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Here for your development

Emily Lomax, Clore Social Fellow and Programme Director for our Emerging Leader Women & Girls and Experienced Leader programmes shares a unique insight into programme delivery and participant experience during the crisis.

It has been eight months since I read the awe-inspiring biographies from the 2020 Women & Girls Emerging Leader cohort and the Experienced Leader cohort. I was lucky enough to have been appointed as their Programme Director to ensure that they achieved, or hopefully exceeded, their learning priorities from the six-month programme.

I was due to meet them all at their first residential in May. As a Clore Social Fellow myself, and long-time facilitator for multiple Clore Social programmes over the years, I knew how much the participants would be looking forward to meeting each other and to forming the bonds which would challenge, inspire and support them not only in the months of the programme but for years to come.

But, as we all know, the World was to turn upside down. Not only was this residential cancelled, the whole viability of the programme was put into question. Would people have the desire or capacity to participate whilst juggling home and work – both envisaged to put them under pressure that we had never seen before. How would people cope and how could the programme fit?

In considering the next steps I frequently reflected on the centre of the Clore Social model – something that has become a mantra for me ever since I did the programme myself, guiding me through difficult decisions as a CEO and then in establishing my own organisation; the importance for social leaders to KNOW YOURSELF, BE YOURSELF AND LOOK AFTER YOURSELF. Now, more than ever, these things felt so important if social sector leaders were to be able to rise to the challenges ahead. Clore Social, in my mind, felt even more important than it ever had done before. These people are the front-line of making sure that social change is a priority and that people stay at the heart of decisions – we had an obligation to support and challenge them.

Clore Social, in my mind, felt even more important than it ever had done before.

The other thing that was in my head was how this wasn’t our decision alone – the Clore Social model goes on to talk about ‘working with and through others’. We needed to engage them in deciding what to do next. We therefore conducted a survey in early April asking for ideas and for an honest response on whether or not they would want to continue to be part of the programme – with no judgement if the answer was no. 91% of participants on the Women & Girls programme and 64% on the Experienced Leader programme said they wanted to continue and 33% on the Experienced Leader programme decided to defer until 2021.

Delighted that the programmes would go ahead, we now had the daunting task of re-shaping the content to be less dependent on the face-to-face elements, and to try to find ways to bring the magic of Clore Social relationships to life through virtual means. Louise Obi-Drake, Clore Social’s Director of Innovations and Learning, is brilliantly creative and knowledgeable and together we shaped a new way of doing things. The key changes were:

  • Establishing a new programme of e-learning to support participants’ journeys and to help them to feel connected to the programme
  • Re-writing the programme handbook so there was clarity of expectations and timings amidst all the uncertainty
  • Being clear about what could be flexible and co-created, for example, the placement element of the programme is unlikely to be a week of being hosted within an organisation face-to-face
  • Kicking off the action learning and coaching elements of the programme as soon as possible so participants could build relationships and seek space and support
  • Re-shaping the residential into a series of online sessions to be held in May, where possible at the same time as the original residential, to aid planning
This is the conversation I have been waiting to have all my life
Programme participant

Five months on and I am astounded by how much energy the participants have put into building connections and supporting each other. On a daily basis the programme’s instant messaging channels are buzzing with questions, suggestions, shared inspiration, honest requests for help and sharing when times are tough. These are unique times and participants have responded by stepping up and supporting each other. They have instigated new instant messaging channels to start specific conversations, have attended additional, optional webinars that we have arranged to add additional support and instigated so much supplementary learning.

Last week I asked for some informal feedback and was astounded by the flood of positivity – “This is the conversation I have been waiting to have all my life,” and “I finally feel like a leader.” These people are stepping up and out amidst all the chaos around them in order to make a difference to people’s lives. I am humbled.

They are also incredibly busy and at times struggle to find the space to focus on themselves and on the programme. And that is ok. They, I hope, are learning to be kind to themselves and that one of the joys of the Clore Social programme is that it is self-led and that you create your own path – focusing on the elements that will make the biggest impact for you – it isn’t about pleasing me, it is about what makes the biggest difference for you.

I finally feel like a leader.
Programme participant

A few observations of thing that have helped these inspiring leaders during these unstable times:

  • Taking the time to plan
  • Being kind to yourself if things don’t always go according to that plan. Not chucking the plan out at this point, but adapting and evolving – dealing with ambiguity is a really important skill as a social sector leader and this, in itself, is an opportunity for learning
  • Being vulnerable and ask for help
  • Collaboration is key. Ask for shared resources and ideas, no need to spend time reinventing the wheel when you have such an awesome network to draw on
  • Finding ways to fulfil your learning priorities through your day job, and through your home obligations to save time and to connect parts of your life together. We only have one life after all so why not learn whilst being a parent to a reluctant toddler as well as when chairing a board meeting.
  • The Clore Social model is relevant today and every day. Return to it when times are hard.

I am so excited to see what the next few months of the programme will bring and am so grateful to spend virtual time with these inspiring people – I just hope we get to meet each other sometime soon!

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Connect with Emily Lomax on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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