#FutureLeadersConnect Files No.2: Cambridge So Far...
Without fail, the same thing has happened every day the past few days at the Future Leaders Connect program: we conclude the activities of the day circa 9:00pm and I head to my room intending to blog the events of the day. Once I get to my room, I decide to take a shower first to feel refreshed. After my shower, I sit at my desk but I feel so exhausted, so I hop in bed and make a mental note to write the next day. Sleep and repeat. This blog is brought to you courtesy of a one hour time-slot in our schedule for personal study and reflection time yesterday. Thanks to the schedule, and thanks to the people who scheduled the schedule. I also skipped punting with the group to finish this up for you, so you're welcome!
After an overnight flight from Abuja, a layover in Paris, and a coach ride from London, I arrived Cambridge on Wednesday afternoon. The serenity and beauty of the environment struck me immediately. All participants of the Future Leaders Connect program have been housed and taught at the Møller Centre: a residential leadership development centre in Churchill College of Cambridge University. Inspiration oozes out of the open spaces, lush manicured lawns, floor to ceiling walls, twentieth century Danish furniture and leadership quotes (literally everywhere).
I was completely exhausted when we arrived, but there is no rest for the weary as the saying goes. No sooner had we dropped our bags than the program started. Our schedule has been packed with panels, learning sessions and group activities. I’ve already learned a lot (vertically and horizontally). It would be impossible (and perhaps unnecessary) to recap all that I have loved and learned at Cambridge so far, so I will list three things from the first three days of the program.
1. The Laws of Power with Lord Richard Wilson.
Without a doubt, my favorite learning session from the first three days was a panel titled Policy and Leadership in Practice, mostly because of Lord Richard Wilson. Lord Wilson is a seasoned English technocrat with decades of civil and public service behind him. Amongst other posts, he headed the Economic Secretariat in the Cabinet Office under Margaret Thatcher, served as Permanent Secretary of the Department of Environment, and headed the Home Civil Service. What I enjoyed was his practical discourse on the dynamics between power and policy; and the specific strategies he provided for managing power dynamics in policy setting spaces.
2. We Created a Mini-Museum!
Well, not really, but sort of…
Prior to arriving Cambridge, each country team was asked to bring three items with us that represent different aspects of leadership (three is clearly the magic number on this blog today). Specifically, we were supposed to bring one item that represents what good leadership looks like, one item that represents what leadership is needed in the future, and one item that represents a key characteristic leaders need.
#TeamNaija brought a broom to represent what good leadership looks like. We were a bit skeptical about bringing a broom at first because we did not want this to be deemed an endorsement of Nigeria’s APC political party (brooms are the party's symbol), but we chose it to show that good leadership is unifying. One broom stick on its own is useless, but collectively, broom sticks held together by a band have great utility. We also brought a poster of the Nigerian Coat of Arms. It is rich with symbolic meaning, including: fertility, beautification, unity, peace and progress—all themes that future leadership in Nigeria will need to include. The coat of arms was adopted in 1960: a reminder that to move forward, leaders must often look back. Finally, we brought a mortar and pestle. My team used this item to reflect resilience: food goes in a mortar and withstands pounding by a pestle. In the same way, a leader must survive pressure. Also, while the shape or consistency of a food evolves after the pounding process, its nutritional value remains the same. Similarly, while a leader may evolve post-pressure, a good leader’s core values should remain the same.
Collectively, the cultural artefacts from different countries in the room created a mini-museum vibe. It was so much fun discussing the items we brought with us, as well as learning about leadership and through artefacts from other countries.
3. Tampons, Bank Notes & Making Gender Equality Tangible.
Kajal Odedra, the UK Director of Change.org provided us with powerful tips on advocacy. Something that particularly stood out to me was the anecdotes she shared of Change.org petitioners who have used the platform to advance women’s rights, using tangible items.
For example, Laura Coryton started a Change.org petition to end the EU tax on tampons and all sanitary products for women. More than 320,000 people backed Laura’s two-year campaign. The campaign successfully pressured Chancellor George Osborne into debating the tax during his latest budget announcement, and also gained the support of Former President Obama.
Another UK change.org petitioner, Caroline Craido-Perez, set up a petition for women to be on British banknotes. With over 30,000 signatures (and media attention), she was able to secure a meeting with the Bank of England—the result was Jane Austen becoming the new face of the £10 note.
Odedra called these tangible items “little big things” that drive discourse on gender equality. I came to this program thinking of ways to create conversations on gender equality and women’s rights in Nigeria, and this concept has given me one clear strategy on how to do exactly that.
Meeting so many interesting and impressive people was overwhelming at first. I wanted to get to know as many people as possible, but also knew it was impossible to create meaningful connections with the 50 future leaders from the different countries, within the timeframe we have. I’ve resolved to just let conversations and connections happen organically—and here’s the thing about authenticity: it always leads you to your tribe.