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The greater the challenge, the greater call for inspired leaders

What happens when you get people from three different leadership programmes together for a day? The joint workshop with Clore Social Leadership, Clore Leadership and the BBC Senior Leadership Programme did just that.

When I arrived I wasn’t sure what Clore Social Fellows might have in common with the other two programmes, but by lunchtime the three groups were networking, comparing notes and sharing our work. Immediately I found myself talking to people who use theatre to celebrate diversity, cultural events to foster social change and art to promote mental well-being. Not so much difference between us after all.

On any day like this there will be one stand-out moment. For me, and I suspect for many of us, that was 2010 Clore Social Fellow Alexander McLean, founder of the African Prisons Project (APP). He stood out both because of his work with APP and and also his leadership story. Going to do voluntary work in a Ugandan Hospice many years ago, Alexander discovered the appalling conditions in prisons and set up APP to do something about it. It was a brilliant example of doing things with, rather than for, people with lived experience. APP tackles conditions in prisons by empowering prisoners to work on improvements such as enabling prisoners to take correspondence law degrees. Long term, as these prisoners come to the end of their sentences, this will mean that the legal profession will contain lawyers with experience of the prison system from the inside. APP also realised that they couldn’t bring about dignity for prisoners without tackling the needs of prison staff, and so staff began to be included in the work. Rather than seeing them as the problem they also became part of the solution.

Many of us used the term ‘blown away’ to describe our reaction to Alexander’s presentation. Not to undermine the fact that APP is an amazing organisation, but it was also Alexander’s ability at storytelling that impacted us so much. Many of us have been considering using part of our Fellowship budget for storytelling courses, and I suspect those of us who witnessed the power of good stories at the workshop will now be raising that up our list of priorities.

The final speaker of the day, John Kampfner, Clore Social Chair and Chief Executive of the Creative Industries Federation, gave some salutary warnings about the risks in the social sector at present; supermarkets have a higher trust rating than charities. ‘The more challenges there are, the more call there is for inspired leaders’. In Alexander McLean we all saw what an inspired leader looks like.

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