In 2015, the McKnight Foundation granted funding to the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) to provide leadership development to farmers, local researchers, scientists, development practitioners, and other key stakeholders of the WAf CoP. The four-year leadership initiative’s mission was to enhance their effectiveness as leaders as well as improve their cross-sectoral collaboration, communication, and decision-making. Special emphasis was placed on gender equality, given that women represent a core part of the agricultural workforce. Increasing female leadership and participation are critical to not only hearing women’s needs but also leveraging their unique perspectives and insights to make more sound, sustainable decisions and actions.
The CCL designed the initiative by adopting a holistic approach,, interviewing participants one-on-one and in focus groups at field visits during which participants voiced their insights, needs, and gaps relative to the local context. The leadership development was simultaneously personalized (me-oriented), social (us-oriented), and contextualized. Moreover, it had different phases of engagement and learning applications. For the first part, CCL trained 144 participants, 47 of whom consequently trained as trainers to lead the second part of the initiative. These participants went on to train 9,385 community members and colleagues.
The initiative generated three types of impact: At the personal level, participants reported an increased sense of self-awareness, more confidence and pride, and new habits and behaviors, such as feedback seeking and giving or experimenting more. At the interpersonal level, participants reported a positive change in the quality of their relationships. At the contextual level, participants, community members, and principal investigators reported establishing new, shared practices that increase communication, collaboration, decision-making, and trust. Community members also reported a positive influence on their communities in the sense that the leadership training allowed women to speak up more and participate equally in decision-making. However, the initiative also created frictions in terms of power dynamics, challenging traditional views about who is a leader and who can contribute to leadership.