06 November 2019

“I know no single formula for success. But over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their inspiration to work together”

HM Queen Elisabeth II

As part of Alfanar’s leadership development plan, Egypt Country Director Shenouda Bissada recently participated in the CSCLeaders Programme, a global leadership development programme and partnership between Common Purpose and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh’s Commonwealth Study Conferences (UK Fund).

The Commonwealth Study Conferences was first established in 1956 for emerging leaders from across the Commonwealth countries, with the objective of supporting them to ‘look, listen and learn…to improve the quality of their decision-making when they reach the peaks of their occupation’. Bringing together exceptional senior leaders from across 53 Commonwealth countries, the programme seeks to build global relationships between future leaders, enable rich cross-cultural conversations and to develop the cultural intelligence required by the leaders of tomorrow.

The programme was conducted in two parts, the first of which took place in London in May 2019, and was followed by a second session in Delhi at the end of September 2019, each attended by 60 participants from across the Commonwealth. The London session was also joined by HRH The Princess Royal, Princess Anne and the Rt. Hon. Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC, GCMCO Secretary General of the Commonwealth. Likewise participants were hosted in Delhi by the Honourable Sir Dominic Asquith, the British High Commissioner to the Republic of India.

Each year the CSCLeaders Programme sets its participants a specific theme or challenge. The challenge posed in 2019 was ‘What makes a city resilient?’. In a world torn by social, economic and political problems, attacking it from both inside and out, ‘resilience’ is an important trait, not only on the personal level, but also for groups, communities, cities and states. The beauty of the concept of ‘resilience’ lies in merging strength and power with flexibility and adaptation, both essential traits to survival in the modern as the old world.

Specifically, the challenge selected for 2019 was intended to explore the source of resilience in cities, and presented participants with a series of key questions. Is it about resilient individuals? Or perhaps resilient systems? And what do these things mean in practice? Is resilience a gift given to certain cities, or is it a replicable and scalable thing that can, eventually, lead to a resilient world?

The programme’s participants, all of whom lead institutions in their respective countries, held many preconceptions, assumptions and quick answers to the questions posed. Yet the programme aimed to push participants to dig into a variety of diverse institutions and organisations, to meet different leaders from across cultures, and to identify evidence regarding the real elements of resilience.

To take the exercise deeper, two cities in two countries were selected - London, UK and Delhi, India. The 60-plus participants were split in smaller groups to visit a number of initiatives, meet with their leadership teams, observe and ask as many questions as needed in order to learn about the resilience of cities and about leadership. Amongst others, the initiatives visited included Tata Consultancy Services, Transport for London (TfL), the Aga Khan Development Network, Nizamuddin Urban Renewal Initiative, the Delhi Secretariat, Rolls Royce, Apollo Tyres, as well as smaller community-based initiatives like the Brixton Design Trail and Children’s Nursery House at Tower Hamlets.

After returning from their study tours, participants were required to use what they had learned to structure an initiative that would improve a given community’s resilience. Those initiatives were presented to a panel of experienced judges, who then helped participants to refine the models.

Leadership, the principle at the heart of the CSC programme, was also explored in depth, as participants were each asked to identify the different leadership styles that they had encountered throughout the programme. The leaders involved came from a great diversity of backgrounds. Some had led meaningful changes in their communities despite not holding any official authority, whilst others were government officials who had decided to utilize their role to make real change in people's lives. Others yet were heading NGOs and development institutions, while others were CEOs of small and multinational corporates. Despite this diversity in age, education and experience, they all shared certain core common traits - they were visionary, had high levels of cultural intelligence, took ownership of their actions, were humble and admitted mistakes, delegated, were proactive, inclusive, worked in teams, sought to develop people’s talent, observed and listened in order to learn, adapt and integrate.  

The programme was inspiring to Alfanar, not only because the participant is leading its programme in Egypt, but because leadership and resilience are core values Alfanar aims to instill in the social entrepreneurs it invests in, in the children's education and women's economic empowerment programmes it supports and in the refugee communities it serves. We believe resolutely that resilience and leadership are vehicles to transform the world and we are proud to play a small role in making this change happen.

Shenouda Bissada is Alfanar's Egypt Country Director. To learn more about Alfanar's portfolio of social enterprise investees, click here.