Observations on leadership, sustainability and Europe

The last few months, and especially the last week, my thoughts concentrated on a group of about 50 people who went to Amsterdam following our invitation. Today I am sitting alone in my office and it feels similar to handing in my master thesis: I am relieved because the stress is over – but also somehow empty. I miss the inspiring days at the Impact Hub, which a large part of my working hours have been revolving around over the past few weeks. I miss the “rock stars” (to quote one of the participants, Wes Meier, co-founder & CEO of EOS International), the innovators and entrepreneurs with whom we spent the last days with.

Why we were together for a week?

Once a year we invite a large group of members of the empowering people. Network to our empowering people. Workshop. This is our chance to bring everyone together in one place once a year, across national borders and continents. The epWorkshop focuses on the acquisition of knowledge, but it is also a wonderful opportunity to strengthen the network as a whole, to fill it with life, to forge contacts and initiate collaborations.

In the last few months, we as the empowering people. Network team have been working intensely on the subject of organizational development at various levels. The trigger for this was actually the fact that there seems to be quite a lot of employee fluctuation in the empowering people. Network member organizations. (Social) enterprises fight on many different fronts and of course financing is always a very important issue. But also questions like “how do I find the right employees – and how can I keep them?”, “is the positioning of my organization the right one?” or “am I the bottleneck in my organization? And if so: is that ok?”

Holy-crazy Holacracy

And when you deal with this topic, you suddenly find yourself confronted with many different strategies, opinions and systems in every corner of the world. Among those: “Holacracy” (or “Holy-Crazy”, as a workshop participant once called it… 😉 ).

Holacracy is an exciting thing! We in the Foundation do not (yet?) work according to this system, but many other organizations apply it or are in a “transition phase”. Elsewhere in this blog Holacracy is explained even better, but it is essentially about assigning roles rather than functions to employees and empowering them to make decisions in a decentralized way. The question that arises in preparing the agenda was: are these ideas even remotely appealing to non-Western cultures? Isn’t this a bold concept that is completely irrelevant in the context of developing countries? Are our network organizations not too busy with survival, as opposed to taking the time to re-establish their own organization?

To cut a long story short: my impression was that many of the thoughts expressed by our expert for Holacracy, Ewout Meijer (from the Dutch company Springest) were well received. In any case, this concept offers a lot of “Food for thought” – also for our own team by the way!

  • The great cohort of this year’s empowering people. Workshop!

  • From “red” to “teal”, from “a pack of wolves” to “an organism”.

Some impressions of our time together at the epWorkshop – © Copyright Siemens Stiftung, Photographer Esther van Putten

What I like to remember

The epWorkshop week was so intense and full of great impressions:

  • Colours! From Red to Amber to Orange to Green to Teal: The colours classify organizational structures according to Frederic Laloux  from a “pack of wolves” to “army” to “machine”, to “family” and finally to “organism”. Every colour (and thus every form of organization) has its own strength and beauty.
  • Experiencing the feeling of growing together: on day 1 we were all strangers, but from day 2 on we’ve grown together as a big international family.
  • The advantages of heterogeneity: 8 sectors, organizational sizes from 1 employee to more than 200; an age range from mid-20s to mid-70s – this diversity gave us a lot of potential to learn from each other!
  • Amsterdam and its conscious spirit: The restaurant “InStock” turns food surplus into delicious meals. The Freud restaurant employs people with psychiatric disorders or addiction problems. In both locations we had a delicious dinner and a great evening.
  • The Impact Hub Amsterdam looked after us very well and catered delicious vegetarian food daily (which has led to some kind of meat-withdrawal-symptoms in some African participants…).
  • And above all: our wonderful Tai Chi session with Pim van den Broek, who taught us not only to love the ground, but also how to lead: “When you are the leader, lead 100%. When you follow, follow 100%” – a phrase that fit so well to our day with Holacracy.

The big drop of bitterness

The climate in Europe in 2017 seems to have changed. Four of our guests from Cameroon and Nigeria did not get a visa and so the African continent was quite underrepresented. I do not know what else we have to supply in terms of additional insurances, invitation letters and more to change this in the future. It is so important for Europe to give people in developing countries a chance, because social entrepreneurs create more jobs – in their home countries! I cannot understand why Europe denies these entrepreneurs the opportunity to take up training sessions in Europe.

Hence: a cheer for international networks – or to borrow the words of Susan Cornell Wilkes, empowering people. Workshop participant and board director of Compatible Technology International (CTI): “I found all those people, with their ideas and enterprises, very hopeful in the midst of today’s world.”

About the author

Sabine Baumeister is a senior project manager in the area of Development Cooperation at the Siemens Stiftung since 2009. She works in the team of the empowering people. Network and is responsible for several capacity building projects for the members of the epNetwork, e.g. the empowering people. Onsite and the empowering people. Workshop. She also feeds the Twitter-channel of Siemens Stiftung and the epNetwork-Blog. Sabine studied languages and literature at LMU Munich, Germany, and has more than ten years of professional experience in various fields of communications at the Siemens AG, where she especially focused on online media and corporate volunteering.

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