me that the answer to this question needs to be a resounding “YES!” However, we should be ever mindful of the long history of conventional “development trainings” that can offer culturally biased and condescending information, and under value the great knowledge and expertise of community leaders. At iLEAP we feel that in order to overcome these problems, it is vital to follow the lead of our in-country International Faculty. In this case, Raphael initiated the gathering, sent the invitations, coordinated the efforts, and I think it showed in the seriousness and depth to which people participated in the workshop. In the program design, we wanted to model the iLEAP Fellowship training so that participants could “get a feel” for what distinguishes the iLEAP program. Therefore, during the workshop we balanced didactic, experiential, and collaborative learning which tapped into personal reflection and social application.
The success of the workshop and the level of engagement may have been in part due to the underlying assumptions that shaped the “training”: #1, this was not a “skills transfer” whereby the outside “expert” (me) was filling a “need”, #2, there was as much learning to be gained from each other than from the faciliator, #3, we are all leaders and we are all learners, #4, fun and enjoying each other’s company is a vital part of social transformation.
I think that it speaks to the community and connections that were forged during our day together that we ended the workshop with the group unanimously and enthusiastically moving to create the “iLEAP East Africa Forum on Social Innovation and Leadership”. They decided to create this Forum as a way to continue the dialogue and to create a formal “container” through which to host future meetings and conversations about matters related to leadership in civil society and social business. They also spoke to the value in coming together in a conversational and reflective manner that was clearly different than the typical, staid approach of being “talked to” by a panel of experts or an over emphasis on technical fixes.
This was particularly exciting and timely for me as I have been thinking and talking with iLEAP International Faculty during my trip about how the Fellowship might best evolve to continue serving the needs of grass-roots leaders and community change. Much of thse conversations has centered about creating “hubs of social innovation and collaborative leadership” in the areas where we are amassing graduates and other key program participants.
Based on our current program graduates, we can currently imagine FIVE hubs being in East Africa (including Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Botswana), West Africa, East and South-East Asia, South Asia, and Central America. From these hubs, our graduates and International Faculty can lead network building among civil society and social business leaders–and these hubs can connect to each other globally with, of course, a strong connection to iLEAP Seattle, if it is deemed important. The East Africa group talked about using this structure to host speakers and to also have meetings in different parts of the country, rotating hosts. I can also imagine that these would be great entry points for visitors from Seattle or other places to connect to community development work throughout the region they are visiting–whether these were university students looking to connect with a community based organization, or a professional from Seattle looking to share their knowledge in a formal manner with a group of experienced leaders from East Africa.
It was a fabulous way to end my time in Africa–I was not expecting that one of these hubs would be created so quickly–and both a gift and challenge to iLEAP to find ways to continute to cultivate and inspire this ever growing community of inspired change leaders around the world. As the result of this trip to Africa, I am crystal clear about the deep impact our unique Fellowship program is having on social leaders and the communities they serve. Our graduates are transformed and inspired and they are passing on their learning to others. Simply put, the iLEAP model of international and community development through a rigorous cross-cultural learning and sustained partnership, WORKS! The next 3-5 years are going to be very exciting as our International Fellowship continues to graduate more community leaders from around the world, and the associated global networks expand and flourish.
Thank you to all of my African sisters and brothers for making this trip so successful. I am humbled by the opportunity to serve this growing movement of ordinary people leading significant change in the world. You are an inspiration.