Novib Celebrates 50th Birthday with Meeting on Transformational Leadership

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March 17, 2006
On February 23, 2006 WLP attended Novib's expert meeting on transformational leadership, one of a series of special events held for Novib's 50th anniversary in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Director General of Novib Sylvia Borren called the meeting to discuss how transformational leadership could be used to build deeper democracies. "Deeper democracy is a term to indicate that democracy is more than voting every few years. It is less about debate, about ‘talking' - and more about ‘doing' and ‘being' together. A deeper democracy is about encouraging people to come together to build sustainable communities at the local, national, regional and global level. Communities which encourage participation and diversity, and have transparent power structures, checks, and balances," said Borren.

Borren interviewed WLP President Mahnaz Afkhami, Novib Chair Ella Vogelaar, and Agnes Jognerius of FNV Bondgenoten (a Dutch trade union) about their own experiences as transformative female leaders.

Afkhami spoke of her experience as the former Secretary General of the Women's Organization of Iran and Minister of State for Women's Affairs. One of her main goals in these formal leadership positions was to reform the family laws which prevented women from having an equal position in society. "When engaged in a reform project of this kind, you have to make the most of niches where change is possible, without compromising your broader ideals," said Afkhami.

While Afkhami supported the necessity of strategic advocacy, she also communicated the need for a long-term effort to transform our understanding of what it means to be a leader and to develop a new style of leadership. "Inclusive and participatory leadership is the key to creating democracies," said Afkhami. She also emphasized the important role of information communication technologies in facilitating the development of activist networks.  "Building ICT capacity for interaction and dialogue among activists is essential for institutional transformation," she said.

Vogelaar and Jognerius described their experiences of trade union activism. Vogelaar advocated a dual strategy of working both within one's own organization and applying external pressure by supporting the women's movement to achieve gender equality. Jognerius emphasized the persistence of inequality at the highest levels of leadership within trade unions and the importance of retaining a focus on equal representation. "The majority of people who surround me professionally are still very pale, stale, and male," she said.

Borren described two main strategies employed by the women's movement - the ‘Stop It' strategy, such as calling for an end to violence, exploitation and discrimination, and the ‘Move Over' strategy, such as trying to ensure a fare share of social spending and decision making power. Borren suggested that a third complementary strategy should be added - the ‘Different Together' strategy - which would demand a new kind of transformational leadership from both women and men. ‘Different Together' attempts to facilitate a broad social transformation by changing values, beliefs, attitudes, and practices.  It is based on sharing power and resources more fairly; identifying common values; and respecting diversity of identity, background and lifestyle.

These ideas were discussed at length by the participants, including a group of leading international NGO representatives active in the field of leadership and gender equality, during a series of workshops.  The Novib expert meeting concluded with a ‘town hall' meeting attended by approximately 150 members of the public to share the highlights of the discussion.

WLP will continue to work closely with Novib, and other important allies committed to transformational leadership, as part of our own work on women's participatory leadership and empowerment.


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