Creating space for heads and hearts – bringing ourselves into amplifying impact
In 2009/10 I was lucky enough to spend a year as a Sauvé Fellow in Montreal, Canada. As part of building their alumni programming, the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation recently hosted an ‘Encore’ programme – bringing together a small group of alumni from across the last 10 cohorts for a week-long session on “Amplifying Your Impact”.
Returning to Montreal felt like an opportunity for reflection and taking stock of the work I had done over the last 5 years. I also arrived in Montreal utterly exhausted. I’ve witnessed a number of people working in civil society burn out – it’s hard not to when your work is to tackle some of the most complex, enduring, and brutal realities of our societies. When your work is to stare into the fire of injustice, it is easy to get burnt.
The Encore session was focussed on professional development to amplify the impact of our various pieces of work: from tackling corruption in the Israeli Knesset to writing about philanthropy for the Wall Street Journal; from being a photojournalist in Indian Kashmir, to heading up the Chinese leg of a global rivers organisation; from working to build a post-TRC process of healing in Canada, to democracy-building in Burma. The sessions focussed on skills from project planning, to harnessing the power of social media as an advocacy tool; from managing teams, to strategies to engage young people in social action.
But what made the week come alive was the combination of these and other ‘formal’ sessions with activities that focussed on our overall humanity. We started the day with yoga, and later got into intense discussions about aid efficacy in the recent Nepal earthquake. We cooked meals together and then engaged with high-level politicians on the compromises made in the policy-making process. We went for long forest walks and then grappled with the difficulties and tactics of building coalitions to support particular issues.
Having just come from a series of other workshops and conferences that felt dull and repetitive, in which we did not seem to be able to surface new insights or energy, this was an absolutely refreshing experience; and it allowed for a much deeper level of engagement than usual. Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water: Reflection on Faith and Art noted, “When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening.” For at least this one week, there was plenty of time for both being and listening.
While this week was extraordinary, and a luxury, the really tough question is how we can build organisations, movements, and interventions in which we have the time and space to really be fully alive, while tackling the big issues. How do we bring creativity into formal processes? How do we invest in both our minds and our bodies? How do we shake up the way in which we work, so that we can bring more ourselves more effectively to the table?
At the DGMT we’ve been exploring various ways to invest in processes that encourage more than just technocratic solutions: from the creativity in Innovation Edge Hackathons and Potluck sessions, to Activate!’s focus on building new networks of support for young leaders, to Cape Town Embrace’s focus on human connection for caregivers of small children.
(Please share your ideas on the questions posed in this post below!)
 The programme brings together 12-14 young leaders from across the world to live together, work on individual and collaborative projects, and build their public leadership skills. It is run by the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation, which was established by Madame Jeanne Sauvé following the end of her term as Governor-General of Canada to fulfil her deep passion for youth leadership development. She was an extraordinary leader in her own right: the first female Governor-General of Canada, the first female Speaker of Parliament and a famous broadcast journalist before she ever entered politics.