Amy Gillett is a Vice President of Education at the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan. She has been involved in the organisation of the NGO Leadership Workshop since 2015. That is why she is the right person to talk to about the experience, importance and impact of such education activities among young emerging nonprofit leaders.
Amy, what has been your role in the NGO Leadership Workshop?
The idea of organising such a program came up back in 2013 with my colleague – counterpart from the University of Michigan, Marysia Ostafin.
We both saw a need for this kind of training for NGO leaders. Also, we both have Central and Eastern Europe deep in our hearts. In my case, it is directly linked to my professional background and my background studying the history, literature, and several of the languages of the region.
I had lots of experience with organising international educational programs to improve managerial skills of entrepreneurs and business people, so it was a good fit here. Since we started the workshops, I have been responsible for crafting the program, conceptualizing it by specifying the audience, the lecturers, the purpose or the outcome we want to achieve and then evaluating it and improving it. That has always been in partnership with Marysia and her team as well as with our local implementing partners. The teamwork aspect of creating these workshops is one of the highlights for me.
However, I know you are also involved with the content, aren’t you?
Even though it is always a group effort coming together and bringing the best possible knowledge, lately we have been providing more elearning content to our participants that I have helped create and review.
What is the NGO Leadership Workshop?
It is a week-long training full practical skills and knowledge for the NGO leaders with the goal of teaching them how to lead more effectively. In cooperation with Hekima, we offer it primarily to people coming from the V4 countries [Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary]. The added value is an amazing network these leaders get to be part of and learn from.
Why is it important to organise and support such educational activities?
It is crucial to realise that the NGO sector can greatly benefit from some of the managerial skills that we teach businesses in our executive education programs. Unfortunately, nonprofits typically do not send their leaders to such programs, often due to lack of budget or time.
However, the same business principles can significantly help NGOs be more effective and sustainable.
Do you only see the need coming from this geographical area?
Quite the opposite. We get inquiries from all over the world for this type of program.
There are also other topics that would need much more coverage– such as strategic thinking, social media, entrepreneurship, financial management, and so on.
How do the NGO leaders react when you offer them such valuable content?
Obviously, they highly appreciate it.
I believe it is necessary to recognize the NGO sector for all the amazing work they do. And this is what we do throughout the workshop. We thank them by providing them with an opportunity to be surrounded by like-minded inspirational people from different NGOs and lecturers in order to take some time off to reflect and think what direction they want to go further with their NGO.
How does the content of the workshop change over the years?
I would say over 75% stays the same, since we always look closer at topics such as organisational principles or strategic planning.
The goal is really to make the organisations run more effectively and help participants not only be effective managers but to see themselves as leaders.
That is why the content related to organisational behaviour or leadership is consistent.
What is the other 25% then?
After we select the participants, we ask them about their specific interests so that we can further tailor the content. We communicate it to the trainers and provide them with the participant bios so they can tailor their content to our audience.
This year for example, we got an expert on social media Peter Šebo who was teaching them how to use personal branding to help the organizations grow faster, strengthen its credibility, and lead to more successful fundraising.
Since we want to learn and grow as a network, we do need to experiment and try new topics and see what might be relevant from year to year.
What do you love most about the sessions?
The workshop is designed to be interactive and to give opportunity to participants to apply the content and present it to the group. That is very interesting to us organisers to hear how it resonates with the NGO leaders.
During the sessions one can really hear the engines going in their heads thinking how to apply the theory or tools into reality. That brings the content to life and that is very exciting.
Moreover, I am also inspired by some of the work our participants do – and how committed they are to their causes. They do amazing work and it is incredibly valuable to be with such a bright group of committed people.
What impact of the NGO Leadership Worksop have you witnessed within the years?
We have started surveying the participants 6 months out to see what they have been able to apply from the training.
I remember there was an NGO leader who wrote to us that, together with their colleagues, they developed a new strategic plan that allowed them to see the strengths and weaknesses of the organization in a new light. They also abandoned some areas of work that required a lot of time yet were only bringing minor results.
I love finding out that the content and tools we provide them with really resonate. This is the best possible impact of our work. We put a great focus on showing and explaining various tools to the participants so that they learn how to use them and are able to take them to their offices, share them with the colleagues and use them in practice.
How does the workshop differ from other similar educational activities?
Apart from very valuable content I believe it is about the network.
Last year when the pandemic hit we put out a call to all our NGOs that have gone through our program since 2015 and offered a grant of up to 5000 dollars each to help with the sustainability of their organisations. We realised they were going to suffer, so we wanted to help them keep their key initiatives going through the crisis, or in some cases simply to keep the lights on and continue functioning.
However, the network does not only involve funding possibilities and connections across the NGO sector. We also have incredibly passionate lecturers whose energy powers us through the week. I have seen them staying in touch with the participants, deepening the relations, sharing articles and even sending books across the world.
This is way beyond sharing some PowerPoints. It is about meaningful and deep professional connections.
Author: Simona Lučkaničová