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Leadership in Social Sector Can Bring Equality, Justice And Dignity For All: Dean, ISDM

"Most people in social purpose organisations find it difficult to find the time and guidance for reflection on action and learning"

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The Social Impact Multipliers Report by ISDM is to build a strong ecosystem for development management for nurturing the right set of leaders and managers for the social sector through a detailed analysis of perspectives from leaders, funders and ‘enabling organisations’.

Talking further about it, Gaurav Shah, Founder & Dean, ISDM talks about investing in the social sector and reducing the talent and leadership gap in the sector.   

Why is it important to invest in the leadership of the social sector?

In a world that is iniquitous, where people are not able to lead productive and meaningful lives with dignity, leadership that creates a new future for all is critical. The social sector focuses primarily on these issues, and leadership in this sector can lead the way towards the creation of a future that embodies equality, justice and dignity for all. We need leadership that is spread widely across the social sector to be able to bring about the kind of change that we are envisaging. It is important that leadership is able to build shared visions among people and to garner support and resources to enable the realisation of that collective vision. For such a complex mission to be successful, it is imperative that leaders’ capabilities are built. Such a mission requires competencies (knowledge and skills applied appropriately in context grounded in Universal human values) that require consistent investment and support.

What social sector leaders need to succeed?

There are specific competencies required by leaders in the social sector. Leaders in the social sector must have a vision of the future that they are attempting to create. This vision, grounded in Universal human values, informs the actions that leaders take to create that future. Leadership, therefore, needs to reside not only in people who have positions in organisations but, rather, in everyone in the organisation. The ability to apply knowledge and skills appropriately in context, informed by Universal human values, required, therefore, range from being able to communicate and co-create a new vision of the future, design to achieve that future, mobilise and judiciously use resources required, create systems and processes for review, reflection, learning, and risk-taking.  

What can help reduce the talent and leadership gap in the sector?

An awareness across social purpose organisations that talent needs to be groomed across the entire organisation is the first step. Building-in opportunities for learning and development as a day-to-day process through coaching and mentoring helps to build leadership as a part of the job. Learning becomes part of the job. This requires leadership and management to design structures and processes that nurture this learning and leadership development.

●Structured programmes with content grounded in context, and pedagogy appropriate to adult learners, will help to build capacity.

●There is a need to create spaces for learning – communities of practice – across leadership of organisations. 

●A greater flow of patient funding towards leadership development is required. The usual metrics used for delivery of goods and services cannot be used for leadership development. 

●There is a need to develop suitable metrics to be able to understand what works and what does not with respect to leadership development.

What are the main challenges for leadership development in the social sector?

The availability of time and resources for leadership development are key challenges. Historically, there has been a focus on the delivery of programmes and very little on building capacity within the organisation. There is a sense that grant money can only be spent on the ‘beneficiary’ and that any other expenditure is wasteful. In addition, funders’ focus is also on programme delivery, and little on building leadership capacity in organisations. Time for reflection and learning is at a premium. Most people in social purpose organisations find it difficult to find the time and guidance for reflection on action and learning. In addition, mostly, the types of programmes currently available in the ecosystem for leadership development do not meet the needs of the participants and organisations. 

How should leaders coach themselves and others for organisational development?

Leaders need to pencil in time for reflection and learning. This includes becoming part of a community of learning and practice that enables sharing of good practice, abstracting from practice to create theoretical frameworks that can inform and improve practice etc. 

●It is useful for leaders to identify people that they are able to reflect with. This helps them to think through with clarity their own experience and learning.

●It is also critical for leadership to have access to learning opportunities that provide space for exposure to new ideas and possibilities for learning. 

●Leaders themselves need to also be patient with leadership development and not expect the change in short periods of time. Scaffolding is required for leadership development in organisations.




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