Building Resilient Communities through Leadership

7/14/2014 12:00 AM ,

Extremism, gang crime, and domestic violence plague communities everywhere—from the wealthiest U.S. suburbs to the most economically-deprived neighbourhoods in the U.K. And while many agree that it is hopelessness, alienation, and despair among the world’s young people that fuel much of the hate-filled fighting, it is one inspired London-based organization that is Modelling the Way with a program that is building resilient communities through leadership.

The East End of London—just a short distance from the site of the 2012 Olympics—is home to the Active Change Foundation (ACF), an organisation founded on the belief in the resilience of today’s youth: they are dynamic, energetic, highly mobile and, most importantly, creative and innovative. All are qualities, the organization believes, that offer hope to the community at large.

ACF is well known for its ability to engage disenfranchised youth from predominantly ethnic minorities and provide them with pathways to build a better life. Having successfully proven its ability to prevent radicalisation and violent extremism, ACF is considered a pioneer in countering extremist ideology and reducing the recruitment of vulnerable young people into extremist networks. One of the organisation’s main objectives is to promote integration and cohesion within communities by confronting and preventing violent extremism in all its forms. ACF believes that in order to build communities that are resilient to issues such as extremism, gang crime, and domestic violence, it is important to provide those communities and their members with the knowledge and skills needed to address and eradicate these issues. And to achieve that goal, ACF has identified that it is leadership—at a grass-roots level—coupled with education, that is the catalyst needed to bring about sustained change within communities.

The Young Leaders Programme (YLP) is one ACF programme that facilitates the personal development of young people and ultimately benefits the community. Launched in 2012, this leadership programme equips young people with universal leadership skills such as conflict resolution, crisis and chaos management, and public speaking while also educating them on various social issues—from preventing radicalisation and extremism, to knife crime, gangs, domestic violence, drug abuse, and bullying. At the heart of the YLP is the process of transforming young people into leaders, igniting their passion, and providing a platform that will allow them to bring about positive changes in their communities. In doing so, young people become positive agents of change, their level of vulnerability to crime is significantly reduced, and their communities benefit from more stable and productive environments.

Based on Kouzes and Posner’s Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership framework, YLP is an ongoing series of workshops and activities that brings together a diverse group of young people, typically in grades 11 and 12, from many different backgrounds, many faiths and ethnicities, males and females. Because the programme is an extracurricular activity, events and activities are coordinated outside of the student’s regular school schedule. A total of 70 young leaders have so far participated, with a new cohort of leaders inducted every September.

The programme runs over a period of seven months and includes workshops, local community events, and a 3-day residential leadership conference typically held at a university outside the city of London. At the start, each young leader is asked to select a personal cause that he/she feels passionate about and wants to change. The result is that each participant becomes more vested in the experience and throughout the programme is able to apply their developing leadership skills to a tangible output. Of course, their communities ultimately benefit as well, as participants take their new knowledge back to make a positive difference in their personal causes. Participants also complete the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) prior to the start of the programme and after its completion, which allows ACF to provide tangible measurements of each young leader’s progress as a result of his/her participation.

Curriculum developed for the 3-day residential leadership conference, in particular, fully incorporates The Five Practices. For example, through ACF’s partnership network, key speakers and facilitators are carefully identified and invited to share the processes and methods they have used to successfully promote standards of excellence and bring about positive change. Modelling the Way, they provide young leaders with real-life experiences from which to learn. Over the course of the 3 days, all facilitators, speakers, and guests also contribute and reinforce the vision of ACF and, specifically, the vision of the YLP: that leadership, at a grassroots level, is key to bringing about sustained change within communities. And in the end, they help Inspire a Shared Vision among programme participants as well. Additionally, the conference provides a platform for young leaders to utilise the education they have gained throughout their YLP experience, to demonstrate ways they will Challenge the Process in order to create resilient communities. On day two of the conference, young leaders engage in a day-long syndicate exercise during which they apply their learning and understanding to real life scenarios, in the end creating a culture of competence whereby participants feel confident in their decision making abilities and in their ability to Enable Others to Act. And finally, at the end of the three days, each young leader is given the opportunity to share with others the personal impact of the YLP experience. For many, this is the time when they make an emotional connection to the programme—often voicing how the experience has Encouraged the Heart and how they now feel part of a unique community capable of positive change.

2013 graduates of Young Leaders Programme Residential Leadership Conference

2013 graduates of Young Leaders Programme Residential Leadership Conference, Oxford University

One young leader, for example, is Samiul Islam. Among the very first to attend the YLP in 2012, Samiul chose to tackle the issue of knife crime as his personal cause. Having previously been involved in antisocial behaviour, the YLP served as a catalyst for Samiul to transform his life and Model the Way for others. Working closely with ACF staff, Samiul has focused on identifying ways to Challenge the Process in order to reduce the number of stabbings in his community (for instance, through legislative changes to what constitutes a dangerous weapon). He has also gone on to campaign and raise awareness about knife crime in his community, and has delivered a number of workshops and presentations to Inspire a Shared Vision about a future without the need to carry a knife. Of course, in order to truly make a difference Samiul had to Enable Others to Act—successfully engaging other young people in his personal cause who, in turn, have helped effectively deliver his message.

As all young leaders are asked to do at the end of their YLP experience, Samuil presented his personal cause to other programme attendees. Like his cohorts, he was assessed on his presentation skills as well as his level of engagement throughout the programme—and was selected as the winner! With that honour came the opportunity to copresent an Encourage the Heart workshop to dozens of leadership facilitators and coaches at The Leadership Challenge 2013 Forum in Scottsdale, Arizona. And as Samiul's parents, teachers, and peers will attest, the personal and professional growth he has undergone as a result of his YLP experience has led him to being a more focused, disciplined, understanding, aware, and compassionate young leader capable of leading his community.

Like Samuil, all YLP graduates become part of the Young Leaders Programme Alumni and commit themselves to being peer mentors for future YLPs. This is important as it keeps all young leaders engaged after the YLP has concluded and also develops a culture of learning and leadership that is needed for sustained change—both personally and in the community.

Balgees_BarendillaBalgees Barendilla is operations manager at the Active Change Foundation and has managed the Young Leaders Programme since its launch in 2012. She has six years of experience working in the charity sector, specifically in the area of preventing radicalisation and extremism, and for many years worked with young people at a grassroots level as a youth coordinator and language teacher. Since graduating from the University of Cape Town in 2002, she has spent time mentoring young people in South Africa, USA, Saudi Arabia, and the UK. She can be reached at balgees@activechangefoundation.org.

Category: Success Stories

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