Relationships as drivers of change?

by Annemarie Poorterman | Mar 29, 2022 | FutureFellows, Insights and Inspirations

Insights and questions from the first edition of FutureFellows

What are the attitudes and behaviours we need to nurture as we move towards our collective vision as captured in Strategy 2030? How can we support ambitious people to drive organisational change in support of the important transformations outlined?

These were some of the questions at the heart of the first edition of the FutureFellow programme we launched last year. In this 8 month programme, we worked across geographies and timezones with a group of 28 incredible colleagues, volunteers and staff, who represent the wide diversity of Red Cross Red Crescent (RCRC) talent. Their visions for change and commitment to principles of social change and social justice, rather than competencies and positions, formed the basis of their participation. During the fellowship the fellows worked in small teams on shared and individual assignments, with the close support of a group of incredible coaches.

It’s worth noting that FutureFellows exists in parallel with a diversity of other programmes IFRC Solferino Academy organises for individuals in the RCRC, including a youth innovation track and senior leadership activities. Underpinning all these programmes is the learning objective of understanding better what the link is between individual leadership (at all levels) and organisational ability to adapt to the evolving needs of people affected by crises.

Here is (some of) what we learned

Throughout the fellowship we collected regular (anonymous) feedback on questions related to usefulness, behaviours, attitudes and so on. The following insights are based on this data, as well as reflections from the coaches and other feedback points.

The fellows seemed to crave social connection with people that were experiencing similar dynamics in their organisation. The fellowship structure provided for continuous teamwork but originally did not build in a broader network component, as we wanted to place the emphasis on the smaller teams and their internal dynamics. However, we realised that a culture where an abundance of relationships are central can be positive, but that we need to understand and model better (and where necessary reframe) what the quality of relationships is that we need to cultivate an outcome-based culture in the RCRC.

Thanks to the incredible contribution from Trish Adobea Tchume, the fellows reflected on the relationship and distinction between their individual vision and the organisational vision, and on where their political homes are. What came up is some discomfort and almost a taboo-like mentality around diverging from organisational identity, even in small and assumedly safe surroundings. This raises questions on what change, creativity and agency looks like, and how it is supported, in an organisation with a brand and identity as strong as the RCRC.

The other side of the individual distinction from organisational culture is understanding how the fellows best worked within their organisation. With the important help of Ari Lipman, the fellows explored the science and art of political mobilisation. Fellows noted transformative results of the dialogue interviews, during which the fellows used a semi structured format to engage at a deeper interest level with people throughout their National Societies on structural challenges.

And  importantly we saw how important the team coaches were for the fellows, as individuals and as structures. The coaches continuously steered the adaptations of the programme based on their experiences with the teams. Each team had its own dynamics, and we reflected regularly with the coaches on how they moved between roles of challenging and care. What stood out was that successful coaching comes with all the layers of emotions and roles, and gives space for the coach’s own learning journey through the engagement with the team.

More questions than answers

This search for insights has created many more questions, some that we would love to dive into in 2022.

In 2021 we invited individual applications (that required organisational support) rather than asking the National Societies for nominations. Whilst this was appreciated by the fellows themselves, at times this led to confusion in National Societies which have their own pipelines for leadership support. This is a broader reflection point, how to better understand leverage points for change vis-a-vis existing systems and processes.

We also wonder what the best place is for this fellowship to be organised from. As an inside external party, we offered a platform for this fellowship journey but other options might be possible, such as mainstreaming the programme in the IFRC or even organising it at a regional or local level. How would this affect long term learning and integration of the work done by the fellows, and what would be the trade-offs of this approach?

Strategy 2030 as an anchor for this fellowship was helpful for a shared narrative, but also raised questions along the way. Fellows flagged that using a global strategy as a starting point for their individual work, and the role of IFRC as convenor of this process might at points contradict the further strengthening of the distributed character of the RCRC.

What’s next?

As we evaluate the insights from across our various leadership and change activities in 2021, and frame the learning objectives for 2022, we will discuss the following options that are visible to us now.

In 2022 we will run another version of the fellowship in a similar format, with adaptations to the curriculum based on the feedback. We will adjust the focus towards inviting individuals with a mandate from their organisations, and further position the fellowship as a space where we can understand, reframe and model the quality of relationships conducive to organisational transformation.

Simultaneously we will explore the feasibility of offering a vertical track for National Society teams, composed of people representing different organisational identities.

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