Young NGO leaders from all over Europe learn how to be more effective

Five days of online sessions. Three distinguished trainers. 35 young leaders from 7 countries. Self-paced e-learning modules, great transfer of knowledge, inspiration and networking. That is what this year’s NGO Leadership Workshop was all about.

When young leaders want to make a change

The NGO Leadership Workshop is a unique one-week opportunity for current and aspiring NGO leaders. Its goal is to empower selected civil society representatives to strengthen their leadership skills, managerial capacities, and personal branding in order to advance the impact of their organizations. In addition to interactive lectures, group activities and exchanging experience, participants can also learn from self-paced e-learning modules that are available to them for months after the sessions.

“We are well aware that one of the benefits of the NGO Leadership Workshop is the networking part where NGO leaders from all different backgrounds get to know each other and share their experiences. However, due to the COVID-19 situation we could not do so in a physical space. Yet this limitation did not stop us from doing everything possible to provide a space for learning and inspiration,” says the founder of Hekima, Ivana Uličná.

Regardless of the initial challenges, 35 participants from 7 countries — Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia, Moldova and Northern Macedonia — were selected to participate in the autumn edition of the training.

Five days packed with tailor-made content

Participants joined the first session full of questions and curiosity. When professor Linda Gasser an expert on leadership topics at Cornell University and a WDI Faculty Affiliate asked them what interested them the most regarding the topic, the group chat got flooded with dozens of questions. Young leaders wanted to know how to lead in a virtual world, how to be more assertive, resilient, influential or supportive. So, an in-depth analysis of their personality types made them understand their own patterns of behaviour, strengths and weaknesses. “If you want to be a good leader, first you need to know and understand yourself,” says Professor Gasser.

Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s workshops were all about leading change and optimizing organizational effectiveness. The sessions were led by Michael Hathorn from the University of St. Gallen, an expert in organizational assessment. Participants got to understand how to identify their current change challenges and developed at least one strategy that can be applied in their everyday work immediately. They also learned how to use various tools to conduct an organizational assessment in order to optimize their organizations. The importance of the tools is once again related to an effective leadership of the organisation. As Professor Hathorn says, “If you want to be an effective leader, you need to mobilize others to achieve the results, instead of working and doing it all yourselves.”

Thursday’s session on personal branding was packed with interactive activities. Peter Šebo, CEO of PS:Digital explored how building a personal brand can also help the organizations grow faster, strengthen its credibility, and lead to more successful fundraising. A group activity where the participants were putting together a marketing plan for their NGOs proved the innovation of the concept since many proposed ideas were still rather abstract. “I know it is difficult to get used to it, but you really should be the advertising of your own organizations. It will definitely pay off,” said Mr. Šebo when wrapping up his lecture.

Professor Linda Gasser returned for Friday’s session to explore personal leadership mindsets and challenges. The participants opened up more about their own experience and one could feel the comfort of the safe sharing space created during the week.

Something ends, something begins

The participants left the five-day NGO Leadership workshop full of new practical knowledge on behaviour and skills to manage leadership challenges. Having the opportunity to get to know leaders from different countries and areas facing similar problems helped them get a bigger picture perspective and build their professional networks. “Wonderful experience with many great people. So many new ideas and thoughts for my work and personal life,” said a participant, summing up the workshop.

Over the next six months, participants can continue learning together by taking optional online short courses on topics including conflict resolution, social media marketing, and entrepreneurship through WDI’s online learning management system, the ExtendEd portal. “The week we spent learning together has sparked participant interest in learning new tools and techniques for leading their organizations. We’re excited to give workshop participants an opportunity to continue on their learning journey through seven elearning modules,” says Amy Gillett, co-organizer of the event from the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan.

„It certainly helps that we can access the self-paced e-learning modules for several months longer, as I plan to make full use of this learning opportunity as well as get in touch with participants to explore opportunities to collaborate,“ says a participant from Hungary.

On top of that, now these young leaders form part of a robust alumni network of 169 leaders, spanning 18 countries across Europe and Eurasia.

Author: Simona Lučkaničová