We pool a lot of our resources into projects that raise the voice of different Londoners, including numerous leadership programmes that focus on supporting people with lived experience to have stronger voices. So, we asked a few of these organisations to provide some reflections on the concept of leadership. What is good leadership? What is the importance of lived experience? And what difference can it make?
Shpresa is a charity that supports the Albanian community in London. We're supporting the organisation to set up a new leadership course for emerging migrant community leaders.
Words from Ledi Pajaj:
With our current cohort of potential leaders on our new program, one of the standout facts is that none of them initially saw themselves as leaders. Yet they are all very passionate and committed people, motivated to find ways to support their community, embedded within their own lived experience, and with a really clear idea of the solutions that will bring around positive change.
Sometimes leadership can seem a distant concept. But we are really keen to promote the idea that leadership is within all of us. With a clear sense of a problem, and a burning desire to find a solution we can all step up to be leaders.
On our course, we talk about leadership as being like attending an event, hearing some music and being prepared to be the first person to start dancing. From this initial courageous move, one other person might begin to dance, and then another person, and then another until finally everybody is dancing. It takes one person to step forward to encourage others also to step forward, but to do so in their own way, and in their own time.
We believe that dynamic change can come through a diverse group of leaders whose leadership styles have all been shaped by their own lived experience. It is by embracing their lived experience and their learning along the way together with some practical, leadership tools, developed by Shpresa over the years that we think we can make a real and meaningful difference to people’s lives.
Repowering London specialise in co-designing and producing community-owned renewable energy projects. Using our funding the organisation runs a volunteering programme to increase awareness and uptake of protections for families facing fuel poverty.
Words from Aryanisha Lawes:
We involve people with direct experience of fuel poverty or mistreatment by energy suppliers right from the outset. Why is that so important? It’s simple really. How are you meant to solve a complex problem, if you’ve never experienced it yourself?
If you haven’t, speaking from experience, it’s difficult to understand the root causes and propose any solution that could possibly stand a chance of working. You’re shooting in the dark. The real challenge isn’t understanding why - any smart person can work that out - it’s how.
The truth is that simply sitting down with someone who is struggling financially and possilby deeply distressed by the poor treatment they have received is uncomfortable for many of us. We need to have the courage to be much more honest about this, if we truly want to help.
You might feel awkward. That’s ok - that’s an appropriate response when you believe you should know what to do and say, but don’t. Or maybe it’s just because you look different, are wearing formal clothes in someone’s home, have a different accent, or are overwhelmed by their suffering - whatever it might be that makes you feel separate today.
The first step is to develop the perspective and personal skills needed to be of genuine service. You need to connect from one human to another, on the basis of your similarities not just your differences. You must also understand the very real power dynamics and inequalities that are influencing the conversation and the responses you get.
So if you have anything to do with policies that tackle poverty and inequality, these are three intelligent, impactful questions to be asking today:
- How do I feel when I have a conversation with someone who is living with the problem I am being paid to solve?
- How do I know if I have the right skills and training to listen, understand and help them feel comfortable enough to give me honest responses - responses that will shape what I do next?
- Who can I learn from so that I can be more effective?
It’s an ongoing process for all of us.
Eva Goudouneix would love to hear from you if you’re interested in learning more about our project and approach. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Aryanisha Lawes is a consultant and previous programme manager for Repowering London’s Community Support Services Team. She helps smart managers under 35 get less stressed and have a more powerful impact on the causes they care about, through online leadership training.
The Outside Project
Outside CIC is an LGBTQ+ charity. We fund the organisation to run the Queer Leaders Forum, which provides a physical space for organisers to meet, try new ideas and support each other.
Words from Carla Ecola:
A leader is someone who continuously moves towards improving the lives of their community - a community that they are part of and exist within rather than take control over.
They listen and raise the voice of the most marginalised and quietest. They are not particularly interested in or influenced by the loudest or most powerful. It’s their purpose to gather as much resource as needed for the community without taking from others or looking to profit from other peoples labour. Leaders are respected, not feared, and focused on what they can do for rather than take from.
Traditional views of leadership focus on those who have born privilege, finance and social backing, PR control and ultimately the biggest force and power. Unfortunately, leadership examples in the UK are still the monarchy and throughout history a predominantly right wing government. The imbalance of community resource between the Royals, Conservatives and the UK public - particularly the most marginalised and quietest - is very evident.
The Royals and Conservatives still believe today that their leadership roles are an inherent birth right rather than earned through demonstration of leadership skills and care for the overall wellbeing of society. Their wealth and social position including press control give them unrivalled power to manipulate and sustain leadership over the country.
A recent example of the far reaching damage this traditional mode of leadership continues to cause globally would be the Donald Trump presidency in the US 2017-21 - a country colonised by the British and a man with poor education, business and social skills. Through his inherited social power and wealth built from the exploitation of working class labour alongside his TV personality and ‘fake news’ control of the media - he was able to manipulate the public and ultimately win the US presidency on the promise to build a wall between the USA and Mexico.
This abuse of power and stolen resources is not what I would consider true leadership. It is the root of colonialism, white supremacy and capitalism. It is destroying communities and oppressing those most marginalised globally. The support of grassroots organisers from marginalised backgrounds is therefore vital at this point in history.
At Outside CIC, we are supporting people entering the LGBTIQ+ sector in London who are from more marginalised LGBTIQ+ backgrounds out of solidarity. The impact we love to see is ‘by and for AND…’ leaders succeeding in a world designed for us to fail. This is important for us as our founders and crew are predominantly working class, ex-homeless, trans and neurodiverse. We don’t see many LGBTIQ+ organisations led by people who look like us and equally we won’t get a seat at the table unless there are more like us.