International Insights: Leadership for Inclusive Societies

From time to time, I get the privilege of hitting the road for work and spending a few nights away from Toronto. With the two kids at home, it feels like an indulgence as my usual routine gets disrupted. Last week’s journey to the Berlin Global Forum, hosted by the BMW Foundation was an important chance for me to consider what it means to be part of a global community of responsible leaders.

I’ve been a part of this global network now for nearly a decade, and each opportunity I’ve had to join this community who care deeply about the state of our societies is an incredible inspiration. Many of us often feel like community change work is endless and an uphill battle. We know the clock is ticking down to some major environmental and political challenges. Many of our political, institutional, electoral, environmental, community-based systems are in need of deep transformation. New kinds of leadership are required.

Over the past few months, I’ve been at a number of gatherings in Canada and beyond  that have asked how we build more inclusive societies. A session in Banff with Indigenous innovators, the 6 Degrees TO conference, Social Economy Through Social Inclusion summit and the Berlin Global Forum have touched on the question of what it means for us to really challenge and change our systems to deliver on the promise of a more just and equitable world.

The amazing people at the BMW Foundation took on a really challenging topic: Breaking the Patterns  – Responsible Leadership for Inclusive Societies. They framed this as an open invitation for all of the participants: journalists, diplomats, CEOs, social entrepreneurs, auto sector leaders, sustainability experts, civil society leaders – to stop and ask some challenging questions about our own privilege and responsibilities.

It’s clear that across the globe, many of us are hungry to build new connections and bridges. We also need to stop maintaining destructive patterns that are harmful. In Berlin I was given the chance to ground some of the lessons I have learned in Canada in an international setting. This is helping me see how challenging this work is to change our collective mindsets.

As part of this forum, I had the incredible opportunity to sit in conversation with a fellow responsible leader, Alfredo Zamuddio. Alfredo, a Chilean-Norwegian human rights expert and I, a Canadian focused on systems change and equity work share little in common on paper. But, in our conversations together, we learned some remarkable things about what we do share.

We both grew up as outsiders: Alfredo was fifteen years old when he escaped from his home country to a new home in Norway. I was a baby who immigrated to a country that adopted me into its culture. But, being accepted and integrating is not always straightforward, and learning to do this as an outsider is a lifelong journey.

We both believe in dialogue as a transformative tool for social change: Alfredo and I share a commitment to sitting with, and learning from communities — particularly those where there are diverse perspectives and conflicting views. It’s through active listening and real empathy that you can begin to see the other — when you start to recognize your shared challenges and can begin to trust to start the work of social change.

We are both driven by enabling others to have dignity and to trust: We are both inspired by seeing the power of communities. Part of this is to recognize that even when people hold radically different views, have experienced significant trauma, or find themselves in conflict, our duty is to find that humanity and to extend love and comfort to others.

We both see critical optimism as a place where you can help others to accept their own gifts and faults: One of the skills that strong community builders possess is the ability to help others understand their privileges and gifts but also how their own biases can get in the way of responsible leadership.

My time with Alfredo allowed us each to share our stories as migrants: political and economic, and how we learned the rules of our new societies so that we could work to help re-shape these rules. I was truly humbled to learn from him, and for us to find common ground as people who are called to the work of responsible leadership.

It’s been a week since the forum in Berlin, and I’m still feeling the incredible warmth of being with such an amazing global community.

– Article by Chi Nguyen, SI Canada Director.

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